By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — With one seemingly innocuous play, the Pittsburgh Steelers 2011 training camp surprise went down with an injury.
Running back Baron Batch, the seventh-round pick from Texas Tech who has been turning heads from coaches to media alike from the outset at Saint Vincent College, was running out a play during the final team session just a few minutes from the end of Wednesday’s practice when he slipped and fell.
Batch immediately grabbed his left knee. He was helped up and later taken to the locker room on a cart. The severity of the injury is unknown at this time, and so is his status for the Steelers preseason opener against the Washington Redskins Friday at 7:30 p.m. at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
“I just told him to keep his head up,” Steelers starting running back Rashard Mendenhall said. “You never know how serious it is. I guess we’ll know in the next few hours here, but you can’t get too down until you know for sure.
“Baron has done a great job with the opportunities presented him so far, but we’ll see what happens from here. Hopefully, it’s not too serious.”
Batch looked extremely sad and dejected during his cart ride, but that’s to be expected. Without speculating too much, any injury that limits or eliminates his participation during the remainder of camp would alter the Steelers’ plans at running back as well.
Batch was expected to battle veteran Mewelde Moore for the third-down role, while Isaac Redman — the short-yardage and goal-line back — and second-year player Jonathan Dwyer also worked for a spot. Batch has had the upper hand so far, but the preseason games would have been a difference-maker.
“He’s been making a lot of plays out there, so everybody was talking about how we can’t wait to see him in a game,” Steelers wideout Mike Wallace said. “It’s a shame if he’s hurt real bad, but we don’t know anything just yet.”
Speaking of Wallace, he barely missed a snap during his first two NFL seasons let alone missing two straight practices like he has the past two days with a sore hamstring. However, the third-year speedster said he’ll play Friday.
“Most definitely,” Wallace said when asked if he’d be in the starting lineup against the Redskins. “I’ll be fine. I’m practicing (Thursday), for sure, and I’ll be ready to play Friday night. I felt like I could have practiced today, but they wanted to give me another day off.”
Another player previously believed to be out for the preseason opener is right offensive guard Ramon Foster. After missing two days with a concussion, he increased his playing Wednesday and promised he would play Friday.
“I’ll be in there,” Foster said. “I feel good. I wanted to see how things would go in practice, and they went pretty well. As long as I feel good when I wake up tomorrow, I’ll be in there Friday night.”
Foster, who ended last season and began this one as the Steelers’ starting right guard, appears to be battling second-year player Chris Scott, who missed last season with a foot injury. Scott started at right guard while Foster was out and should push the third-year pro for playing time.
“After last season, I’m really enjoying myself this year,” Scott said. “I was able to be involved from the standpoint that I could watch to see how things were done last year, and now I’m ready to get some playing time. Your first year, you really don’t know what’s going on, and you have to learn as you go.
“I was able to do that without making any mistakes, so I could be in on meetings and watch practice to take it all in. Now, I’m working hard in practice and really enjoying myself. We’ll see what happens when they tell us how much we’ll play, but I’ll be ready for whatever they want me to do.”
It was believed that Doug Legursky (6-foot-1, 315 pounds) would battle Foster (6-6, 325) at starting right guard, but Scott (6-4, 319) has comparable in size.
Notes: The quarterback rotation had Byron Leftwich taking every second-team snap, while Dennis Dixon worked exclusively with the third team. And Charlie Batch was fourth. … CB Bryant McFadden (hamstring) already has been ruled out for the game, but he worked out extensively on his own and was running hard in a straight line. … WR Limas Sweed (left shoulder) and CB Curtis Brown (hamstring) were not ruled out by Tomlin, but they did not practice Wednesday.