By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin made sure his younger players knew that it was unacceptable to coast through a practice session where the focus was on them, so it was no surprise that the veterans followed the Saturday morning training camp practice with a solid workout that afternoon at Saint Vincent College.
There were several 11-on-11 sessions during the afternoon, as well as a spirited linemen versus linemen drill that added a new wrinkle.
Instead of the defensive linemen and outside linebackers going against the offensive front in one-on-one situations, two pass-rushers and two blockers were utilized.
“That was just a little different wrinkle we put in there, and I thought it went pretty well,” Steelers veteran defensive line coach John Mitchell said. “We have a lot of young guys on both sides of the line, and it’s a real good drill for them to learn from. So, we wanted to focus on them today in both practices.”
The first-team offensive line opened the drill with left tackle Max Starks and left guard Chris Kemoeatu going against Bruce Davis and Ziggy Hood. Davis got a little wide on Starks, but Kemoeatu collided with Hood and held his ground.
Tackle Nick Eason stunted got past
Willie Colon on the outside right, but Patrick Bailey was stuffed by Trai Essex when he moved inside over the guard. Davis got another shot at Tony Hills, the left tackle, and got around him.
But Hills maintained contact and shoved him to the ground. But veteran Travis Kirschke bull-rushed rookie Ramon Foster and pushed him into the backfield.
After a few reps with two rushers and blockers, the drill continued with one-on-one matches. Hood tried a couple moves on Foster, but neither worked. Foster is a 6-6, 325-pound rookie free agent from Tennessee who could end up being a key backup behind Starks and Colon. Hood is big and strong, but he couldn’t get the jump on Foster to avoid the stalemate.
Rookie center A.Q. Shipley had his best practice yet, working primarily against rookie defensive tackle Steve McClendon. The two battled five times in the period, and Shipley won four times.
Another rookie, third-round draft pick Kraig Urbik, had mixed reviews. On one occasion, he did a nice job against veteran Nick Eason, who’s having a pretty good camp. But another time, he was embarrassed by Patrick Bailey.
The Team Concept
In the initial 11-on-11 period, the running game was highlighted, and second-year running back Rashard Mendenhall got a lot of reps with starter Willie Parker sidelined with back spasms.
On first down, Mendenhall nearly was nailed in the backfield by veteran defensive end Aaron Smith, but he escaped.
After running right on first down, Mendenhall cut to the left for no gain on the second play. First-year player Justin Vincent was the next ball carrier, and he slipped past the line thanks to a solid block by tight end Heath Miller, returning to full-time action some two months since having sports hernia surgery.
Vincent, a serious scatback with speed and toughness, has been a solid runner and effective blocker in the one-on-one drills.
There aren’t many open spots in the backfield, but he’s certainly a contender right now. Vincent ran through a tackle attempt by fifth-year outside linebacker Andre Frazier, who’s on the bubble again this year.
After slamming the line for two series, quarterback Charlie Batch dropped back and fired downfield to Santonio Holmes on a crossing pattern. Holmes got loose, and safety Ryan Mundy wasn’t nearly close enough to make a play. Holmes cruised into the end zone with about a 70-yard touchdown catch.
Ben Roethlisberger had Holmes
open for a second in the next team session and just overthrew him a bit. It appeared that Holmes could have extended to make the catch, but he must have caught a charging Ryan Clark out of the corner of his eye and thought better of it. The Steelers starting free safety had Holmes lined up, and the wideout quickly got gator arms.
Clark came up a little early on a similar pass from Roethlisberger to Hines Ward, back at practice on a full-time basis, but Ward made the catch. He then spun away from the pursuit and took it the distance into the end zone.
The running game continued to get work when the second unit took the field, and Frank “the Tank” Summers moved into the backfield. Summers can take a pounding, for sure, but the Steelers defense doesn’t certainly hasn’t held back when he’s got the ball. Summers has gotten rocked a couple times and gets smacked on just about every carry.
During a special teams period, the Steelers showed off a bit. On long field-goal attempts, holder-punter Daniel Sepulveda took the snap and dropped back to pass.
The first time, place-kicker Jeff Reed got behind the secondary and caught a perfect toss from Sepulveda for a touchdown. He fired an incompletion to the right side on the second attempt and then found first-year kicker Piotr Czech open for the score.