By BOB LABRIOLA
LATROBE, Pa. – Another day at training camp, the first for the Steelers when the morning workout is devoted to special teams. The following is a breakdown of some of the things that happened on Tuesday at Saint Vincent College, along with Coach Mike Tomlin's assessment of them:
DOG DAYS OF CAMP: Tuesday was just the fourth day of practice, and the true dog days don't set in until the start of next week as the team grinds toward its preseason opener against Arizona on Aug. 13. The veterans don't seem to be too affected yet, but some of the rookies seem to take a little more time to get up to the locker room each day.
"I thought we had another productive day," said Tomlin. "This morning we introduced the special teams element to our training camp by coming out and working for about an hour. As is the case whenever we give the guys a morning off or shorten the morning, I like the way the guys were moving around. I thought they had a little bounce in their step. We ran around this afternoon and had what I thought was a pretty productive practice. We're not going to read too much into it in terms of judging it. We're just going to continue to build our football team."
BEN'S ARM: Ben Roethlisberger said it usually takes him a week of training camp to get his throwing arm into shape. Through the first few days of practice, Roethlisberger seemed to throw an interception in every session, and there wasn't much zip on his throws on Monday. On Tuesday, Roethlisberger put a ball right on the money to Santonio Holmes about 55-60 yards down the field against the first-team defense.
Said Tomlin, "I wouldn't overreact to that. It's camp, and he's our lead-dog guy. We're going to ask him to throw a lot of balls, so I'd imagine through the initial phase he's not going to feel real great. He'll find his rhythm. It's not an area of concern of ours whatsoever. He came out and launched a couple of deep ones today, which is what we expect and I'm sure what he expect. We'll continue to search for the ceiling."
ON THE RECEIVING END: For the past several summers, the wide receiver position has been one of the most competitive in camp, and with Nate Washington gone, there are roles up for grabs. One day, Limas Sweed makes a couple of plays; another day, it's rookie Mike Wallace. In Tomlin's mind, it's still way too early for any pronouncements.
"They're coming on and making some plays, and we'll continue to evaluate those guys," said Tomlin. "When you put the physicality element into it, that's when those guys tend to separate themselves. We'll know more about those guys as we play our preseason games. I'm not displeased with the group in terms of how they're working. All of those guys are representing themselves fairly well, when you're talking about those young receivers.
INJURY UPDATE: Tomlin issued this update following practice: "Willie Parker had a sore shoulder this afternoon, and we thought it would be prudent to hold him out. We're still evaluating Darnell Stapleton (knee) and seeing where he is. I thought Heath Miller (sports hernia) took a step this afternoon in terms of participation and it's good to see that he will continue to move forward, as is the case with Justin Hartwig (toe). I like where those guys are going. We're still preserving some of those veteran guys, and Mewelde Moore finished today with a slightly sore hamstring. We'll see if he's capable of working tomorrow, but I like where we are. Darnell Stapleton did have an MRI, but we're getting some more work done, some other things looked at. When we're ready to talk about that, I will."
INJURIES MEAN OPPORTUNITIES: With Hartwig and Stapleton not participating, the Steelers seem to be more affected at center than at guard. Even though Stapleton was a starting guard last season, the team has Trai Essex and No. 3 draft pick Kraig Urbik there, along with Ramon Foster. At center, it's only Doug Legursky and rookie A.Q. Shipley.
"Justin's misfortune provides opportunity," said Tomlin. "Darnell's misfortune provides opportunity for others. That's really how I approach some of the things that go with training camp. A lot of times you can get frustrated when guys aren't participating, but there are capable men who need opportunities who are getting them. What's going on at the center position is exactly that. Doug Legursky is getting a chance to get some quality snaps with some quality people, and A.Q. Shipley is getting more looks. That's what we're focusing on right now, and I think those two men are doing a nice job of representing themselves and taking advantage of it."
QUARTERBACKS NOT NAMED BEN: During the period in which the team worked on its hurry-up offense, Roethlisberger got the first chance and second-year pro Dennis Dixon was next. The first-team offense was stopped when Roethlisberger's pass to Martin Nance into the end zone was incomplete; Dixon's turn ended on a play when Ziggy Hood got a sack and Keiwan Ratliff intercepted a pass first tipped by rookie safety Derrick Richardson.
"He did a nice job throwing some balls, particularly some mid-range balls and moving us down the field," said Tomlin about Dixon. "You noticed in the drill today we made him cover 68 yards, so we had to get some decent chunks. The drill didn't end the way he or I would like it, but that's why we're here."
LOMBARDIS IN LATROBE: The Steelers will hold their lone night practice of this training camp on Friday, Aug. 7 at Latrobe Stadium. Gates open at 5 p.m., and there will be an autograph session from 6:45-7 p.m. After that, practice will begin. In addition, the six Lombardi trophies will be on display. The trophies will be set up on a corner of the track surrounding the field, and fans will be able to take photos with them beginning at 5 p.m. and running until approximately 8 p.m.
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