A crowd of 24,000 was on hand to witness the spectacle that has become a Pittsburgh Steelers practice here at Saint Vincent College Wednesday night.
The crowd on hand was treated to linebacker Joey Porter’s return to the football field for the first time in pads since his offseason knee surgery.
Porter worked only in the team seven-on-seven passing drills, sometimes simulating a pass rush, other times dropping back into coverage.
The Pro Bowl linebacker looked good dropping back and made some nice cuts. He seems to be on schedule to return to full practice, maybe as early as next week.
Other good news included head coach Bill Cowher informing the throng of media in attendance that center Chukky Okobi’s injury isn’t as serious as initially thought. Okobi had surgery Wednesday morning and will only be out four to eight weeks. The initial prognosis had been the season and maybe a career-ending injury.
Hines Ward continued to sit out with his sore left hamstring and was joined by Issac West (bone bruise), tackle Trai Essex (groin) and fullback Branden Joe. Joe was a new addition to the injury list. He’s out with a hamstring pull.
Guard Kendall Simmons took some snaps at center with Charlie Batch before practice, but head coach Bill Cowher said that it was solely in case of a rainy day.
Center Tim Brown worked at left guard with the second team line in place of Essex, while Willie Colon slid back over to right tackle today as the team worked on some different things to prepare for its game Saturday at Arizona. Barrett Brooks was at left tackle. Chris Kemoeatu was the right guard, while rookie Marvin Philip was the center.
Tyrone Carter was the starting free safety with the first-team defense, while the second-team defensive line consisted of Rodney Bailey, Shaun Nua and Chris Hoke. Where Travis Kirshke fits into the equation remains to be seen.
The hit of the day belonged to linebacker James Harrison (who else?). Harrison feigned covering a slot receiver against the scout team and blitzed, running through rookie running back Cedric Humes, who was knocked to his back.
Humes, however, seems to be running harder since his tongue lashing by Cowher earlier this week.
Rookie Santonio Holmes is still plagued by an occasional drop, but had a nice leaping catch from Charlie Batch along the sideline.
Not to be outdone, rookie Willie Reid, who has, by my unofficial count, failed to drop a pass this entire camp, made a beautiful leaping catch of an underthrown pass from Omar Jacobs working against Ike Taylor. Reid’s a keeper.
Shayne Boyd threw the only pick in the practice moments later, hitting linebacker Clint Kreiwaldt in the stomach at the goal line. The pass was so errant it was hard to figure out who it was to.