By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — For the first time this season, the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to get their entire 53-man roster on the field Sunday, and fifth-year coach Mike Tomlin was happy to basically get the regular season under way.
“We were excited about getting out here today to take a look at our football team,” Tomlin said. “I like a bonus day like today, if you will, the first opportunity for us to take a look at the 53 collectively on the field.
“(And) I think it’s important, as we push into Week 1 (before) we travel to Baltimore, that the guys work together and sweat together and get a sense of who they’re working with. So, from that standpoint, today was productive.”
Tomlin noted that only one player, rookie linebacker Chris Carter, the team’s fifth-round pick from Fresno State this year, did not practice due to a hamstring injury. But all other injured and banged-up players who did not participate in the final preseason game last Thursday at Carolina practiced and appear to be ready to go. Tomlin addressed several of them.
Cornerbacks Ike Taylor (left thumb surgery Aug. 16) and Bryant McFadden (lingering hamstring, quad problems) both are expected to start. Taylor started the preseason opener at Washington and was injured on the second play, while McFadden basically has been out since early in training camp.
“In Ike Taylor-like fashion, he hasn’t missed much work with us anyway,” Tomlin said. “So, he’ll get his pin out Tuesday. We’ll proceed with the week, and we expect him to play (Sunday).
“I think, under different circumstances, (McFadden) would have been able to play down in Carolina had we needed him to. We just exercised a little caution to make sure that (his injury) is clearly in the rearview mirror from a health standpoint. But we trust that he’ll be ready to go on Sunday.”
The same held true for second-year center Maurkice Pouncey (left ankle), who was injured during the last preseason home game against the Atlanta Falcons.
“There were a number of guys that we chose not to participate in that last game (Thursday night at Carolina),” Tomlin said. “Under regular-season circumstances, many of them would have been able to participate with Maurkice Pouncey being one of them, James Harrison, etc., etc. (But) we wanted to get some young guys a better look and get those veterans another day of rest as well.”
Pouncey also was positive about his health.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Pouncey said. “Coach Tomlin gave me a couple of days off, and that helped a lot. So, I’m ready to go and really looking forward to getting ready for the Baltimore Ravens.”
Tomlin noted that third-year player Doug Legursky would be the starting right offensive guard, but he wouldn’t commit to him also being the backup center. That depends on the situation and would be determined on a weekly basis with the current health of his linemates a determining factor. Trai Essex could be the backup center.
There are new rules concerning how many players can dress. Last year, it was 45 with a third quarterback designated, but if he played the other two were done. This year, it’s just a straight 46 players and all can play if three signal-callers are dressed. Tomlin said that decision will be made weekly as well.
Two somewhat surprises on the 53-man roster were tight end Weslye Saunders and cornerback Cortez Allen, who made the roster without showing much in the preseason. Tomlin said that both players have a tremendous up-side, so what they are expected to do in the future is the main reason they were chosen.
Saunders, who missed his entire senior season at South Carolina due to an NCAA suspension for involvement with an agent, said he was a little nervous.
“No, I didn’t sleep at all the night before (Friday into Saturday) or eat anything during the day,” Saunders said. “You just sit around, hoping that your phone doesn’t ring, but it was all good after 6 o’clock. It was a wrap. … I felt like since I’ve been out of football for so long, coming into camp post (left foot) surgery in April, they gave me a little bit of the benefit of the doubt.
“But I had to prove to them that I could go full speed, that it was healed, and I appreciate the opportunity from the coaches to be the third tight end and hopefully help this team on special teams as well as in the offense.”
Team Captains Voted By Players
The Steelers announced four captains to the team after practice Sunday, and they are quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who returned to that role for a third time (also 2008-09) after missing out last season due to his NFL suspension. Tight end Heath Miller replaced him last year.
Joining Roethlisberger this season were inside linebacker James Farrior for the eighth straight year (since 2004) and wideout Hines Ward for the seventh straight (since 2005) with wideout Arnaz Battle on special teams for the first time with this club. He was a game captain with the San Francisco 49ers.
Practice Makes Perfect
The Steelers also named their eight-player practice squad with running back John Clay, tight end Jamie McCoy, wideout Tyler Grisham, offensive tackle Trevis Turner, center John Malecki, defensive end Corbin Bryant, inside linebacker Mortty Ivy and safety Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith.