By Mike Bires
LATROBE _ First and foremost, Mike Tomlin wants to come out of the first pre-season game without any new injuries. But next on his priority list is checking out “our young guys.”
That would be the nine draft picks, a host of undrafted free agents and some second-year players who were with the Steelers last year.
The “young guys” of particular interest Thursday when the Steelers host the Arizona Cardinals include rookie defensive end Ziggy Hood, the Steelers’ first round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, running back Rashard Mendenhall, the first-round pick in last year’s draft, and wide receiver Limas Sweed, a second-rounder last year.
Tomlin is also curious to see how a par of rookies _ wide receiver Mike Wallace and cornerback Joe Burnett _ fare as kick return specialists.
“I’m eager to see all of them play,” Tomlin said. “I think all of these young people have had their moments. Positively and negatively, it comes with being a young player at training camp.
“I know that when you step in the stadium (for a game), it is not too big for some and maybe it is too big for others. Some distinguish themselves positively and negatively when you start playing football games. So that is what creates the anticipation for me as we prepare for Thursday night. I know that we are going to gain some clarity.”
As far as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the first-stringers, they’re expected to play a series or two and then call in a night.
At this point, the only players ruled out of the first pre-season game have been center/guard Darnell Stapleton, who had arthroscopic knee surgery last week.
“We are at that point in training camp where it’s time to face a new challenge and take a step,” Tomin said. “We look forward into stepping onto Heinz Field and putting on the black and gold and performing for our fans. We look forward to the challenge of playing the Arizona Cardinals.
“The big thing is that you want guys to come out and play with great tempo and play with speed. We’re just concerned about coming out and playing the game extremely fast and extremely hard. We realize that we are not going to play perfect, but we’ve got to have a Steeler kind of tempo in our play.”
Tomlin said he’s not sure if all four quarterbacks on the roster will play. Roethlisberger will start off and will likely be followed by Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon. If time permits, fourth-string QB Mike Reilly will play a series or two.
Wallace, a third-round draft pick with blazing speed, will definitely get the first crack at returning kickoffs. Burnett, a fifth-round draft pick, will be up first at punt returner.
“It’s that point in the process and I am a guy that appreciates the journey,” Tomlin said of Thursday’s exhibition game. “We have done what we’ve had to do here for 10 days or so.
“It’s been good and now it is that time in the process where we take the next step and get a little more information. Turn the heat up just a little bit on the process and of course there is some excitement that comes with that.”