By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — The Pittsburgh Steelers unleashed a previously unseen weapon during Tuesday afternoon’s training camp practice at Saint Vincent College, and Coach Mike Tomlin believed the addition to the club’s arsenal could make a big difference this coming season.
No, there wasn’t a trade for a bruising running back, shut-down corner or punishing offensive lineman. Punter Daniel Sepulveda kicked off four times and drew rave reviews from his head coach.
“I was very impressed with him,” Tomlin said. “No only from a distance, but with hang time and ball placement of the field horizontally. He has a skill set to potentially help us in that area. We were prepared to explore it last year, but we put the breaks on it because he was coming off a knee injury. And we didn’t know how that double-duty would wear on him over the course of a football season. So, he’s a viable candidate in that area, at the very least to share the duties with Jeff (Reed). So, we have (two) capable guys in that area, and we believe that’s going to make us better.”
Tomlin noted that Sepulveda will kick off against the Giants. Reed handled all the kickoff duties last season and in the preseason opener this year.
“Daniel’s a great athlete,” Reed said. “He was kicking field goals the other day. He didn’t make them all, but he wasn’t horrible, either. He’ll do a good job.”
Tomlin added that at the very least, getting Sepulveda involved in kickoffs gives the Steelers more options. Wear and tear occurs over the course of a season, so if Reed and Sepulveda share the kickoff duties it will strengthen both players for the long haul.
The Steelers will try to make some noise in the red zone this season by scoring touchdowns instead of settling for field goals, so they continue practice situational drills to be more successful there.
“We emphasized the possible point swing in that area, not only offensively, but defensively,” Tomlin said. “So, we walked the ball down there to different locations (in the red zone).
“(We went from) the 15-yard line, 10-yard line and so on and inside the 10, to work on different elements of our game. A lot of those plays are third-down plays where there could be a difference of four points either way.”
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was a perfect 5-for-5 and connected with tight end Heath Miller on a post route on third-and-goal, wideout Mike Wallace near the boundary on first-and-goal and running back Rashard Mendenhall from short range from his three touchdown tosses.
Byron Leftwich was 3-for-5 with a TD passes to wideout Brandon London, who made a leaping grab in the front of the end zone, and Arnaz Battle with a quick slant. Both passes were thrown where only the receivers could catch them.
When it was Dennis Dixon’s turn….
he also went 3-for-5 with one touchdown to a diving Mendenhall in the middle front of the end zone.
Roethlisberger opened at quarterback with Justin Hartwig at center in the initial team (11-on-11) drills. After five reps, Maurkice Pouncey came on with the first team, and Byron Leftwich replaced Roethlisberger shortly thereafter.
The Steelers injury list is getting shorter with running back Jonathan Dwyer (shoulder) as the most significant. Tomlin said he is still day-to-day, but running backs coach Kirby Wilson noted that the rookie’s inactivity this week could keep him out of preseason Game 2 Saturday against the New York Giants. … Second-year defensive tackle Steve McLendon (knee procedure) and offensive tackle Chris Scott (right foot) are out for an extended period. … Scott could be headed to Injured Reserve, while McLendon could be headed out of town.
Frank the Tank Summers took a shot from Ike Taylor after catching a swing pass in an 11-on-11 drill. … Roethlisberger donned LaMarr Woodley’s No. 56 jersey after practice to skip out on the post-workout autograph session that he complied with every previous day….
Tomlin noted that Roethlisberger will play this week against the Giants, but he refused to say when. Roethlisberger is expected to start since he has taken only first-team reps. …
Sepulveda’s first kickoff sailed into the end zone, but rookie Antonio Brown came out with it and went the distance. Even though it basically was only two-hand touch, nobody laid a hand on the speedster.