By BOB LABRIOLA
LATROBE, Pa. – There were fans lining the entire route the yellow school buses took from Saint Vincent College to Latrobe Stadium, many waving Terrible Towels and all offering their support. When the Steelers stepped off those buses, the place was packed with fans who came to see their favorite football team, get a photo with the world's only collection of six Lombardi trophies, maybe score an autograph or two and then stay and enjoy a fireworks display.
It might have been just another mundane practice to those in the football business, but for the 15,000-plus in attendance it was much more than that.
"I didn't have this many people at my high school games," said Coach Mike Tomlin, "and this was like homecoming at William & Mary. It was an awesome crowd."
What the crowd saw was ordinary by Tomlin's standards, but there is definitely a place for ordinary at this stage of a training camp.
"I just told the football team I liked how we worked out here tonight, and I think it's important I make that point to them," said Tomlin. "Sometimes you come out, particularly during training camp, and you're not going to be emotionally up for the work but you still have work to do. I sensed that about the group tonight, and I like the work that we got. It wasn't an emotionally high practice, but that's not required to work well. I think our team needs to understand that.
"There are going to be days when you come to practice when you're not emotionally up, you're not going to feel great. You still have to do the work. I'm not worried about this team being emotionally up on game day. You step in Heinz Field or in hostile environments, that's going to come with it. I like how they pushed through, I liked the ebb and flow of the work today, and it was a good atmosphere. We had a good time."
And when the session ended, Tomlin had some good news to share about injured guard Darnell Stapleton.
Stapleton, who started 15 games through the Super Bowl last season after Kendall Simmons tore an Achilles tendon, reported to this camp with some swelling in his knee. Stapleton was able to work through the first few practices, and then his knee responded in a way that the decision was made to give him an MRI. That was on Monday, and on Tuesday Tomlin said that there was more work getting done and some other things were being checked.
That checking was in the form of arthroscopic surgery, and the results were pretty good under the circumstances.
"The surgery today was exploratory and they liked what they looked at," said Tomlin. "They're going to give him a couple of weeks, and we'll see where we go from there. If I had to nail it down today it would be tough to do. We'll give him a couple of weeks, see how his body responds and we'll go from there."
When asked if he was willing to rule out the injured reserve list, Tomlin said, "At this point, absolutely, absolutely. That's much too negative."
Tomlin opted not to put the team through goal-line, which is typically the only live tackling drill of a training camp. Instead, there was another session of backs-on-backers.
"I think our running backs are really representing themselves in that drill," said Tomlin. "I like what I'm getting from them. The issue I have with them is they have to do a better job of taking the work from that drill to our pass-under-pressure 11-on-11 drill, which always follows. I like some things I saw in the first drill, but I didn't necessarily see it carry over into 11-on-11. I thought the running backs won the individual drill; I thought the linebackers won the 11-on-11."
The Steelers are scheduled for two practices on Saturday back at Saint Vincent College, with the one starting at 2:55 p.m. open to the public.