LATROBE, Pa. – It's that time in a training camp when the preseason games haven't begun but the practices are starting to add up. The time when bodies are in danger of breaking down. The time when a coach who is so inclined might step in with some preventive medicine.
That's what Coach Mike Tomlin is trying to do as the Steelers completed the 11th day of this training camp. He has had some of what he refers to as "young guy emphasis" practices when the rookies and more inexperienced players get most of the repetitions. He will give selected veterans an occasional day off. And on Monday he revealed a rotation system for the quarterbacks.
"We took an opportunity to rest Byron Leftwich today," said Tomlin. "We have four arms in training camp, and we thought that after we got into the second week we'd start a rotation in terms of resting some of these guys and of course providing more reps for the remaining three. We'll rotate that through. Dennis Dixon probably won't get the opportunity to get the rest, because he's the young one in the group."
Troy Polamalu sat out a couple of practices last week, and so far this week it has been James Harrison who has been watching the workouts. On Sunday, Tomlin explained Harrison's absence as being a case where he "doesn't need to see what James Harrison can do in the goal-line drill." On Monday, Harrison sat out with what was called shoulder discomfort.
"He has some discomfort in his shoulder," said Tomlin. "It appears to be minor and we were exercising a little caution there, and it also provides more quality reps for guys like Thaddeus Gibson."
The Steelers will open their preseason with a game at Heinz Field on Saturday against the Detroit Lions, but Tomlin said there are other things on his agenda between now and then.
"Right now it's just about us improving our skills and improving our fundamentals and techniques and coming together as a football team," said Tomlin. "We like to keep that focus this week. We'll deal with the preseason game when we get to it.
"We got two practices in on Monday. The first centered around instruction and making corrections, focused on some of the young guys getting some opportunities. In the afternoon in was business as usual for us with some competition periods. I thought we had a lively 9-on-7 period, and the day's special category was third down. I like what we're doing from a special teams standpoint, ratcheting the volume up in some of the combat to get these guys ready for stadium competition."
Overall, it was a rather mundane Monday, with the exception of Dick LeBeau's return from the weekend ceremonies at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"We knew that he couldn't stay away from us that long," said Tomlin. "He had an awesome weekend, and I'm glad he allowed us to share it with him."
INJURY UPDATE: Tomlin said, "Tony Hills sustained a right ankle sprain of some nature during a one-on-one pass rush. We'll evaluate him. Steve McLendon appears to have an MCL sprain. We'll have more information regarding that because it also happened in the afternoon practice. The rest of it is normal bumps and bruises that go along with training camp. Jason Worilds is continuing to march his way back from his hamstring injury. What happens when fatigue sets in is that sometimes the repercussions are more serious then others. This morning he had a tough time getting it going, but he had a better time getting it going this afternoon. We will continue to march him back and the only way to do that is with snaps."