By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — It was all good news for the Pittsburgh Steelers Friday, as the club got a good report on starting right offensive guard Darnell Stapleton after surgery, and the team had a solid practice under the lights at Latrobe High School’s Memorial Stadium in front of a record crowd estimated at 15,000.
Stapleton has not practiced since the opening weekend due to swelling in his right knee and had an arthroscopic procedure done Friday morning. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin noted that the doctors “liked what they saw,” and he then ruled out putting Stapleton on injured reserve at this point.
“They’re going to give him a couple weeks, and then we’ll see where we go from there,” Tomlin said. “If I had to nail it down at this point, it would be tough to do. So, we’ll give him a couple weeks, and we’ll see how his body responds to that. Then, we’ll go from there.”
Also, outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (right knee) and wideout Martin Nance (leg) missed their second straight practice sessions, but Tomlin did not believe neither would be out for long.
“(Woodley) is day-to-day, and I expect him to be back here very quickly,” Tomlin said. “It shouldn’t be a long-term deal.”
As far as the practice went, there appeared to be a lot of energy, although that isn’t the way Tomlin viewed it. Still, he gave a positive report.
“I just told the team that I liked how they worked out here tonight,” Tomlin said, “and I think it was important to tell them that. … It wasn’t necessarily an emotionally-high practice, but that’s not required for them to work well.
“You’re not always going to feel great or be up for every practice, but you have to put in the work. (So), I liked the way they pushed through it tonight, and it was a good atmosphere. We had a good time.
“(And) I’ll tell you, I didn’t have this many people at my high school games,” Tomlin added, “and this was like Homecoming at William and Mary. So, it was an awesome crowd.”
Some of the biggest cheers were reserved for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, although when his first pass was picked off by safety Troy Polamalu there was an equally long and loud roar as he returned it several yards.
Roethlisberger stepped up in the pocket on the next play and found second-year player Limas Sweed with a quick hitter to the outside.
“Whomever puts in the most work and wants to be the best that they can be, they’re going to be the No. 3 receiver,” Roethlisberger said. “So, we’ll keep going on. Hines and Santonio are two great guys and great receivers, and they’re always trying to get better. So, great teachers for the young guys.”
Hines Ward practiced the most for him since camp began, taking part in nearly every drill, and even taking a couple shots here and there.
“It just felt good to be out there with my teammates and helping them out on the field instead of just coaching them along,” Ward said. “It might take me a little bit to get back into it, but it’s like riding a bike. We’ll see how I feel, and we’ll come out and do it again (Saturday).
“But it’s always good for us to come here. It takes us back to our high school days, playing in a stadium like this, and the crowd is always great. The fans really show their support for us here, and they really came out this year after we won the Super Bowl. So, it’s great to be here.”
Getting There Half The Fun
The Steelers needed seven school buses to transport the players, coaches, staff and media, as well as several other vehicles, to Memorial Field. A police escort is also necessary to wind through Latrobe to get there, as the streets were lined with cars and fans waving Terrible Towels and cheering wildly.
No. 76 Shows Off
Defensive tackle Chris Hoke was cheered on by his teammates prior to the practice, as chants of “Hoke, Hoke, Hoke,” ended with the 6-foot-2, 305-pounder doing a split in the air while touching his toes.
Even though the Steelers arrived a few minutes later than expected, they still took time to sign autographs prior to the practice.
The biggest lines were for Roethlisberger, Ward, Holmes, Willie Parker, James Harrison and Polamalu.
While her family was enthralled as Polamalu signed various items, a nearby infant wailed incessantly. That did not deter Polamalu, who picked the child up and played with her until both were laughing uncontrollably.