By BOB LABRIOLA
LATROBE, Pa. – Coach Mike Tomlin said he liked the ebb-and-flow of Sunday's lone practice session at Saint Vincent College. He just as easily could have used the phrase punch-and-counterpunch.
If it indeed is true that a team can set a tone for its season from the start of a training camp, then the Steelers seem to be headed for another year in which they play a physical brand of football.
"You cannot take the physical element out of football," said Tomlin. "That's what you miss during the spring and in minicamp, and that's why you reserve judgments about the development of some people. We're starting to see what football is about and who potentially comprise the 53 who will become the 2009 Steelers. I like it."
Sunday's practice was dampened literally by a passing rain shower that lasted for a little less than 30 minutes, and if it chased a number of the fans lining the hills surrounding the fields it didn't interrupt the pace or the focus of the work.
"I thought they maintained focus through the rain, which is great," said Tomlin. "A little ebb and flow, a very physical practice, which is what we desire."
In terms of what happened on the field, the offense came back and acquitted itself better than it had during Saturday's afternoon session. Limas Sweed made a couple of nice catches – one in which he out-fought Keenan Lewis for a ball hanging in the air and another in which he made a diving catch along the sideline. Brandon Williams also made a diving catch along the sideline that appeared to be out of bounds, but referee/replay official/commissioner Tomlin ruled it inbounds.
Rookie Ziggy Hood continued to flash some pass-rush ability in one-on-one drills, and rookie free agent offensive lineman Ramon Foster did some nice things in that very same period.
During the hurry-up period, the first-team offense had its drive end when Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted by Troy Polamalu; the second-team offense quarterbacked by Charlie Batch moved into the red zone but was unable to score; and the third-team offense quarterbacked by Dennis Dixon scored a touchdown on a 1-yard run by Justin Vincent.
But Tomlin chafed when asked to make any pronouncements about any individuals just three practices into training camp.
"I'll just continue to watch and let it reveal itself to me," said Tomlin. "It's a little early to start painting pictures about where anyone is at this point. That's the nature of training camp – good practices, bad practices. I tend to base my judgments over the long haul and look for consistency. It's obvious Limas had a good day today, but that doesn't tell us much."
What was somewhat telling was the way practice ended. Rookie running back Frank Summers turned the corner with the football in his hands and was rocked by cornerback William Gay.
"When you carry a nickname like 'Tank,' guys are going to try you," said Tomlin. "They want him to prove that nickname is earned. That's the nature of the National Football League. This is a show-me game, and he's starting to understand that."
INJURY UPDATE: Lawrence Timmons did not practice after being unable to finish the Saturday afternoon session because of cramps … Sonny Harris strained a groin on Saturday and also did not practice. It's not believed to be a serious situation … Heath Miller (sports hernia) was in uniform but mostly watched … Hines Ward did not practice.