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Monday, July 31, 2006

Day 2

After the morning practice was moved indoors to St. Vincent College’s gymnasium, the Steelers held their second outdoor practice Monday afternoon on the rain-soaked fields here. Defensive end Travis Kirshke (back), fullback Dan Kreider (foot) and linebacker Mike Kudla (hamstring) were held out of the session.

Rodney Bailey moved up into Kirshke’s spot opposite Shaun Nua on the second team defense and looked good.

During 9-on-7 inside running drills, Bailey shed a blocker, slid down the line and enveloped running back Cedric Humes as he hit the hole.

Later in one-on-one pass rushing drills, Bailey had his way with rookie offensive tackle Willie Colon, who lost some early battles to Bailey, Andre Frazier and Clark Haggans. Colon came back late to stone Bailey, Aaron Smith and Frazier toward the end of the drill. The kid seems to be a fast learner.

Trai Essex is continuing to see time at guard as it looks as if they are preparing him to fill the spot of Barrett Brooks as the swing guy on game days. Brooks is a great guy, but his days here appear to be numbered.

Brett Keisel was the star of the one-on-one drills. He’s a fluid pass rusher and really gets up the field quickly. How he handles playing the run every down remains to be seen, but his pass-rush ability is something the team doesn’t have in any of its other linemen.

Over in the one-on-one passing drills, Nate Washington continued to shine, this time making a beautiful diving catch of a deep pass from Charlie Batch working against Ryan Clark.

In team drills, rookie corner Anthony Madison showed some flashes, batting down a couple of passes in coverage. Madison made a nice read on a quick out by Lee Mays to bat down a pass from Omar Jacobs. Later, he got a hand in front of Willie Reid to bat down a ball from Shayne Boyd.

Santonio Holmes tweaked a hamstring, but it was nothing serious.

He, Reid and Cedric Wilson were fielding punts during special teams session. Washington will also work in there and special teams coach Kevin Spencer made a point of having Washington field some punts at the conclusion of practice.

Rookie defensive end Lee Vickers (my sleeper pick to make the team) was worked into the lineup at outside linebacker. At 6-6, 270 pounds, Vickers is an interesting prospect. He reminds me a lot of former Steelers and current Patriots lineabacker Mike Vrabel.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

First-practice thoughts

Here are some random thoughts from the Steelers' first practice Sunday at St. Vincent College.

How amped up was the crowd that was estimated at 14,000 for its first view of the defending Super Bowl champions? Even little things like players going to the bathroom at a portable toilet drew large cheers.

"It's always big on weekends, but after a certain point, you just try to stop looking." said head coach Bill Cowher of the crowd. "But they were loud and they were cheering every little thing that happened."

Many, no doubt, showed up to watch quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's first practice since his June motorcycle accident. And while Roethlisberger wasn't particularly sharp - at least by his standards - throwing the ball Sunday, he did make it through practice without a major incident.

"We've had all the doctor's reports have said that he's ready to go. He says he's ready to go," said Cowher. "So we're proceeding on. The more we get out here, the more we'll relieve some of the tension. Until he takes the first hit in a game, that's going to be there too. But he seems good and we’re moving on."

Roethlisberger did have one scare when he hit his throwing hand on the back of guard Alan Faneca's helmet during a passing drill. The quarterback shook his hand a bit and huddled with trainer John Norwig for a while before continuing practice.

Safety Tyrone Carter started with the first team base defense at free safety and is holding off free agent Ryan Clark and rookie Anthony Smith at that spot for now. Clark is running second team with veteran Mike Logan.

As expected, James Harrison took Joey Porter's place at outside linebacker while Porter continues to recover from an offseason knee surgery.

Porter and wide receiver Walter Young were the only players who did not practice. Rookie linebacker Mike Kudla injured a hamstring and according to Cowher will be out a few days. Fullback Dan Kreider also suffered a minor injury, aggravating a previous foot injury and could miss Monday’s practice, which will be the team's first two-a-day session.

Rookie quarterback Omar Jacobs looked sharp on the throwing drills, putting numerous deep passes right on the money. The more I see of him, the less I'm bothered by his awkward throwing motion. He has a strong arm and nice touch on his passes.

On one particular play in the one-on-one receivers vs. defensive backs drills, Jacobs threw a perfect deep ball to Nate Washington, who made a leaping catch over Ricardo Colclough for a touchdown.

Later, Jacobs was right on the money on a deep post to Quincy Morgan, who had gotten behind two defensive backs, but Morgan dropped the pass.

As previously mentioned, Roethlisberger was less than sharp, having several passes batted down and a couple of passes intercepted, one by a leaping Clark Haggans, who had dropped into a short zone, the other by cornerback Deshea Townsend, who jumped a short out route by Washington and went into the end zone untouched.

Second-year outside linebacker Andre Frazier and rookie tackle Willie Colon were the stars of the one-on-one blocking drills.

Frazier put a wicked spin move on an opposing lineman to get to the quarterback and seems to be carrying the extra weight he put on - he's at 248 now - well. He also took on a block from a pulling Chris Kemoeatu during team drills, easily slipping the block to get to the ballcarrier.

Colon, meanwhile, stoned Haggans with his punch and is just nasty aggressive. He's not going to win the camp Lady Bing award.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Roethlisberger ready to go

Ben Roethlisberger completed the run test Saturday and proclaimed himself ready to resume his duties as the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In fact, Roethlisberger said Saturday, he's taking everything as normal now and will take his usual amount of snaps during the team's first practice Sunday.

What's amazing is that just six weeks ago, Roethlisberger spent seven hours in surgery to repair his face after a motorcycle accident.

The only real sign that Roethlisberger had anything happen to him are a bump on the bridge of his nose and the fact he's dropped 15 to 20 pounds, getting to 236 pounds.

On the other side of the coin, linebacker Joey Porter was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list and will be out indefinitely. Porter had offseason knee surgery. He's also reportedly miffed about his contract status. Stay tuned to this one.

Born to run

After giving it some thought last night, I've come to the conclusion Ben Roethlisberger will do the run test with the rest of the Steelers this afternoon. It will be his "I'm back" statement to the world.

I don't expect Roethlisberger to practice any time soon other than maybe throwing a football on the sideline. But running today will make a statement to everybody that he's put last month's motorcycle accident behind him and is focused on football again.

Friday, July 28, 2006

All in

There were no holdouts and nobody showed up late as the Steelers reported to training camp here at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.

Because of that, it was a quiet reporting day.

In fact, the days two biggest stories, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Santonio Holmes, weren't available to the media.

Both will speak to the media following Saturday's run test and have plenty of questions to answer. Roethlisberger will be pepperred with questions about his health following his motorcycle accident six weeks ago. Holmes will finally be forced to field questions about two arrests since the Steelers made him their first-round draft pick in April, the first for disorderly conduct, the second for domestic abuse.

Needless to say, Saturday should be a much more exciting day.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The time has come

As I sit here in the office for the final night before training camp begins, I can't help but dread the oncoming crush that is going to come with covering the defending Super Bowl champions.

Given the amount of coverage the Steelers received during Training camp is going to be a zoo this year. It seems that the TV stations here in Pittsburgh feel their viewers want all Steelers news at all times.

Unfortunately, this consists of sending 15 clueless reporters out and having them either dominate an interview with a player, asking ridiculous questions, or just talking aimlessly about nothing and simply mentioning the word "Steelers" every once in a while.

Boy, I can't wait.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Crank it up

I've been taking some much-needed time off from work, which has included taking time off from my blog as well. But with the opening of the Steelers training camp just one week away, I can ignore this no more.
Football season is upon us and aren't we all the better for it.
OK, maybe not. But the upcoming season should be one of the more interesting in the past few years here in Steelers territory. What, with a Super Bowl title to defend, a helmetless, motorcycle riding quarterbaack to keep track of and the possibility that this could be Bill Cowher's last season as head coach, there's plenty to talk about.
I'll keep you up to date with it all, not only in the daily paper, but here as well.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Back in black

Ben Roethlisberger made a surprise appearance at the ESPY awards to help the Steelers accept the award for the best team.

Roethlisberger was looking good for a guy who had been in a major accident a month ago. There was some swelling around his face, but overall, he looked like the Roethlisberger of old.

He also doesn't appear to have lost much, if any, weight, something that was a concern following his accident. It appears he'll be ready to go when training camp opens in a couple of weeks.

That's good news for Steelers fans.