By BOB LABRIOLA
LATROBE, Pa. – The Steelers used their first 13 days here to get themselves ready for their preseason opener. Now, they're using that performance last Thursday night against the Arizona Cardinals as a base from which to get their game to the next level. And along the way, two of their offensive starters were back on the practice field.
In their first on-field work since the 20-10 win over the Cardinals at Heinz Field, the Steelers offense welcomed back center Justin Hartwig and Willie Parker. Following the workout, Coach Mike Tomlin said he expects both Hartwig and Parker to play in the Steelers' second preseason game – Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.
That certainly is good news, especially for an offensive line that also will be without Darnell Stapleton for another week or so with his knee injury.
"I thought we had a good day today," said Tomlin. "I told the team after (practice) that it looks like a team that's ready to take the next step. We came out here and played better today. We spent this morning evaluating our tape (of the Arizona game) and looking at it critically. That first one is so important because it kind of sets the stage for our mentality in terms of how we look at our work and evaluate our work and try to eliminate mistakes and move forward and find new problems."
One of the problems that cropped up in the preseason opener that Tomlin wants to eliminate is what he saw as too many foolish penalties. The Steelers were flagged eight times, with seven of them accepted. Worse than that, in Tomlin's assessment, were the number of pre-snap penalties among those called. There was one delay of game, two false starts, one for 12 men in the huddle and one for too many men on the field.
"One of the things I'm going to talk to the guys about tonight is that part of being a good team, part of being a tough team, is not beating ourselves," said Tomlin. "We had seven penalties for 70 yards, and we were penalized too much a year ago, so we'd like to play smarter. I think we pride ourselves in playing a physical brand of football, but we need to play smarter.
"I understand that penalties like 12 men in a huddle and delay of game and things of that nature come with your first (preseason game), but we need to make those problems disappear and disappear forever, and that will be our focus this week. We need to get better in that regard. Sometimes you have no control over effort penalties that occur between the snap and the whistle. But the pre-snap penalties, and of course the post-play penalties, are things we look to eliminate."
One of the things to come out of the Cardinals game was the emergence of undrafted rookie Isaac Redman as a legitimate contender in the battle for a roster spot as a short-yardage running back. Redman scored twice in the goal-line drill at camp against the reserve defense, and then he scored twice in the fourth quarter against the Arizona reserves. Redman also has drawn praise from Tomlin for his blocking in the backs-on-backers drills.
After the Cardinals game, Tomlin said when asked about Redman's performance, "It was relative. Hopefully we will get some more looks at him against some varsity guys, if you will. He did a nice job with what he was faced in front of tonight. We are not going to make too much out of it. We will continue to work and move forward."
Redman got a chance for some repetitions against the varsity on Saturday afternoon, and the NFL's best defense in 2008 let him know that the degree of difficult was on the rise. Redman caught a pass in the flat and was blasted by safety Ryan Clark; on a subsequent running play James Harrison did the honors.
Redman would appear to be in a direct competition with fellow rookie Frank Summers for a roster spot and a role within the offense, and Tomlin said he has seen some things he likes from the team's second pick on the fifth round of the 2009 draft. Based on the time Summers has been spending at fullback, he also looks to be in competition with veteran Carey Davis.
"I think (Summers) is showing the aptitude of a lead blocker, a guy who is capable of generating power on contact," said Tomlin. "He has a good demeanor for it. I think he is doing a nice job. He is open to it, so we are just trying to find more things that young men are capable of doing. This guy likes the combat. So we will continue to work with him in regards to the fullback position."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE:"Rashard Mendenhall was held out today. He got a quad contusion, and it looks like he is going to have the green light to practice tomorrow, which is good. We need him out here as much as we possibly can, and keep him moving forward. Martin Nance came back and worked in the limited capacity today. The move looks toward having him ready to play in D.C., and of course he needs that opportunity if he is going to stay in the fight that he is in. Tyler Grisham is still day to day with his hamstring. Expect Brandon Williams to be back, with his abdominal strain he should be back pretty soon. It's still a work in progress with Mewelde Moore (hamstring)."