Monday, August 28, 2006

Clark speaks out

Speaking with safety Ryan Clark Monday about the battle for the starting free safety position, he expressed a lot of frustration with the process. Read more about it in Tuesday's Observer-Reporter.

The Steelers released eight players Monday to trim their roster to the NFL-mandated minimum of 75. Among the rookies released were safety Zach Baker, kicker Mark Brubaker, offensive tackle Nick Hagemann and guard Grayling Love.

Also released were fullback Doug Easlick, center Kyle Andrews, linebacker Malcolm Postell and wide receiver Isaac West.

NFL teams must trim their rosters to 53 players by 6 p.m. Saturday.

Linebacker Joey Porter was absent from practice Monday while dealing with tonsillitis. He is expected back today.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Streets of Philadelphia

Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor wants to stay in Pittsburgh, but he wants an eight-digit signing bonus to do so.

But if Taylor, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of this season, wants to be paid like one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, he’d better start playing like one.

Not that Taylor isn’t solid in coverage, coming up to support the run and all of the other things the Steelers ask of their cornerbacks. In those areas, Taylor isn’t lacking.

But there’s a reason why an aging cornerback like Ty Law can hang around the NFL so long and still command big salaries and why, at this point, Taylor cannot. Law had 10 interceptions last season. Taylor had one.

Case and point why the Steelers are not going to give Taylor the kind of signing bonus he desires – even if somebody else may – came during the opening drive by the Eagles in their 16-7 preseason win over the Steelers.

Taylor got his hands on two Donovan McNabb passes in the first quarter, both of which came in Pittsburgh territory. He dropped both and insted of coming away with nothing, the Eagles went on to kick a field goal.

Taylor had excellent coverage on both plays. But if he truly wants to reach that next level as a corner, he’s got to catch those balls.

Here are some other thoughts from Friday’s preseason game:

© Taylor wasn’t the only player on the Steelers’ first-team defense who wasn’t exactly in midseason form.

Pittsburgh’s vaunted run defense wasn’t exactly up to snuff. Correll Buckhalter had 28 yards on six carries working against the first-team defense on Philadelphia’s first two possessions, breaking some tackles along the way.

The defense also missed several tackles in the secondary after catches.

Despite what many think, head coach Bill Cowher doesn’t exactly run a tough training camp and there’s not a lot of hitting.

It showed Friday night.

© When the Steelers selected Anthony Smith with the first of their two third-round draft picks – and second-overall selection – many wondered about the pick. That was especially true considering there were several big-name safeties still on the draft board at that point.

Three games into this preseason, nobody is questioning the Steelers’ selection of Smith any longer. Now, they are wondering exactly when Cowher is going to stop messing around with Ryan Clark and Tyrone Carter at free safety and insert Smith into the starting lineup.

That may indeed happen at some point this season. But in the meantime, Smith is going to continue making plays as he did Friday night on punt coverage, timing his hit up perfectly to level Philadelphia return man J.R. Reed. That one will go down as one of the hits of the year even though it happened in the preseason.

© Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is hooking up with running back Willie Parker quite a bit in the passing game this preseason. Playing just one series, Parker had three carries and three catches.

Part of the reason for that was to help slow Philadelphia’s pass rush, which the offensive line was having trouble with.

But Parker is going to be a huge part of the offense this season.

© Any thoughts the Steelers had about keeping a third quarterback were quickly erased when Cowher had to watch Omar Jacobs and Shane Boyd stumble around the field again against the Eagles.

At this point, there’s no guarantee either of those two will even make the practice squad. Drew Henson was released by Dallas earlier this week. He’s got to be better than Jacobs and Boyd.

© Chris Gardocki averaged 46.0 yards on his two punts, placing one inside the 20. Mike Barr saw his only kick sail 53 yards.

Barr was the holder on Jeff Reed’s first field goal attempt, a 50-yard attempt on which Barr appeared to have trouble getting the ball down clean.

Gardocki held on Reed’s successful PAT in the first half and for his 47-yard field goal attempt in the second half. Reed missed that one, but it did not appear to be because of a poor hold.

It appears that Barr may be a little bit better punter than Gardocki, but Gardocki is a better holder. Advantage Gardocki.

© The Steelers finally got a chance to run Duce Staley in a short-yardage situation, but the second-team offensive line and fullback John Kuhn forgot to block anybody on the play.

That’s not to say Staley would have succeeded in the fourth-and-one situation, but he really didn’t have a chance on that one.

© Staley finished with 21 yards on 11 carries. Verron Haynes had 15 yards on five attempts.

The Steelers should be scouring the waiver wire once the cuts start happening to look for a possible third quarterback and another running back.

© Ricardo Colclough, meet Greg Lewis. Greg Lewis, meet Ricardo Colclough and welcome to the end zone.

Bryant McFadden had to be looking at Colclough chasing Lewis to the end zone and wondering exactly what he has to do to beat that guy out.

© For some reason, the Steelers feel that Jonathan Dekker is their third-best tight end.

After watching him bat down a Charlie Batch pass in the first half like it was on fire, fail to block anybody on Staley’s fourth-down attempt and then get lit up in the fourth quarter on another catch attempt, I, for the life of me, can’t figure out why.

Cripes, what’s Matt Cushing doing these days?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

And then there were none

Here is it good readers, the final practice report of this, the 2006 training camp of the defending world champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

For those of you who are new to this blog, reporters are permitted into the team’s practices during at their offices on the South Side. We’re just not allowed to give you a detailed report of what happens like we are from training camp.

I'll still be blogging throughout the season with whatever info I dig up here or there, but detailed practice reports are out until next year.

So without any further ado, here is what happened at today’s session here at Saint Vincent College:

With Deshea Townsend out with a broken right thumb, Ricardo Colclough was surprisingly in the starting lineup. Apparently it was not only a surprise to the media, but to second-year corner Bryant McFadden as well.

“I guess it’s out of my hands,” said an obviously disappointed McFadden. “Coach (Bill) Cowher told me after practice that it didn’t have anything to do with my play. That he was just making this move based on feel. I’m disappointed. I’m a competitor and I want to be out there as much as possible. But there’s nothing I can do but play football when I do get out there.”

The team practiced in shells only today as it spent most of the session preparing for Friday night’s preseason game at Philadelphia.

As he has done for a good part of the last two weeks, right guard Kendall Simmons took some snaps at center, with Chris Kemoeatu moving into the starting lineup at guard. Simmons, however, had his first miscue at center, as he and second-string quarterback Charlie Batch botched a snap.

There were also some changes in the second team offensive line, as Trai Essex slid back outside to left tackle, with Kemoeatu playing left guard, rookie Marvin Philip at center, Barrett Brooks at right guard and rookie Willie Colon at right tackle. Colon looked out of place at left tackle last week and the team is likely readying Essex to fill the third tackle spot while also getting Kemoeatu prepared to be the third guard.

Strong safety Troy Polamalu, sporting a nifty pair of green and gray argyle socks throughout practice, made an outstanding diving interception in the end zone when the team began working on 7-on-7 red zone with the first team offense against the first team defense.

Colclough, apparently wearing a pair of shorts that was too big, stripped down to his undershorts for one play before Townsend gave him his shorts, causing several guys on the sidelines to yell, “Thanks Shea.” Thanks Shea indeed.

Linebacker James Farrior tipped a Ben Roethlisberger pass intended for tight end Heath Miller and the ball caromed into the air just in front of the goal posts. Polamalu came from at least 10 yards away to make the diving pick.

Roethlisberger rebounded, though, throwing TD passes to Nate Washington and Cedrick Wilson. Washington’s TD came working against safety Ryan Clark and corner Chidi Iwuoma. Wilson’s catch came with safety Mike Logan draped over his back.

Lee Mays had a nice one-handed grab along the sidelines from Omar Jacobs, while Santonio Holmes made a beautiful grab in traffic at the goal line from Jacobs for a score.

The team was very loose today in its final full practice of this training camp. With just a walkthrough Thursday, the road race back to Pittsburgh will begin around noon.

Wide receivers Hines Ward and Isaac West, tight end Jerame Tuman and center Chukky Okobi joined Townsend on the sidelines, though Okobi again centered for the 7-on-7 drills.

I hope you all have enjoyed your daily looks into training camp and I hope you continue to stop by as I offer tips on what I'm seeing around the NFL.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

As the jaw juts

The Pittsburgh Steelers held their next-to-last full practice of this training camp here at Saint Vincent College and head coach Bill Cowher was less than pleased with how things went.

Cowher called the team together in the middle of the practice field for several minutes Tuesday in the middle of the session after a sluggish effort by the team in the 7-on-7 passing drills and an earlier team portion.

Things picked up considerably after Cowher’s tongue lashing as the intensity level, in particular, rose. With the end of camp in sight, Cowher said he just had a little heart-to-heart with the team about their current state as he sees it.

Wide receiver Hines Ward again tried to practice today but was still unable to complete the practice. His status for Friday’s preseason game in Philadelphia is very doubtful, though he said he’ll try to practice again Wednesday.

Linebacker James Harrison had his foot stepped on during position drills and was carted off for X-rays, which came back negative. Harrison later returned to practice.

Part of the reason for Cowher’s heart-to-heart talk was no doubt the mistakes some of the rookies are still making.

On one play of prep for the Philadelphia game, quarterback Omar Jacobs turned the wrong way on a handoff, going to his right while the offensive line and running back Duce Staley went left. Cowher had the team re-huddle and run the play again.

Later in the 7-on-7 drills, wide receiver Santonio Holmes turned out toward the sidelines when quarterback Charlie Batch threw a hook to the inside. Corner Bryant McFadden easily picked off the pass.

Rookie tight end Jonathan Dekker then dropped an easy pass over the middle with nobody around him, a play that was quickly followed up by rookie running back Cedric Humes dropping a ball in the flats with nobody around him.

After another session of game prep, the team worked on some red zone offense and defense. The standouts from that were Ben Roethlisberger overthrowing a wide open Cedrick Wilson on a flag pattern. Wilson had beaten corner Anthony Madison. Holmes made a nice adjustment for a touchdown from Batch, coming back for the ball. Deshea Townsend picked off Shane Boyd on a pass for Lee Mays. Running back John Kuhn fumbled on a short-yardage run.

In a one-minute drill at the end of practice, the first team offense and defense lined up against each other, with the offense prevailing as Roethlisberger moved the team into field goal range at the 32.

Defensive end Aaron Smith nearly picked off a screen pass to Verron Haynes on the second play of the drive. Roethlisberger and Wilson also failed to connect on a long TD pass after Wilson had gotten behind McFadden with a double move and a Roethlisberger pump fake. Wilson appeared to lose the ball in the sun.

Boyd didn’t last long in his attempt at the hurry-up. Throwing an interception to rookie safety Anthony Smith to end practice on his third pass attempt.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Feeling Minnesota

Is it just me, or did the Steelers always seem to have problems with Chester Taylor when he was in Baltimore as well?

And while we’re on the subject of Taylor, why on earth would you trade one purple uniform for another. Gack!

© Ryan Clark looked a lot like Chris Hope at free safety against the Vikings. He came up strong a few times, but also missed some tackles.

No wonder head coach Bill Cowher doesn’t feel the team will miss a beat without Hope in there.

© You Nate Washington doubters out there can start writing your apology notes any time now. The kid’s going to be a factor this season.

© The Steelers’ battle for a possible third tight end position is looking embarrassing.

Fifth-round draft pick Charles Davis looks like Tarzan, but plays like Jane.

Jon Dekker keeps getting run over like a boy playing with men.

And if Isaac Smolko played Saturday, he didn’t make himself apparent in doing so.

Right now, the top candidate for that third tight end spot is offensive lineman Trai Essex. Essex did go to Northwestern as a tight end before going on the cheese pizza diet.

© Branden Joe played a lot against the Vikings, not only in as the team’s second fullback, but also on special teams. Right now, I’d say he’s the frontrunner to be the team’s fifth running back, especially after delivering some solid blows as a wedge buster.

© Speaking of wedge busters, Chris Kemoeatu delivered the blow of the game working as a buster of the wedge, driving his man five yards backward - in the air - on a second quarter kickoff.

© The Steelers are going to only keep two quarterbacks. Omar Jacobs and Shane Boyd were pretty bad again Saturday – though Jacobs did show a little promise despite having to call a timeout on the second play of the third quarter. The only thing they had going for them was that the Vikings’ Mike McMahon played in the game as well. McMahon is awful.

It just goes to show, you can find a guy like that to be your third quarterback anywhere.

The bet here is that the Steelers put Jacobs on their practice squad and if somebody else signs him, the Steelers won’t mind. At least they won’t have to deal with looking at that funky release any more.

© Tarvaris Jackson, now there’s a young quarterback to develop. Minnesota got ripped for trading two third round picks to the Steelers for a second round selection with which they took Jackson.

Seems like a trade that will work out for both teams. The Vikings got a kid who looks like their QB of the future. The Steelers got Anthony Smith and Willie Reid.

© Keeping two quarterbacks and two tight ends makes it easier for the Steelers to keep guys like linebackers Arnold Harrison and Richard Seigler or Joe.

© I had questions about Travis Kirschke’s status earlier in this training camp. I don’t any longer. Right now, he and Chris Hoke are the only two backup defensive linemen worth anything.

Rodney Bailey, Shaun Nua and Orien Harris look overmatched, while Lee Vickers appears to have fallen completely out of the picture.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Roethlisberger will play

It appears as though Ben Roethlisberger will play in tonight's preseason game against Minnesota.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Afternoon delight

The last two-a-day practice now over, the Steelers ran off to their families after what Coach Bill Cowher called two great days of practice.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hit his hand on a shoulder pad on the second-to-last play of which he particiapted, but Cowher believes it to be a minor injury. That won't stop the local TV stations from breaking into their re-runs of Family Feud with a news flash, however, so beware.

The practices have gotten better for the most part, but there are certainly some players separating themselves from the pack in the battle for the final few roster spots.

Linebacker Arnold Harrison continues to flash from his outside spot and was the star of what will likely be the last back-on-backs drill of this camp.

Harrison, doing his best James Harrison impression, hit rookie tight end Charles Davis so hard he not only jarred his helmet off, he knocked a contact out of his eye. Harrison then finished the drill on his last chance by beating starting running back Willie Parker.

In the battle of mouths, Verron Haynes beat Joey Porter, but not before Porter pushed the quarterback for the drill, none other than Cowher. Not to be outdone, James Harrison bumped into Cowher two plays later. No respect for the outgoing coach, perhaps?

Santonio Holmes, Willie Reid, Quincy Morgan and Ricardo Colclough were the deep men when the team worked on kickoff returns and coverage.

During scout team drills, Roethlisberger and Nate Washington made rookie corner Anthony Madison look silly as the quarterback rolled to his right and Washington took off down the sideline. Madison stayed at home and Washington caught the ball 15 yards behind him for an easy score.

Later, with a pass eerily similar to the one Tom Brady threw against the Steelers in the AFC Championship two years ago to Deion Branch, Roethlisberger hooked up with Cedrick Wilson deep working against Chidi Iwuoma.

Apparently feeling sorry for beleaguered cornerback Colclough, Shane Boyd took matters into his own hands, rolled to his right on one play and threw the ball directly to Colclough, who was in zone coverage with no one else around. By the way, Colclough looks much more comfortable in zone coverage than in man. That was stressed a couple of plays later when Willie Reid burned Colclough down the sideline for a nice gain on a well-thrown pass by Omar Jacobs.

During the final team session, Holmes showed a little hotdog when he caught a deep pass working against Anthony Smith and Bryant McFadden. Holmes reached up on the run and took the ball away from Smith, then held the ball aloft as he ran into the end zone. Better watch that one kid.

Boyd ran the only one-minute drill at the end of practice and successfully maneuvered the team into field-goal range. There was not a second-team one-minute drill.

Sean Morey missed practice and has a cast on his left hand. Cowher said it's nothing serious and that Morey should be back Thursday. Since he's not expected to catch the ball anyway, playing with a cast shouldn't be a problem.

Hines Ward, Jerame Tuman, Duce Staley and Clint Kriewaldt also sat out practice; Ward and Tuman with hamstring injuries; Staley and Kriewaldt to rest their tired bones.

A couple of other observerations: Cedrick Humes still runs too high and is going to get his head taken off; Lee Vickers just isn't physical enough to play at this level. He has the athleticism, but needs to put on more muscle; The next guy to block James Harrison one- on-one on a regular basis will be the first; and Trai Essex looked good in one-on-one blocking drills today, maybe the best of all the second-string linemen.

Last two-a-day

Sorry for nothing yesterday. Seemed to have been a problem with the blogger company.

Coming off his best practice of this training camp here at Saint Vincent College, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Quincy Morgan apparently felt he had done enough.

He took the morning off Wednesday as the Steelers completed the first session of their last two-a-day of this training camp.

We won’t know until later on this afternoon what Morgan’s ailment was. Maybe he was told he would no longer get to line up opposite Ricardo Colclough.

Colclough picked up where he left off Tuesday afternoon as two of the team’s first four plays of red zone 9-on-7 went for touchdowns to receivers working against the beleaguered corner.

The first was a nice pass by Ben Roethlisberger to Nate Washington on the second play of the series – Deshea Townsend had picked off Roethlisberger’s first attempt, a pass to Cedrick Wilson. Colclough was a good two steps behind Washington on the pass.

The next play was another touchdown, this one a Roethlisberger pass to rookie tight end Charles Davis on a corner route. Davis was so open that it was a stretch to single out any one player who was supposed to be covering him.

Charlie Batch then came on and found rookie receiver Willie Reid working against Colclough for a score. Reid really has a chance to be something special in this league with his speed and instincts. It may not happen this season, but the kid could wind up being better than first-round pick Santonio Holmes.

Batch followed up that touchdown pass by finding tight end Isaac Smolko in the end zone working against linebacker Rian Wallace.

Batch then looked Reid’s direction again, this time rolling to his right. Reid broke off his route, stopped on a dime and came back across the end zone for a TD in front of the goal post.

Omar Jacobs was up next and he hooked up with Lee Mays at the corner of the pylon, just slipping a pass past Ike Taylor for a score. Taylor was in good position on the play, but Jacobs put the ball in a spot where only Mays could catch it.

Walter Young completed the offense’s scoring in the drill by going up over rookie Anthony Madison to pull in a touchdown pass from Shane Boyd.

It was the only highlight of the day for Young, who also dropped a pair of easily catchable passes from Jacobs later in team drills.

Linebacker Clark Haggans returned to practice after taking Tuesday off for personal reasons. In addition to Morgan, also not practicing were wide receivers Hines Ward and Isaac West and tight end Jerame Tuman.

Center Chukky Okobi looked better than anyone should expect a guy who had neck surgery last week to look. Okobi was practicing coming out of a stance during the session and even bobbed his head to the music - presumable his own rap CD – playing on his digital player.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Post-game wrap

The Steelers lost their preseason opener at Arizona Saturday night. But there was plenty more to look at other than the outcome of the game. First and foremost was the play of running back Willie Parker.

Much of the focus from Saturday's opening preseason game was on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s performance and rightfully so.

But as good as Roethlisberger looked Saturday, Willie Parker was the player who caught my eye.

Parker only got three carries in the Steelers' 21-13 loss at Arizona, but they were three impressive carries for 12 yards. He also made a big 7-yard catch off of a scramble by Roethlisberger.

What impressed me about Parker? His patience waiting for a hole to develop. That was something that wasn't always evident with Parker last season when he often just took the ball and ran as fast as he could.

That was something that drove the coaching staff in North Carolina crazy and was something they couldn't Parker to do. Now, Parker is watching and waiting, turning on the jets only after the hole opens up.

A little maturity goes a long way.

He's going to have a huge season.

• Mike Barr averaged a healthy 49.0 yards per attempt on his three punts. Chris Gardocki boomed his lone kick 59 yards.

A little competition goes a long way.

I'm still convinced Gardocki is the better holder of the two and that will be the deciding factor as to which punter makes the final roster.

• Any question as to how Brett Keisel would hold up against the run was erased when he blew up Arizona's first running play of the game.

Keisel will be fine.

But replacing Keisel as a backup could be problematic.

The Steelers went with Travis Kirschke and Rodney Bailey as the second-team defensive ends against the Cardinals and they made J.J. Arrington look like he was the second coming of Edgerrin James. Kirshke's back remains problematic and Bailey's injury history since leaving the Steelers a couple of years ago is as well.

The third-team ends, Shaun Nua and Lee Vickers, got pushed around late in the game like they were on skates. Both look like they need to put on more weight.

• I wasn't nearly as concerned with some of the third-and-long conversions as KDKA color analyst Edmund Nelson seemed to be.

It being preseason and all, the Steelers did very little blitzing and got little pressure on Kurt Warner when he was in there. History has shown that if you hit Warner a couple of times, he folds.

History has also shown that the Steelers will get pressure on the quarterback when the games start to count.

• What the heck was Ricardo Colclough doing back deep for the first two kickoffs? Was he providing veteran leadership? Hadn’t he made his quota for dropped kicks for the week?

• Santonio Holmes caught four passes for 32 yards, while Willie Reid had four receptions for 30. Those aren't exactly impressive numbers, but both young wideouts had big catches on third down and showed they could be factors this season.

• Cedrick Wilson needs to worry more about catching the ball and less about getting the officials' attention when he feels he's been interfered with.

On the opening play of the second quarter, Arizona corner Antrell Rolle obviously interfered with Wilson along the sideline.

The ball was still in the air and Wilson was already waiving for a flag. Rolle, meanwhile, nearly picked off the ball, which Wilson was paying no attention to.

It was something Wilson also did at times last season and it annoyed me.

What if Rolle had picked off the ball there and the officials hadn’t thrown the flag?

Wilson needs to see the play through its completion before he starts looking for the flag. You never know when they aren't going to throw it.

• Now we know what the Steelers liked about Anthony Smith.

You can talk about 40 times and all of that. But the kid flat out makes plays.

Will he beat out Tyrone Carter or Ryan Clark for the starting free safety spot? Nope. He's still a little too raw for that this year.
But next season, all bets are off.

• Play-by-play guy Bob Pompeani actually said at one point that Willie Colon was the best lineman in the Hofstra offense last season. I know that Hofstra is a football factory and all, but I'd guess Colon wasn't just the school's best lineman last season, but in school history.

I know that you're searching for things to say when you're doing that job, but come on Pomp, you're better than that.

• Shane Boyd is wearing Tommy Maddox's No. 8 jersey, but he looked a lot more like another former Steelers' QB Saturday. In fact, if Boyd had put on a No. 10 jersey, I'd have sworn I was watching Kordell Stewart play again - without the breakaway speed.

Boyd finished 8 of 16 for 67 yards and an interception and also scrambled four times for 16 yards.

Omar Jacobs, who is battling Boyd for the No. 3 QB position, is still struggling getting in and out of the huddle. I thought Bill Cowher’s head was going to explode when Jacobs failed to get a play off before the two-minute warning at the end of the second half. But the kid has a heck of a lot more upside than Boyd.

Boyd wasn't any better in his clock management at the end of the first half. He threw an interception that was negated by an illegal hands to the face penalty.

It's only one game, but I'd keep Jacobs over Boyd.

If the Steelers cut Jacobs, he'd likely be picked up by another team. If they cut Boyd, nobody is likely to do so.

• Richard Siegler will soon move ahead of Rian Wallace on the team's depth chart at inside linebacker. Sigler, a 49ers' castoff, is outstanding in coverage and just looks more explosive than Wallace, a fifth-round draft pick last year.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Final tuneup

I focused on the team's rotation on the defensive line today at practice since that appears to be shaping up as one of the tougher cuts for the Steelers this year.

Defensive end Travis Kirshke sat out the practice presumably with his bothersome back. It’s getting to be a habit and he’s really opening the door for somebody to beat him out.

Rodney Bailey and Shaun Nua worked as the ends on the second-team defense, with Lee Vickers also seeing some snaps there.

Vickers and Orien Harris worked as the third-team ends, with Scott Paxson on the nose. It seems to be a sign that Vickers may be ahead of Harris at this point. Either that, or it’s a sign that Vickers is pushing Nua, whom he replaced at right end on the second Okie when he came in.

Bailey was on the nose in the team’s No. 2 quarter defense and may be moving past Kirshke in the battle for a backup position. The team figures to keep at least one of the two veterans, but probably not both.

Linebacker Joey Porter, who had said Wednesday that he would take things slowly in his comeback from offseason knee surgery, felt confident enough to go out and run pretty much a full practice schedule.

Porter returned to the first-team defense during 11-on-11 drills, though he did sit out the last portion of practice when the team was working on some things it would do against Arizona.

Ben Roethlisberger looked great in the 7-on-7 red zone, completing all four of his passes, three for touchdowns. Two of those scores went to Nate Washington, the first against linebacker Clark Haggans, the second against safety Mike Logan. Both passes were over the middle in front of the goal post and Washington made leaping catches both times.

Roethlisberger’s third TD pass went to Quincy Morgan, who had a couple of drops today. Roethlisberger made a nice pump fake and hit Morgan on a slant against Bryant McFadden.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Hump day

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.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Tuesday afternoon

he Pittsburgh Steelers were dealt ther first major injury blow Tuesday when they learned center Chukky Okobi may be lost for the season because of a ruptured disk in his neck.

Steelers head coach Bill Cowher said the injury, which occured sometime last week and has been bothering the backup center for the past week, may even be career-threatening.

Because of the injury to Okobi, rookie Marvin Philip takes a step up the depth chart and even saw time with the first team offense Wednesday afternoon.

Philip has looked good at times and the team likes his potential. He was center for both groups in the two-minute offense drill and looked to have some problems with his long snaps.

Hines Ward tried to return to practice early, but left after some team drills as his hamstring is still tight. Cowher said it wasn’t a setback, however, and that Ward was just seeing how things felt.

Cowher did say that linebacker Joey Porter will likely be activated off the PUP list Wednesday and will practice for the first time in this camp. Porter has been out since having offseason knee surgery.

Of note are the fact that Mike Barr again worked with Jeff Reed as a holder and we’ve now learned he has a legitimate shot of beating out Chris Gardocki for the punting job.

Also, Rian Wallace’s spot as the team’s fourth inside linebacker is also in jeopardy from Richard Sielger, who has surpassed him on the depth chart.

The Steelers head coach was in a better mood today than he was for yesterday afternoon’s session, but did take some time out to yell at defensive linemen Shaun Nua and Rodney Bailey.

“Come on Nua, show me something,” Cowher yelled to Nua moments after chastisting Bailey to, “stay low and come off the ball.”

Both are battling for a backup spot on the defensive line.

On the first play of team 11-on-11 drills, Heath Miller made a beautiful one-handed catch of a Ben Roethlisberger pass in the flats. He took one step, however, and had the ball stripped by James Harrison. Deshea Townsend picked the ball up and easily scored.

On the ensuing play, Roethlisberger threw deep to Cedrick Wilson, but was intercepted by Troy Polamalu, who made a nice over the shoulder running catch.

Rookie wideout Santonio Holmes continues to have his ups and downs.

On one play, he dropped a perfect pass down the sideline from Charlie Batch. On the next play, seemingly the same pattern on the other side of the field, Holmes caught the pass.

The play of the day belonged to Ike Taylor, who made a leaping deflection of what appeared to be a perfect Batch pass to tight end Charles Davis near the front corner of the end zone.

Shane Boyd and Omar Jacobs ran the two-minute offenses, with neither leading their unit to a score.

Boyd was picked off at the 20 by safety Mike Logan after overthrowing Willie Reid to end the first session.

In the second session, the defense gave Jacobs a little taste of crowd noise getting the fans in attendance to yell as well. The drill ended when Jacobs threw incomplete to Davis on fourth down from the 36.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A new week

After a morning session in which the offense looked to do no wrong, the Steelers got under head coach Bill Cowher's skin Monday afternoon.

At one point, Cowher really dressed down rookie running back Cedric Humes, yelling at seveth-round draft pick for not running hard and looking to see where the defense is at.

Humes may be blowing an opportunity here and really needs to run hard Saturday at Arizona.

After a good start, rookie quarterback Omar Jacobs has been struggling lately.

At one point Monday, on the ensuing play after Cowher had admonished the team, yellling for, "Somebody to hit somebody," Jacobs did just that, hitting linebacker Richard Siegler right in the stomach with the ball for an interception over the middle.

I doin't think that was what the coach had in mind.

Rookie Willie Colon was playing left tackle today and looks to have moved ahead of Trai Essex and Barrett Brooks on the depth chart. Essex will be out at least a week after injuring his groin midway through the afternoon session. Brooks, meanwhile, has problems of his own after his weekend arrest.

Siegler has really flashed in coverage and could make this team as an inside linebacker over Rian Wallace, who is showing very little.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Saturday in the park

With Hines Ward nursing a sore hamstring, Nate Washington to move into the starting lineup opposite Cedrick Wilson and stole the show early in the Saturday practice by making a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch from Ben Roethlisberger for about an 80-yard touchdown pass. Roethlisberger’s pass was a laser and went at least 60 yards in the air as Washington outran Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark deep.

The offense seemed to throw deep a little more often today after settling for short stuff earlier in the week.

Wilson also got deep for a 50-plus yard touchdown pass from Charlie Batch against Deshea Townsend and Troy Polamalu. Polamalu told Townsend it was his fault for not picking up Wilson in coverage.

Lee Mays made a great catch along the sideline on a pass from Omar Jacobs. Mays was working against rookie Anthony Madison, who also drew a flag for illegal contact from the NFL officials who were helping out at the practice.

Jacobs was picked off by Bryant McFadden, who had two interceptions on the day, on a pass over the middle when rookie wide receiver Wiilie Reid fell down.

McFadden later picked off an overthrow by Charlie Batch, who was also going to Reid. It’s possible Reid also cut that pattern too short.

There was one fight in practice today as center Chukky Okobi and linebacker Andre Frazier squared off. Willie Colon, of all people, was trying to play peacemaker in the skirmish.

Frazier looks outstanding in pass rushing drills and just plain mauled Heath Miller in tight end-linebacker drills. He took Miller and put him on his back during the drill. Frazier added 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason and it appears that it was a very good move.

In the goal-line drill, the first-team defense ruled the day again.

Of interest, however, was that Willie Parker’s name has also been thrown into the short-yardage back debate.

Parker got the first two carries in the drill, being stopped for no gain on first down and a gain of three yards on second. Both runs were between the tackles.

Verron Haynes was stopped for a two-yard loss on third down and then failed to get into the end zone on a dive through the line to the 1 on fourth down.

Duce Staley was in the backfield with the second unit, which included linebacker James Harrison at fullback and defensive end Brett Keisel at tight end.

Staley carried for a one-yard gain on first down and Batch threw a four-yard TD pass to Harrison in the front corner of the end zone on second down to get the score. Keisel was also open in the back corner of the end zone on the play.

In addition to Ward, linebacker James Farrior was limited by his sore back Saturday, skipping the team drills. Add wide receiver Isaac West to the list of walking wounded as well. West has a bone bruise in his knee. Linebackers Joey Porter and Mike Kudla, and wide receiver Eugene Baker also remain out.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Day 6

The sun wasn’t too hot. The crowd was large and boisterous. And the hitting was heavy as the Steelers held their best practice of the first week here at St. Vincent College.

Linebacker James Harrison stole the show early during a backs on backers blocking drill, running straight through Willie Parker.

“Down goes Frazier,” yelled sidelined linebacker Joey Porter as the rest of his teammates hooted and hollered over the hit.

As good as Harrison’s hit was, it wasn’t enough to salvage a win in the drill for the defense, which lost the one-on-one drill that pits a rushing linebacker against a pass-protecting running back. The offense won the event, 7-6, when fullback Dan Kreider took on Harrison head on in a collision that sounded like a couple of bighorn sheep crashing together head to head.

That certainly got the juices flowing and the team held a spirited 9-on-7 inside running drill soon thereafter. As head coach Bill Cowher said, “This is who we are, right here,” as the team lined up for the drill.

Malcom Postell, the former Pitt linebacker who was cut in the spring and brought back just this week, flashed a little in both drills and keeps showing up every day with a play here and there. Two other linebackers who have flashed in the team drills have been linebacker Arnold Harrison and Richard Siegler.

Harrison and Postell just keep on blowing up running plays in the backfield and Siegler looks strong in coverage.

Maybe that’s because the guys they are playing against aren’t very good, but they’ve caught my eye.

In the one-on-one linemen vs. backers and defensive linemen drill, Clark Haggans and Willie Colon were matched up again a couple of times, something that bore watching after their near fight earlier this week. On the first series, Colon got his hand too high into Haggans’ facemask and ripped his helmet off. But Colon picked the helmet up and handed to a smiling Haggans, so the two apparently have kissed and made up.

Defensive end Rodney Bailey went through veteran offensive lineman Barrett Brooks like a turnstile and Brooks asked for another shot. Just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, Bailey beat him again. I like Brooks on a personal level, but he’s not making this team. Then again, he's been in the league since 1995, so maybe he's cagey enough to find a way to hold on another year.

Bryant McFadden, who was seeing some time with the first team defense thanks to Deshea Townsend’s sore hamstring, decked first-round pick Santonio Holmes after a catch in the 11-on-11 drills. To his credit, Holmes held onto the pass from Charlie Batch and bounced right up.

After Thursday night’s miserable performance in the two-minute drill, the first-team offense moved the ball a little against the first-team defense. The problem was that it just took too long because none of the plays were made downfield.

The offense took over at the 25 with 1:41 on the clock.

Roethlisberger hit Verron Haynes for a 9-yard pass and then threw incomplete on second down. Roethlisberger then completed a 3-yard pass to Hines Ward.

A couple of more passes and a pair of Roethlisberger scrambles put the ball at the 38 before Roethlisberger could down the ball at the 38 with 5.6 seconds remaining.

Would the team have kicked the field goal from there - a 56-yarder?

“I wouldn’t have had much of a choice,” said Cowher.

The second-team offense fared much better as Batch connected with rookie Willie Reid on a 55-yard TD pass on the second play after safety Mike Lorello fell down trying to cover for cornerback Anthony Madison, who appeared to blow the coverage.

James Farrior sat out the afternoon session after missing the morning as well with a sore lower back. He was replaced by Clint Kreiwaldt. Townsend practiced sparingly and only saw time in the nickel and dime.

Mike Kudla and Eugene Baker continue to miss time with hamstring injuries.

In an interesting aside, when placekicker Jeff Reed lined up for field goals, second-string punter Mike Barr was his holder. Regular holder Chris Gardocki, the first-string punter, held for rookie Mark Brubaker.

In the morning session, the offense looked crisp, especially in the red zone drills. Roethlisberger threw four passes, three of them for touchdowns.

Porter, who seems to be close to returning, ran the hillside here at St. Vincent and is getting himself into shape after having offseason knee surgery.

Saturday's practice, which begins at 12:30 p.m., is open to the public. The team will have its second goal-line drill, which is always a treat.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Day 4/5

Sorry no practice report Wednesday night. By the time I had written everything for the paper and covered two practices, at 9 a.m. and then until 9 p.m., I was a little whipped. I can only imagine how tired the players were. Though I did play basketball in the mid-afternoon, so I had some clue.

The goal-line drill Wednesday night was good stuff. The hit James Farrior put on Verron Haynes to force a fumble on fourth down was brutal. We don't often get to see that kind of hitting among the teammates.

Another couple of rookies are starting to stand out, those being undrafted cornerback Anthony Madison and third-round wide receiver Willie Reid.

Madison looks good in coverage and is scrappy. Reid has ridiculous speed and is easily the best punt return guy on the team.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Day 3

The heat index approached 100 here at St. Vincent College Tuesday afternoon.

And as the heat rose, so did the tempers for the Pittsburgh Steelers, most notably for rookie offensive tackle Willie Colon and linebacker Clark Haggans.

During one-on-one pass rushing drills between the offensive linemen and the linebacker and defensive ends, Colon took umbrage to Haggans knocking his helmet off and the two had a verbal sparring session and staredown. In fact, Haggans jumped back up to the line and wanted another go with the rookie before he was sent to the end of the line by the coaching staff.

Colon continued to stare at Haggans, repeatedly asking him if he wanted to “dance.” And as Haggans was called over to another drill, Colon blew him a kiss as the linebacker ran off to the other field.

The near-fight punctuated an otherwise lackluster practice that seems to be leading up to Wednesday night’s session at Latrobe High School, which will include the camp’s first goal-line drill.

The highlight of the session was supposed to be the backs on backers pass rushing drill that was won by the offense by an 8-6 margin. It wasn't nearly as spirited even as it usually is, however.

James Harrison opened by bull-rushing Duce Staley before Heath Miller evened things up by stoning James Farrior.

Willie Parker then held his own against Larry Foote and Dan Kreider stood up Haggans.

Verron Haynes, easily the best blocker among the running backs outside of Kreider, stuffed Arnold Harrison, while Cedric Humes beat Rian Walllace.

Other offensive winners included Charles Davis, Staley - in his second-go around with Lee Vickers – and Parker over Haggans.

Malcolm Postell had no problem with Doug Easlick, while Richard Seigler bull-rushed Branden Joe right into the quarterback.

Harrison faked the bull rush and just went around Miller, while Ronald Stanley finished things off by just getting by Kreider.

It was an up-and-down day for Ricardo Colclough. Working at punt returner, he muffed a pair of punts.

But later in the practice, he made a nice interception on a Charlie Batch pass attempt and nearly had another pick from Ben Roethlisberger later.

Roethlisberger looked a little better throwing the ball today, but still isn’t cutting it loose with full steam.

Defensive end Travis Kirshke and Kreider were back in action after missing practice Monday, but Santonio Holmes sat out with his minor hamstring strain. Mike Kudla (hamstring), Jerame Tuman (illness) and Joey Porter (knee) also sat out, while Walter Young was activated off the PUP list and saw his first action.