Monday, August 31, 2009

Steelers sign Keisel, make roster moves

The Steelers signed defensive end Brett Keisel to a four-year contract extension and made five roster moves - including placing guard Darnell Stapleton on injured reserve - on Monday.

Keisel's deal will keep him in Pittsburgh through 2013.

Stapleton being placed on injured reserve means that Doug Legursky has likely earned a spot on the final 53-man roster. The Marshall product will be the team's gameday swingman at guard and center.

Released Monday to get to the NFL-limit of 75 were wide receivers Steven Black and Martin Nance, safety Derrick Richardson and center Alex Stepanovich.

The Steelers have until 4 p.m. Saturday to trim their roster to 53 players.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Steelers-Bills post-game thoughts

Either the Steelers are really good or the Bills are really bad. It's probably a little bit of both.

OK. We know the Steelers are really good, but I really thought Buffalo would be better than it showed Saturday night at Heinz Field.

Trent Edwards looked a lot like Bruce Gradkowski in this one.

© Mike Tomlin said the plan going into the game was to send whichever unit didn't open the first half out for the second half.

As luck would have it, the offense began the game, so the defense was on the field for the first series of the second half.

Linebacker Lawrence Timmons sprained his ankle on the opening play.

© I've changed my opinion somewhat of Limas Sweed. He can be a viable starter for this team if Santonio Holmes or Hines Ward is injured.

He still doesn't block downfield real well for a guy his size, but perhaps that will come.

© I learned something I did not know Saturday night. Sweed has size 15 1/2 feet. That's not a misprint, 15 1/2.

Make tapping those toes on the sidelines troublesome.

© Stefan Logan, welcome to the team.

© As I detailed in a column in Saturday's newspaper, that does cause some problems for a team that is this deep with veterans that also wants to keep a large portion of its rookie class around as well.

© Rashard Mendenhall's fumble was created as much by Chris Kemoeatu getting blown up at the line of scrimmage as it was Mendenhall.

You'd still like to see Mendenhall wrap the ball up more tightly, though.

That said, you can see what his skills as a receiver do for this offense. He's also running pretty hard as well.

© Of the healthy players, the only ones who did not play were safety Derrick Richardson and linebackers Andy Schantz and Tom Korte.

The team has to make four cuts by the weekend. That would be a good place to start looking.

© Did you see Mike Wallace's cut to make the first guy miss on his end around? Not only is this guy fast, he's got a nice feel when he's running with the ball as well.

He turned a play that should have been for no-gain into a six-yard gain.

It was nullified by offsetting penalties, but it did show some of his playmaking ability.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thursday notes

At his press conference Thursday, Mike Tomlin pretty much said what I've been stating about Issac Redman since last week - if he can't play special teams, he won't be on the 53-man roster or the red zone back.

It looks like Redman is heading to the practice squad.

© Stefan Logan will get another good look as the return man against Buffalo Saturday, but Mewelde Moore will return some punts and rookie Mike Wallace will return kicks in the first half.

© Starters Willie Parker (hamstring), Santonio Holmes (back) and placekicker Jeff Reed (ankle) may be held out of Saturday's game.

None of the injuries are serious.

© According to the NFL Network, Tampa Bay has put any of its three veteran quarterbacks - including Byron Leftwich - on the trade market.

Don't be surprised to see the Steelers linked to Leftwich. Even though Charlie Batch is back and healthy, Leftwich is a better backup option for the Steelers.

If he can be attained for a low draft pick, it would be worth considering.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

LeBeau a Hall of Fame finalist

Cornerback Dick LeBeau, perhaps better known as the Steelers defensive coordinator, and running back Floyd Little have been named by the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Seniors Committee as finalists for election into the Hall of Fame with the Class of 2010.

LeBeau and Little will join 15 still-to-be-named modern-era candidates on the list of finalists from which the Class of 2010 will be selected. The Hall of Fame selection meeting will be held on February 6, 2010, the day before Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida. To be elected, the former standouts must each receive the same 80 percent voting support that is required of all finalists. The Hall’s Board of Selectors can elect a maximum of two senior candidates and five modern-era candidates for a class no smaller than four or larger than seven during next February’s meeting.

LeBeau was originally drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the fifth round of the 1959 draft. After being cut by the Browns, he was signed by Detroit where he starred for 14 seasons at cornerback for the Lions. He intercepted 62 passes which he returned for 762 yards and 3 TDs. His interception total ranked third all-time in NFL history at the time of his retirement following the 1972 season. Today, it remains a Lions team record and is tied for 7th among all-time NFL interceptors.

His single finest season came in 1970 when he intercepted a NFC-leading nine interceptions for 96 yards. LeBeau currently serves as the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator and is entering his 37th year of coaching. As a player he was voted to three Pro Bowls. He received his Pro Bowl nods in 1965, 1966, and 1967.

This likely means that LeBeau will finally get his due and be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Every finalist for the past several years who has been selected by the senior committee has gained induction.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Post-Washington thoughts

There was plenty to like in Saturday's preseason loss to the Washington Redskins and some things that weren't so great for the Steelers.

We'll start with the good.

© Return man Stefan Logan may not have done quite enough to make this team with one good outing as much as rookie Joe Burnett did help him.

Logan averaged 12 yards per punt return and nearly 40 yards on four kick returns and both of those numbers are eye openers.

But the Steelers still like rookie speedster Mike Wallace as a kick returner. Burnett, however, has fumbled punts in each of the team's two preseason games.

The trouble with Logan, however, is that he's not going to be able to cover kicks - at least he hasn't yet - and with a veteran team, who do you cut on this team to keep a guy who only returns kicks?

Then again, Logan could be special and sometimes you have to bite the bullet.

© Second-year quarterback Dennis Dixon is starting to look like an NFL-caliber quarterback, at least one who can step in and make things happen in a pinch.

His back-to-back 17-yard plays in the second quarter – one a pass to Limas Sweed, the other a scramble – were big-time plays.

Dixon injured his AC joint in the fourth quarter - the same injury that dogged Ben Roethlisberger last season - but the severity of the injury is not yet known.

© Rashard Mendenhall looked much more comfortable running the ball this week than he did last week against Arizona. He hit his holes hard and got positive yardage with each carry.

Willie Parker also looked good.

Now if this team could just get its starting offensive line on the field together, we'll finally get to see if there's an improvement.

© After a slow start, the first-team offensive line got its feet under it - even with Doug Legursky at left guard in place of Chris Kemoeatu. Kemoeatu was out with a rib injury that's not serious.

The second-team line also did a pretty good job.

Remember, this was their first road game and that's always a little more difficult.

© This team wasn't supposed to have any depth at inside linebacker, but Keyaron Fox and Donovan Woods are thumpers.

Fox made a big stop on third down at the Pittsburgh 2 to keep Washington out of the end zone, while Woods blew up a return man on a kickoff.

They're both solid backups.

Now for the bad:

When you have more penalties than points, it's never a good thing.

That's two weeks in a row that the Steelers were highly penalized, something that hasn't been a problem in recent years.

They have to clean that stuff up.

© Burnett was this week's goat after being one of the stars of the first preseason game. In addition to his fumble, which led to one touchdown, he also got beat on a fade for another score.

But those are the things you deal with when rookies play.

© The Redskins gouged the Steelers on the ground at times in this one, something that doesn't usually happen, even to the team's third-team defense.

We'll say it was a schematic problem for now - at least until we get a chance to investigate further.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Roethlisberger appears OK

As I'm sure you know by now, Ben Roethlisberger was injured in Thursday's final practice at Saint Vincent College.

It appears that Roethlisberger is OK, though.

While he did not participate, Roethlisberger was at the team's annual softball game to close out training camp that pits the offense against the defense.

Roethlisberger sat in a chair by the third base coaching box without anything on his right ankle or foot.

He's probably out for Saturday's preseason game at Washington, but it does not appear to be a long-term injury.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rookie class impressing, with one exception

As noted, at least in part, in my last post, the Steelers rookie class is looking like one of its best in quite some time.

It's early, of course, but defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Sonny Harris, wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett, tight end David Johnson and center A.Q. Shipley look like players who from this draft class who can contribute if not immediately, then down the road.

Add in impressive rookie free agent signings Ramon Foster and Isaac Redman, and you have what could be a very strong group.

The one disappointment? Guard Kraig Urbik, a third-round pick.

In the moments following the draft, when the Steelers brass spoke about this draft class, Urbik was the one guy who was pointed to that they felt had a chance to push for a starting job.

Right now, he's barely pushing for a roster spot.

The former Wisconsin star has looked tentative in one-on-one blocking drills. And he didn't seem to get a lot of push in the first preseason game against Arizona.

If Urbik fails to materialize as a player – and I'm not writing him off yet – the Steelers will almost be forced to spend a high draft pick on an offensive lineman in 2010.

Of course that was said the past two offseasons as well and the team hasn't made that move yet.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Crowded backfield

Both rookies Isaac Redman and Tank Summers are pushing hard for roster spots with the Steelers but there may only be one spot available.

Willie Parker, Mewelde Moore and Rashard Mendenhall are guaranteed roster spots. Fullback Carey Davis isn't outstanding in any one phase - though he does have the best hands among the running backs - except on special teams, where he's one the team's leaders.

That could leave Justin Vincent – who's been on the practice squad the past two years – Summers and Redman fighting for one spot on the roster and one on the practice squad.

Redman has impressed as a runner. He's both tough and physical and has a running style similar to former star Barry Foster. He's got great lean and leg drive.

Summers, meanwhile, is being tried as a fullback and has also looked good as a special teams player.

Vincent isn't just a throw-away player either. The former LSU star knows the offense and got nine carries in the preseason opener.

The question is whether the Steelers feel Summers could be a capable replacement for Davis. Fans seem to think so but the coaching staff may not feel the same.

It's going to be something that bears watching as the team heads into its final three preseason games.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Post-Arizona thoughts

I guess we can finally put the Michael Vick to the Steelers garbage to rest.

Cripes, ESPN spent a good five minutes talking about it during their pre-game show. Are they that stupid?

© Limas Sweed stepped up nicely on the big stage. The 45-yard catch from Charlie Batch was a nice adjustment, but his 11-yard catch from Ben Roethlisberger on third-and-10 in the first quarter was better. He went up and snatched that ball out of the air with relative ease.

The drop on third down later in the game was regrettable, but remember, he's replacing Nate Washington, who had his share of drops as well.

© I'd like to see more burst out of Rashard Mendenhall, but I thought he ran reasonably hard as well.

Mendenahll did have a nice two-yard run on third-and-short in the first quarter. If he can just fill that role he'll help this team out.

© Welcome back Daniel Sepulveda.

Sepulveda got a big cheer when he came onto the field the first time and again after his first punt went 46 yards and Antrell Rolle was forced to call for a fair catch.

James Farrior joked after the game that Sepulveda was going to hurt the defense because he was going to give opposing offenses more field to work with.

© James Harrison played just two possessions and had three tackles and three assists. Had he played the entire game, that works out to about a 24-tackle effort. And that was with Kurt Warner throwing the ball 10 times.

It kind of gives you an idea that Arizona wasn't exactly throwing the ball down the field against the first-team defense.

The Steelers had better get used to that. Teams are going to dink and dunk them in an attempt to keep those two outside linebackers from killing their quarterback.

© Isaac Redman is a hard runner but did you notice those blocks that Tank Summers was throwing for him as a lead blocker?

Summers also had a couple of tackles on special teams. I was among those who didn't think Summers could push Carey Davis off the roster. I still think it's a stretch.

But Summers showed me Thursday he might be able to do it.

Summers showed some chops as a special teams coverage guy as well.

© I asked Redman after the game which was better, his 99-yard run at Bowie State or his three-yard TD on his first NFL carry - albeit in the preseason.

He said the three-yard TD.

Hard to believe the Steelers were his only option coming out of school, but then again, he wasn't on the field much in his final two seasons because of injuries and grades.

For my Washington County wrestling fans, Redman was a 215-pound state champion in New Jersey.

© The coaching staff couldn't have been happy to see Joe Burnett fumble his first punt return. He rebounded nicely.

© One of these days the quarterbacks will learn to throw the ball to Mike Wallace when he's running a fly pattern when he's 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. Throw it as far as you can and let him run under it.

© After a shaky start, Dennis Dixon got better as the game went on. He needed that because he's been struggling a bit at Saint Vincent College.

© Bruce Davis had an interception off a deflection and also got some pressure on the QB. But his best play was a special teams tackle in the second quarter. He's got to contribute there, something he did not do in 2008.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rookies to watch for

Here's a look at some players to watch for in the Steelers' preseason game Thursday against the Cardinals.

Ziggy Hood - This one needs no explaining. Hood, the Steelers' top draft pick, has the look of a future star - or at least as much of a star as defensive linemen can be in this defense.

Mike Wallace - The speedy wide receiver has been catching everything at Saint Vincent College. How will he do in game action with the threat of being hit? He's pushing for the No. 3 receiver spot - or at least spot duty in that spot as a deep threat. He's the frontrunner for the kick return spot as well.

Keenan Lewis - Lewis will be tested by Arizona's receiving corps even though star wideouts Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin won't play much. He's a big, physical corner,

Joe Burnett - Burnett has looked good on special teams as a gunner, but the Steelers got him to pump up their return game. He'll start as the No. 1 punt returner and also get a shot as the kickoff returner. He's not bad as a cornerback, either.

Ramon Foster - Foster is the undrafted rookie most likely to make the 53-man roster. He's outplayed third-round draft pick Kraig Urbik. He'll be playing at left guard. Watch this kid finish his blocks. He's nasty.

Isaac Redman - When I spoke to Redman earlier this spring, I watched some video of him on Youtube first to get a feel for his running style. It's bull in a China shop. He told me then that the Steelers hadn't asked him to play any fullback, but he's seeing time time there now. Keep an eye on him.

Brandon Williams – Williams has flown under the radar, but he's having a good camp after a good spring as well. He could beat veteran Shaun McDonald out for a roster spot.

Doug Legursky - A center-guard combo, Legursky will get the start at center with Justin Hartwig and Darnell Stapleton out. Not too many young players get a shot like this. Look for Legursky to make the most of it.

Rashard Mendenhall - His rookie season was a washout, so Mendenhall has plenty to prove.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Let's put Vick to Steelers to rest

Again the rumors that the Steelers are interested in Michael Vick are swirling out there.

But I can tell that it's not going to happen.

Mike Tomlin hasn't publicly denied that the Steelers might be interested in Vick, only saying that they examine all options but don't speak specifically about individual free agents.

Privately, however, while one source acknowledgeed that the team would probably be one of the few that could withstand the firestorm that is sure to surround Vick thanks to its rabid fanbase, it's really not interested.

I hope that's as plain as I can be with that. The Steelers aren't going to sign Vick.

Wallace impressive

Rookie Mike Wallace continues to impress at training camp, showing off great hands in addition to great speed.

If Limas Sweed isn't feeling the heat, he should be. Not only is veteran Shaun McDonald pushing him, so is Wallace.

© The starters will only play a couple of series in the preseason opener Thursday. That should give the Steelers a good look at sorting out that No. 3 receiver spot and some other positions as well.

© Andre Frazier is firmly entrenched as the No. 3 outside linebacker. James Harrison was given the day off Tuesday and Frazier filled in for him. This after stepping if for LaMarr Woodley last week.

© Aaron Smith was also given the day off and was replaced by Nick Eason, not rookie Ziggy Hood.

Don't want to give the kid a big head by throwing him right in there even though he'll eventually be that guy.

© Doug Legursky will start at center against the Cardinals. It says something for sticking to things and battling.

© Ben Roethlisberger's arm looks like it's working its way into regular season shape. He's throwing some great passes now, including a beautiful touch pass to running back Rashard Mendenhall down the sideline with Frazier in tow.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Steelers add Stepanovich

The Steelers, thin at center due to two injuries, have signed former Arizona Cardinals center Alex Stepanovich.

Justin Hartwig has been bothered by a toe injury since training camp started July 31, and Darnell Stapleton is expected to be out for several weeks following left knee surgery. Stapleton, who began camp as the starting right guard, was the backup center last season.

The 6-foot-4, 296-pound Stepanovich was a fourth-round draft pick by the Cardinals in 2004 and spent three seasons with them before playing for Cincinnati in 2007 and Atlanta in 2008. He has played in 46 NFL games, making 34 starts.

This could be a sign that the team got bad news on Stapleton, who was at training camp on Sunday during family day. Stapleton had his right knee heavily wrapped.

Of course it could also be that they just don't want to wear Doug Legursky and A.Q. Shipley, the only two healthy centers they have, out.

I would expect Hartwig to try to return to practice on a full-time basis soon - likely next Saturday when the team returns to Saint Vincent College from its preseason opener.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Reed, Keisel contract updates

While news has slowed down concerning contract talks between the Steelers and any of their players who are scheduled to become free agents at the end of the season, that's not exactly anything new.

When the team re-signed Casey Hampton a few years ago, it happened the night of the team's first preseason game. So there's still some time.

Word is, however, that there is some dispute between the coaching staff and the front office as to who should be top priority, defensive end Brett Keisel or placekicker Jeff Reed.

The coaching staff feels it should be Keisel, the front office, Reed.

There's not a lot of money left in the pot right now, so it will be interesting to see if something gets done.

The Steelers will have their franchise tag back at the end of this season after using it on offensive tackle Max Starks.

And if the team fails to get something done with both Keisel and Reed - among others - before we get too close to the regular season, don't be surprised if Reed is tagged.

The franchise tag value for kickers is a heck of a lot less than it is for defensive ends.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Friday odds and ends

The Steratore brothers, Gene and Tony, are here as part of the officiating crew that was assigned to the Steelers practice to help out with interpretation of new rules and points of emphasis.

Gene and Tony are both Washington County guys and we in the media had a good meeting with them early this afternoon after they showed us the NFL film on the new rules in place for 2009.

The Hines Ward block on Cincinnati's Keith Rivers was shown prominently when the new rule outlawing blocks behind the play to the head and shoulders were talked about.

Gene Steratore explained that those kind of blocks will still be legal as long as there's no blow to the head or shoulders delivered. What the league wants is a block to the torso. He also said that whether the blocker is coming back toward the line of scrimmage will come into effect.

Shots to the quarterback's knees will also be penalized this season - unless the defender is attempting to wrap up the QB.

Groups of more than two players in a wedge is also outlawed. Blockers cannot be set up in groups of three on kickoffs if that third blocker is within two yards of the other two players. Teams covering kickoffs must also have three players on the outside of both hash marks.

© Also of note was that the officials, when asked, explained why more holding calls aren't called against players trying to block James Harrison.

According to the officials, if a defensive player puts himself in a position to be held - ie. goes to a rip move which puts him up underneath the offensive player - then they won't call it unless the defensive player clearly gets his feet past the offensive player.

If at that point, the arm is still around the neck, it's a hold.

In this case, Harrison's lack of height works against him. Since he rips a lot, he's forcing the arm up around the neck. But until he gets his feet past the defender, it's not a hold.

At least that's the league's story and they're sticking to it.

© Gene Steratore brought Washington County judge Mark Mascara and his family out here for the morning practice. It was nice to see Mark out and about. He was recently diagnosed with cancer and my thoughts have been with him during his trying time.

I coached Mark's son, Jameson, in baseball a couple of years ago and got to know him and his family. They're good people and hopefully he can beat this.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Stapleton to have surgery

Steelers offensive lineman Darnell Stapleton will have surgery Friday to clean out his knee and could be out at least two weeks.

Stapleton, a third-year player, started 12 games during the regular season and all three postseason games at right guard for the Steelers in 2008.

He was in line to be the team's starting right guard again in 2009, though veteran Trai Essex was expected to push him for the job.

With Stapleton out, it's likely that Essex will be the starting right guard this season.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Wednesday's thoughts

Still no news on Darnell Stapleton, which I guess is good news.

Stapleton was actually down the field at this afternoon's practice tossing the ball back and forth with running back Mewelde Moore, who was also sitting out.

Mike Tomlin, however, still isn't saying what the problem with Stapleton is, other than that it's a knee problem.

© Tomlin is from the Bill Belichick school of talking about injuries. While Bill Cowher didn't want players talking about injuries, he was very transparent about them. If you asked about an injury, you usually got an honest answer.

Tomlin is much more guarded.

© The play of practice was one that most people didn't see - you really had to be watching closely to see it.

In the afternoon session, Lawrence Timmons came from the middle of the field pre-snap to line up over left tackle Max Starks. Quarterback Charlie Batch and the line stopped and pointed him out as a blitzer and Timmons backed off to the middle again before coming at the snap.

As Starks went to get a punch on Timmons, the linebacker deked as if he were going to take Starks on. But when Starks extended his arms, Timmons ducked at a dead run and blew around him. If it would have been a live drill, he would have killed the quarterback.

I probably didn't do the play justice, but it was a thing of beauty - unless you happen to be an offensive line afficiando. If that's the case, it was a Homer Simpson-like Doh! moment.

© With Ben Roethlisberger sitting out today, we got a good look at young quarterback Mike Reilly. All I can say is this: He'd better be very smart because he doesn't look like he has NFL-caliber arm strength.

© I really like what I see of young cornerbacks Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis.

They don't always make the play - though Burnett had a nice interception this afternoon after dropping one in the morning – but they always look like they're in good position on the receiver.

Is Stapleton done?

It's looking more and more likely as if guard Darnell Stapleton could be done for the season - or at least an extended period of time.

I spoke with right tackle Willie Colon this morning and he talked as if Stapleton could be lost to a knee injury, much the same way that punter Daniel Sepulveda was last year around this time.

Now Colon would neither confirm or deny that anything was up, but he talked about the 2009 season as if Stapleton would not be available.

Doesn't mean he knows anything special or he could just be thinking ahead in case it actually does happen.

But Stapleton was nowhere to be seen here today.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

What's up with Ward

Head coach Mike Tomlin is saying that there's nothing wrong with Hines Ward. Ward is saying the head coach wants him to sit out practices to take a good look at the young guys fighting for roster spots.

But the fact remains that Ward has now sat out three days worth of practices at Saint Vincent College.

Ward also barely practiced this spring, suiting up for only the final week of OTAs after having offseason shoulder surgery.

The B.S. meter is going off on this one, but Ward does appear healthy, running and catching passes after practice, Maybe they are getting more looks at the young wideouts - particuarly Limas Sweed. Maybe they are force-feeding Sweed the playbook just in case Ward or Santonio Holmes miss any time this season.

There isn't, after all, a ton of depth behind the two starters.

Hello again

After a two-day hiatus from the blogging world, I'm back. Sorry not to have the daily/multi-daily update you've become so used to, but sometimes things just can't be avoided. Only so many hours in a day.

The biggest news out of Latrobe right now is Darnell Stapleton's balky knee. The sore knee kept him out of practice on Monday and Tuesday morning and he was sent for an MRI.

But Stapleton was at lunch today with no brace on the knee, so that's probably a good sign.

I don't think it will matter, however, at the right guard position. As I said this spring, I think Stapleton's top competition at that spot will come from veteran Trai Essex, not rookie Kraig Urbik.

And, just a few days into camp, it's looking more and more likely that Essex will be the Steelers starting right guard this season.

If you're looking for more proof here, know that Jason Capizzi is spending a decent amount of time working at guard as well as tackle.

Capizzi has made some big improvements and even though at 6-9, he'd be the tallest guard in history, the team is beginning to look for that game day replacement for Essex - their Jack of all trades.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Saturday afternoon practice

Sorry this one took so long to get up, but I had to go back to Washington to pull desk duty tonight, so I had other things to take care of.

Lawrence Timmons left the afternoon practice with what was descibed as cramps by Mike Tomlin. They happened during back-on-backers, though, so who really knows if it was a cramp or something else? Either, way, it didn't look serious.

Back-on-backers wasn't really too exciting, though rookie running back Issac Redman caught my eye as a blocker and drew praise from head coach Mike Tomlin, who had joked at dinner the previous night that he didn't know the kid's name and had been calling him Barlow.

"I like the way you block 33," Tomlin said, later praising Redman again.

Redman looked the best of the running backs in the drill, though rookie tight end David Johnson showed he's stout when he gets set.

Of the backers, other than the usual suspects - read James Harrison - Andre Frazier and Donovan Woods both showed good power/moves.

Bruce Davis was disappointing and looks more like a finesse player than a powerful linebacker. He still has a long way to go.

Davis' cohort last training camp, Tony Hills looked equally as bad in the one-on-one pass blocking drills with the defensive linemen. According to trained eye Craig Wolfley, Hills stops moving his feet when he punches and also likes to lunge. Both are apparently no-nos for offensive linemen.

Things were getting so bad for Hills - who admittedly was matched with Harrison several times - that I felt they needed to bring Davis over for a morale boost. Not sure which one of them would have gotten the morale boost, but one would have.

Rookie guard Kriag Urbik also got schooled a number of times with head coach Mike Tomlin finally yelling at him to show a little self-respect. The rookie's not going to unseat Darnell Stapleton at right guard.

From what I've seen already of Trai Essex, though, he might. He looks leaner this year and he also appears more powerful.

Board favorite Doug Legursky - yes I finally watched him - isn't all that bad. With Justin Hartwig out with a toe injury, Legursky got plenty of work with the second unit and more than held his own. He might actually have a shot if he can prove he can play guard as well.

Legursky, though, like Timmons and running back Frank Summers, had to leave practice with cramps.

Charlie Batch has not started this camp very well, throwing some horrific passes. The No. 2 job could be there for the taking by Dennis Dixon.

Aug. 1 morning practice update

There were a couple of surprise participants in the first practice session of the 2009 training camp as both Troy Polamalu and Deshea Townsend took part despite head coach Mike Tomlin saying both would be slowed early on by sore hamstrings.

Tight end Heath Miller (sports hernia surgery) and center Justin Hartwig (toe) did not practice.

With Hartwig out, Darnell Stapleton, who was also expected to be slowed early on, played center and did a good job there, keeping Casey Hampton at bay several times and actually getting some push on the big man.

Trai Essex worked with the first team line at right guard.

Daniel Sepulveda did his first major kicking in nearly a year and looked very good, often outkicking return men Santonio Holmes and Shaun McDonald. Rookies Joe Burnett and Mike Wallace were working with the gunners as this drill was more about punt coverage than returns.

First-round pick Ziggy Hood worked at left end with the third-team.

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians let wide receiver Brandon Williams have it after Williams took his eyes off a pass in third down drills - starting running before he had the ball - and dropped the pass.

"Catch the $#^$#!$% ball before you start running with it. You've got to convert on the @#$%#$$#$!# third down."

Arians was very vocal this morning overall.

Ben Roethlisberger finally talked with the media this morning, but dodged all questions about his legal problems. In fact, after about the fifth questions about it, he threatened to walk away.

Hampton still too heavy?

Word is that Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton may still be heavier than what the team would like - even though he completed the run test Friday – and might still be asked to sit out some practices to work with a conditioning coach.

Hampton, of course, was placed on the PUP list last season by head coach Mike Tomlin after coming into camp overweight and unable to complete the run test.

We'll see what happens.

© Mike Tomlin dropped in at our dinner tonight and had a good laugh about the Michael Vick-cab driver stuff that started on a Pittsburgh radio station today.

"If we were bringing in Vick, would we use a cab?"

That was my point about the whole thing to begin with. Stupid rumor.