LATROBE, Pa. – Baron Batch caught a lot of passes during his college career at Texas Tech, 140 for 1,111 yards to be precise. And shortly after the Steelers picked him on the seventh round of the 2011 NFL Draft last April, Steelers Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert said, "Baron Batch has been an excellent running back in the Texas Tech offense, which is really like a third-down offense in the NFL. His ability as a receiver, to catch the ball, was impressive for us."
Sunday marked the first day of practice in pads for the Steelers here, and Baron Batch was impressive again, but it had nothing to do with catching the football.
Coach Mike Tomlin was excited about what the day was going to hold, simply because he was going to get a chance to see his team in pads for the first time. Tomlin believes that hitting is a significant component of the sport, and so he has been known to set a tone with his choice of drills within a particular practice and when he conducts those drills during the practice.
And so it was that the first individual drill of Sunday's afternoon session included backs-on-backers, and the Steelers' seventh-round draft pick was one of the guys given an opportunity to show what he was about.
Batch did not disappoint.
Listed at 5-foot-10, 210 pounds, Batch was not undefeated in the drill, which requires a running back or tight end to identify a blitzing linebacker and then step up and stop his run to the quarterback. But he earned some respect from coaches and veterans on both sides of the ball.
In his first repetition, Batch got fooled by veteran James Farrior, who used a swim move to get around the attempted block. On his last repetition, he ducked his head and was beaten by Jason Worilds. But in between Batch flashed the kind of technique more likely to be seen from a savvy veteran and became a factor as a blocker. Twice in a row, Batch handled Worilds, an outside linebacker from Virginia Tech who was the team's No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft. And then with the assembled players getting into the spirit of the drill, Tomlin gave Batch his shot at the big time.
Tomlin ordered Batch onto the field, moved him to the left side of the offensive formation and picked the opponent. "(Harrison's) coming," said Tomlin.
There would be no attempt at deception for this repetition. James Harrison came off the edge and Batch stepped up and held his own to the degree that Harrison patted the rookie on the helmet when the whistle blew to stop the play. It was impressive, even if Tomlin was not going to admit it during his post-practice media session.
"He's a rookie," said Tomlin when asked about his assessment of Batch's performance.
About the drill overall, Tomlin said, "Some licks were passed. In some instances we were too high technically and in some instances we weren't violent enough. Some (typical) day one-type stuff."
Overall, though, Tomlin gave the general impression that he was somewhat satisfied with the afternoon's session.
"Good day today, first day carrying our pads, a necessary step, of course, in the process," said Tomlin. "We battled some heat and things of that nature, but it was just good general football for this time of year. We're not going to make too many early judgments. We'll look at the videotape and just continue forward.
"From an injury standpoint, we had some guys we held out: Marcus Gilbert with a hamstring, Keenan Lewis with a heat-related illness, Limas Sweed with a hamstring, and Emmanuel Sanders with his foot. New to the list was Crezdon Butler who had some quad tightness. These are general training camp-type things and we'll continue to push through those things, but that will provide opportunities for others. Of course, under the circumstances we have some young guys that could use those opportunities."
STEELERS NOTES: Even though backs-on-backers attracted a lot of the attention, the hit of the afternoon was turned in by safety Ryan Clark on a running play during 11-on-11 toward the end of the practice. On a run by Rashard Mendenhall, Clark did what a coach might call "forcing the run," but what actually transpired was that Clark leveled 319-pound offensive tackle Chris Scott … CB Bryant McFadden had an interception on a play in which he had good coverage on a deep ball from Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace … Also included in the practice were a couple of turns of the two-minute offense. Roethlisberger directed his group into the end zone, with the big play being his own scramble down to the 16-yard line. The touchdown pass was a 2-yarder to Heath Miller.