By Dale Grdnic
The muggy conditions during Wednesday’s workout were tempered a bit because it was somewhat overcast for the second hour. The first one was rough, though, as the heat index reached 97 degrees on the field by 4 p.m.
“(They) were good for us (and) part of this team building,” Tomlin said. “There was good, focused work. Nothing extraordinary as far as what was done, but … we accomplished a lot.”
While there appears to be some separation at certain positions, Tomlin said that performances in the preseason games would be a major factor in determining basically who stays and who gets cut.
One difference during Wednesday’s practice was he appearance of several local officials, who manned the sidelines to keep the Steelers playing within the rules. There were a lot of team drills with Byron Leftwich working primarily with the first team, followed by Ben Roethlisberger and then Dennis Dixon. Charlie Batch didn’t take a snap in the team (11-on-11) sessions.
Both Roethlisberger and Leftwich were sharp when they threw the ball, but the majority of team drills were first-down situations. So, the Steelers ran the ball more times than not. Roethlisberger did hit Emmanuel Sanders for nearly a 40-yard gain down the middle. The rookie wideout has displayed excellent hands and concentration in traffic, and he slipped in between the deep coverage.
Occasionally, the second-team offense went against the first-team defense and held its own for the most part with Roethlisberger at the helm. He completed passes to Antonio Brown and Isaiah Williams, as well as another toss to Sanders.
Dixon also hooked up with……
Brown during his turn, despite pressure up the middle from Ziggy Hood at the nose tackle spot. With Casey Hampton still nursing his hamstring injury, Chris Hoke has run with the first team, so Hood got a shot in the middle.
Running back Rashard Mendenhall returned to full-time duties as well and had several nice runs on tosses to the right and left by Leftwich. Max Starks and Flozell Adams provided the seal blocks to get him around the end. Hood again showed his strength, quickness and athleticism by slipping into the backfield and nailing Mewelde Moore.
On the offensive side, Sean McHugh showed that he is healthy again, as he took out Keyaron Fox coming out of the backfield. Fox did not see him coming and was focused on stopping Isaac Redman.
Arnaz Battle joined the pass-catching parade, as both Roethlisberger and Leftwich spread the ball around. Dixon liked what the other guys were doing, so he hit Brown on a sideline route. While it appears to be the overwhelming opinion that Leftwich will open the season as the starter, Dixon felt differently.
“I would say that it’s still a competition, and I believe everyone is taking that approach,” Dixon said. “So, I just want to take it one step at a time and try to do the best I can whenever my number is called. (And) I believe I can make a difference, really show what I can do, in the preseason games.”
In four kickoffs, Jeff Reed reached the end zone twice and the goal line twice. Stefan Logan and Joe Burnett returned two each. It was a block-oriented drill, so only the return was emphasized.
Max Starks and Chris Kemoeatu were the toughest O-linemen to move while going against the D-line in one-on-ones. Doug Worthington, Chris Hoke and Brett Keisel were the top defensive players.
Tomlin’s injury report noted that defensive tackle Steve McLendon has an illness of some kind, so he’s just being observed. Frank Summers is working his way back from a concussion. Larry Foote smacked him in Tuesday’s practice.
Several players are getting closer to returning: Jonathan Dwyer (hamstring), Andre Frazier (knees) and Jason Worilds (hamstring) are starting the process of running. Dwyer missed his fourth straight day, only went through one-plus practices and said he’s nowhere near ready to play.
Defensive tackle Scott Paxson and fullback Dwayne Wright had heat-related discomfort and missed some time. Paxson has diabetes, so that hampers him during hot, muggy days.