By Dale Grdnic
Photo: David Hague – Inside Pittsburgh Sports
LATROBE, Pa. — Wideout Shaun McDonald was quick to correct, noting that he has dropped a pass during the first training camp week at Saint Vincent College, as two reporters believed it appeared that the veteran free agent caught everything thrown his way by the Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterbacks.
While that might be hard for some to believe, it becomes an easy assessment after watching the fluid McDonald go through just one practice session. He’s not flashy, and at 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds (on a stool and soaking wet) McDonald compared to some younger Steelers’ wideout prospects.
But his routes are precise and his hands are sure. Was it mentioned that he never seems to drop a pass in his vicinity? And just for good measure, McDonald pulled in a spectacular one-handed grab Saturday afternoon.
“I’ve got one (drop), so far, in the camp,” McDonald said. “So, that’s all so far. (But) they come few, for me, so it’s not too often. And I think that’s what keeps me in this league. So, hopefully, I can keep doing it and keep playing. (But) I’m used to being one of the smallest guys on the field.
“So,I always get told that I’m too little to do anything. But it’s really my first camp where I’m competing for a spot. I usually come in knowing my role, but not this year. So, it’s a big difference. I always knew I was on the 53-(man roster), but that’s not the case here. I’m trying to compete to win a spot on the bus. So, I’m definitely looking forward to it the competition.”
And make no mistake, wide receiver might be the most competitive position during camp this year. With veteran Hines Ward and Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes the only sure bets, McDonald has a bevy of youngsters like Limas Sweed (6-4, 220), Martin Nance (6-4, 212), Mike Wallace (6-0, 199), Dallas Baker (6-3, 206) and Steve Black (6-3, 213) also competing for the final few spots.
“There’s only a few spots open on the roster, so when one guy makes a play the others try to one-up him,” McDonald said. “So, it’s tough, very competitive. We’ve got a lot of talent in here, a good group of receivers, and I think a lot of us could go to another team and probably make it there. So, somebody’s going to get left out at the end.”
The Steelers were a little bumped up and bruised through one training camp week, but not much the worse for wear.
Only interior offensive lineman Darnell Stapleton is out for an extended period after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, but early odds are that he could return by the regular-season opener.
Many have gone through the first week unscathed, while others are bouncing back from early injuries.
“There are some new developments, in regard to some injuries,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We held Willie Parker out today after he woke up this morning with some back spasms, but it shouldn’t be a big, major deal. … But it was great to get Sonny Harris back out there participating. Here’s a young guy, and it’s tough to get on a moving train.
“But he’s attempting to do that, and there’s no time like the present. So, it’s good to see him back out there working hard and improving his skill. A lot of the other injury situations are status quo with a lot of these guys having normal aches and pains. They come along with training camp, so we’ll get those guys back out there at the appropriate time.”
Tomlin also noted that DT Scott Paxson has a (right) calf strain. WR Brandon Williams has an abdominal strain, and in practice two players were shut down early.
Mike Wallace’s groin got a little tight on him, and Keenan Lewis’ back got a little tight on him, Tomlin added. But tight end Heath Miller is a full participant now, and center Justin Hartwig should return next week, possibly after the preseason opener Thursday night at Heinz Field.
Santonio Holmes had a morning off, but he returned for the afternoon session.
Morning Practice Redux
As we reported earlier, Tomlin had some choice words for the group about 30 minutes into the morning practice, and he explained what happened.
“The big thing is that coming off a night practice and with the young-guy emphasis, I didn’t want to waste the morning,” Tomlin said. “It was a great opportunity to address come reoccurring problems and lay them to bed again and hopefully find some new problems. So, I wanted to make sure everybody was on the same page with what we were trying to get done this morning.
“(So), one of the things that we wanted to get done this morning was focus our energy on young-guy development. With a shortened practice this morning, helmets only, we were trying to get rid of some reoccurring problems with our young players so we can move on to new problems with those guys.
“But I think that’s part of the maturation process not only of young players, but of a team at this time of the year,” Tomlin added. “So, we gave those guys some quality reps (in the morning) and came out in the afternoon and got everybody else back into it.”
Tomlin encouraged fans and media alike to attend Sunday afternoon’s only practice session, because “it’s family day and you have to make the guys do goal-line (drills) during family day.”
The annual event, the live goal-line drills and not family day, is a fan (and media) favorite because it’s live (hard hitting and everything) and extremely competitive between the offense and defense.