By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — It’s not easy for rookie seventh-round draft picks like Baron Batch to make an NFL roster, but the 5-foot-10, 210-pound running back from Texas Tech certainly has a great opportunity with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers third-down back the past few years, Mewelde Moore, is still an unsigned free agent. And Batch is as prototypical as it gets for third-down backs, so this appears to be a perfectly made match.
“Whatever I can do to help this team, whatever they ask me to do, that’s what I’m going to try to do,” Batch said Saturday after his first full practice. “If that’s in pass-protection or special teams, I’m just trying to find my niche with everybody and keep improving.
“So, it’s just a blessing for me. I didn’t get any all-star game invites or an invite to the NFL Combine, but the Steelers gave me an opportunity by drafting me in the seventh round. And that just proves that hard work pays off, so I want to show them that they didn’t make a mistake.”
There were two plays that stood out during 7-on-7 drills. On one, Batch swung out of the backfield, caught a short pass and made a move that helped him pick up a first down. Later, he took a pitch and swept left, but once he got around the end he cut back to the right and out-ran the pursuit for a long gain.
“It was just a free release, but what’s funny is that I messed up on that earlier in practice,” Batch said about the catch and run. “But that really epitomizes this camp. You can’t make the same mistake twice, and I think that’s something the coaches are looking for. There’s going to be some mistakes, but once you get told about it you can’t do it again.
“So, I ran the wrong play earlier when that was called, but I ran it correctly the next time and it broke open pretty well for me. It’s definitely faster than it was in college, so I just have to keep getting better, staying in the playbook, eliminating mistakes and paying attention to detail. But I think I’m picking things up a little quick, though, and nothing has really surprised me yet.”
Another rookie with a bright future for the Steelers is No. 1 pick Cam Heyward. While the 6-5, 288-pound defensive end didn’t make as many plays as Batch, he certainly will get a chance Sunday when the Steelers have full contact drills for the first time since before the Super Bowl.
“I think it was a good practice for me, but I still have to improve a lot,” Heyward said. “And I’ll get another chance (Sunday). So, I have to take the things I learned from this one and move on to the next one. You can’t be overwhelmed. You’ve got to be mellow about it and take things in stride and just try to improve every play.
“I’ve always heard a lot about the NFL, so I really wasn’t surprised by anything. But I’m just going to keep learning. I’ve got the best defensive linemen in the NFL and the best coach, so I get to learn from two of the best things you could ever have in football. And I’m going to take advantage of every chance that I get. It’s a great opportunity.”
While quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sharp in third-down drills and 7-on-7 situations, Byron Leftwich connected with Tyler Grisham down the sideline despite good coverage from cornerback Crezdon Butler in 11-on-11.
Sweed had two nice catches in traffic and broke into the open afterward, displaying some breakaway speed.
Leftwich also fired a fastball high and wide downfield that 6-8, 233-pound former West Virginia wideout Wes Lyons somehow pulled down.
Mike Wallace also looked sharp on short routes, beating cornerback Bryant McFadden to a spot on an out and then breaking open a bit down the sideline.
Roethlisberger’s long pass faded to the inside and wasn’t bad, but Wallace and McFadden were locked up and it hit the ground without either touching it.
The only interception came off a deflection. Tight end David Johnson, who caught some nice first-down passes out of the backfield and from a tight spot, went out a little longer on this one. He nearly made a spectacular grab, but Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith had tight coverage and pulled in the carom.
Notes: Along with big-name free-agent Plaxico Burress, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said that the club met with veteran tight end Daniel Graham. The former No. 1 pick for the New England Patriots, he played for them from 2002-06 and moved on to the Denver Broncos from 2007-10. He has 222 career catches for 2,465 yards and 24 touchdowns, but is known for his blocking.
Tomlin also announced a few minor injuries after practice. Wideout Emmanuel Sanders had some discomfort in his foot, so he’ll get a couple days off to rest. Second-round offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert and wideout Limas Sweed had hamstring injuries, but Sweed returned after tweaking his. Also, cornerback Curtis Brown, the third-round pick, had an illness believed to be heat-related. He left the field and was taken to the locker room on a golf cart.