By Dale Grdnic
Photo: David Hague — Inside Pittsburgh Sports
LATROBE, Pa. — There was no need for verification, as Tuesday afternoon’s practice clearly was held on the hottest day yet for Pittsburgh Steelers training camp at Saint Vincent College.
For those who were skeptical, or just needed to confirm it, the heat index surpassed 100 degrees and hit an apex of 102 on the field. There were no heat-related incidents among the players or the media, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin actually noted a positive about playing in the sweltering conditions.
“It was another productive day for us, and we added the element of heat,” Tomlin said. “We need that, of course, because we have some 1 o’clock kickoffs in September that will be challenging in Nashville and Tampa, Fla. So, we need days like this to help in our preparation.”
The most exciting portion of the more than two-hour practice was a two-minute drill with Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon each getting a shot at quarterback.
Ben Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch got limited work Tuesday. The offense started on its own 48, just 52 yards from the end zone, with 1:26 on the clock and one timeout.
Leftwich opened with an incomplete pass that glanced off Heath Miller’s hands. On second down, he hit Mike Wallace in the slot for a first down at the 41, but the clock was moving. Leftwich displayed serious arm strength on an 11-yard out to Hines Ward for a first down at the 30, but only 55 seconds remained.
On first down, Leftwich had to throw it away with 48 ticks left. Miller ran free across the middle, but Leftwich couldn’t stick it in there between the secondary and over the backers. He threw it where only Miller could catch it, at least, but the big tight end just couldn’t get to it.
So, it was third down from the 30 with 42 seconds left. Troy Polamalu broke free on a…..
blitz and likely would have drilled the stationary Leftwich, but his blitz-control pass to Antwaan Randle El was too hot to handle.
On fourth-and-10 with 38 seconds left, there was a lot of pressure, and Leftwich couldn’t split William Gay and Bryant McFadden even though Ward appeared to be open. The ball sailed out of bounds to make Leftwich 2-for-7 in the drill.
“I felt real good today, after taking (Monday) off,” Leftwich said. “I almost felt too good, to be honest with you. I guess the ball was moving a lost faster than my legs. … I would have liked to score in that hurry-up drill, but that’s the thing. The defense won that drill today.
“They made more plays than us, and we didn’t make enough plays. But that’s how you want it to be, sometimes. You don’t want to have a drill against the defense where you’re winning it all the time. That would mean they’re not good, but we’re playing against a real good defense. So, we know we’re not going to win the drill every time, but we damn sure are going to try.”
Dixon started off poorly, but rebounded to get close to a score. He threw behind Tyler Grisham on first down and threw the second-down pass into the ground. On third down, Dixon threw behind Grisham to set up a big fourth-down play.
Dixon was only slightly more accurate, but Arnaz Battle made an unbelievable catch, twisting his body to snag the bullet thrown behind him.
With a running clock and less than 50 seconds left, Dixon hit tight end David Johnson for eight yards and then moved the sticks to the 20 with 25 seconds left after a tight sideline pass to Sanders.
Keenan Lewis knocked it away from Battle to snap the streak, though.
On second down with 20 seconds left, Dixon connected with Grisham, who went out of bounds to stop the clock after getting a first down with 14 seconds left.
The next play was to Grisham in the end zone, and he was tripped up. But Tomlin, the former secondary coach, ruled it uncatchable.
With eight seconds remaining, Dixon had to go to the end zone. He appeared to hit Sanders at the far left pylon, but the rookie wideout could not maintain possession as he rolled and jumped up.
There was one second remaining, and one last shot. Grisham dropped a potential scoring pass in the end zone, but since most of the team jumped offside Tomlin signaled for one more play.
Dixon broke from the pocket and appeared to have room to run inside the 10. Instead, he fired toward the end zone and nearly had it picked off by Patrick Bailey. It wasn’t close, really, and wouldn’t have been in the end zone anyway.
“(Dixon) potentially could have run that ball in on the last play, and I asked him afterward,” Tomlin said. “He said he could have, but we’ll look at the video. Of course, when it’s the last play of the game like that, if you try to run it in you better make sure that you get into the end zone. He thought he could get into the end zone, but we’ll look at the tape.
“We got competitive, and we got the ball downfield. But, of course, we weren’t able to finish the drill (and score). But it’s more than just about an evaluation of the quarterbacks. It’s about people working together, our young wideouts stepping up to put themselves into the mix. Our pass-protection from a blitz pickup aspect of it. Things like that. So, we’ll continue to do it.”
Notes: Rookie RB Jonathan Dwyer had a big blitz pickup in the drill, and Tomlin said he was consistently physical. … There was a reversal on the call during the goal-line drill Sunday. Dwayne Wright did not score, so the defense won. … Strength coach Garrett Giemont’s officiating ability is being questioned now, since Tomlin said the tape revealed he listed to what Ben Roethlisberger told him.
Injuries: CB Joe Burnett suffered a rib injury of unknown severity during the two-minute drill. … OLB Jason Worilds (hamstring) practice full-time for the most part, but missed the final two periods with pain. … OLB James Harrison is expected back Wednesday after missing another day with shoulder discomfort. … No word on Steve McLendon (MCL sprain) or Tony Hills (right ankle sprain). …
Ziggy Hood again dominated the OL-DL one-on-one drill, but he could not beat Maurkice Pouncey consistently. … Doug Worthington also looked good, but the OL was solid. … TE Eugene Bright took snaps at DE and beat Ramon Foster twice. Bright was a DE at Purdue, but switched to TE in the NFL.