By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — After two days running around in shorts and T-shirts, the Pittsburgh Steelers eagerly anticipated the initial training-camp practice in full gear Sunday afternoon at Saint Vincent College, and Coach Mike Tomlin opened with a fireworks display.
The popular backs-on-backers drill where linebackers rush a “quarterback” in a one-on-one opportunity against a running back or tight end was the first session. The pass-rushers appear to have an edge in this drill, because the back has to determine which among two options is rushing and then stop them despite the backer basically getting a running start.
Rookie Baron Batch, the club’s seventh-round pick this year, stole the show. The rookie running back lost his first match badly to James Farrior, as he whiffed after stepping up to stop the 15-year veteran. Batch’s second attempt was a complete turnaround, as he stuffed fellow rookie Mario Harvey.
Then came a series of attempts against second-year outside linebacker Jason Worilds, who decided to bull-rush him instead of using his incredible athleticism. Batch jammed Worilds for no advancement on the opener and was even more impenetrable on the second try.
Batch also got a shot against James Harrison, among the premier pass-rushers in the NFL, and held his own despite a power move by Debo. Batch then had an easy stuff against Harvey, but Worilds got around him on his final attempt.
“I’m the type of guy, I don’t have too many emotional highs or too many emotional lows,” Batch said. “I just do my job and do it the best that I can.”
He did it better than most and got a post-practice hug from Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. Tomlin, however, stopped way short of praising him, noting that “he’s a rookie.” Tomlin then provided further comment.
“Some licks were passed,” Tomlin said. “In some instances, we were high technically. In some instances, we weren’t violent enough, (so) some Day One-type things.”
At one point during the session, Tomlin told some young players that they might as well have done the drill Saturday. That was a non-contact practice.
Here are the remaining backs-on-backers attempts:
Rashard Mendenhall was destroyed by Lawrence Timmons.
Mendenhall did a little better against rookie Chris Carter.
Isaac Redman did decent job until he fell down against Harrison.
Jonathan Dwyer with a weak effort against LaMarr Woodley.
Dwyer was much better against Chris McCoy and pushed him aside.
Dwyer was buried by Baraka Atkins on his next attempt.
Dwyer held up to an initial shot from Stevenson Sylvester, but that was it.
David Johnson stymies Chris Ellis.
Johnson also handled Sylvester, despite a nice spin move.
Jamie McCoy held his own against Worilds.
McCoy did a nice job against veteran Larry Foote.
Vaughn Charleton got nothing but air on Foote’s next attempt.
Charleton absorbed the initial clash with Ellis, who then slipped by him.
James Johnson couldn’t handle Sylvester.
Johnson improved against Erik Clanton and pushed him wide right.
Weslye Saunders locked up Atkins, but he still penetrated the backfield.
Saunders was no match for Timmons in a later attempt.
John Clay barely got a piece of a hard-charging Harvey, who then fell down.