By BOB LABRIOLA
It was sunny and clear, with temperatures in the high-70s. It was a textbook summer afternoon, and 10,000 fans packed Saint Vincent College to watch their favorite football team and listen to the crack of the pads.
They got an earful.
Coach Mike Tomlin got his third training camp underway with a bang today with two practices in full pads, and there was a lot of banging going on.
"We came out and practiced twice on the first day, and carried our pads in both practices," said Tomlin. "I really think that's the mentality we need to have as we approach this. We're not going to stick our toe in the water; we're just going to jump in. I think they did that. It was a good, tough day."
One of the tendencies of a Tomlin training camp is that the intensity is high right from the start. As he explained at one point during his first summer here back in 2007, "It's easier to say, 'Whoa,' than 'Sic 'em.'"
The afternoon session contained a session of backs-on-backers – where rookie free agent running back Isaac Redman's blocking drew some praise from Tomlin – and also included a few interesting repetitions pitting Ziggy Hood vs. Kraig Urbik in one-on-one pass-rush drills.
One of the ways for Hood to earn himself some playing time as a rookie will be to show he can provide some inside pass-rush ability, and he certainly flashed that during the afternoon session. It's way too early to make any pronouncements on either Hood or Urbik, but in his first day in pads as a professional the team's No. 1 pick made a good impression. Even if Tomlin refused to be impressed by any of the rookies.
"They're rookies," said Tomlin. "They make technical mistakes. They're getting to understand the tempo that is professional football, and so they have a lot on their to-do lists. The judgments on those guys, we'll learn more about those guys as they continue to take the field and watch how quickly they adjust to those things. That will measure what they're potentially capable of this year."
In addition to Redman, some of the others to acquit themselves well during backs-on-backers were James Harrison and Andre Frazier, with the drill concluding with second-year pro Donovan Woods getting the better of seventh-round pick David Johnson. Frazier also had an interception during the afternoon session, as did Keyaron Fox.
During team drills in the afternoon session, the Steelers ran a lot of screen passes, and Tomlin explained the thinking behind that.
"We'll see how it continues to develop," said Tomlin. "More than anything, on defense we want guys to re-direct and chase the ball. We have a finish emphasis in terms of starting this thing. There's a lot to work on – assignments, technique – but we don't want these guys to lose hustle and not finish. It always helps the defense when you can provide them some misdirection plays, some screens when they have to turn and chase the ball. They did a nice job of that, and I thought we did a nice job of executing some of those screens offensively."
STEELERS NOTES: Tomlin said three players – Lawrence Timmons, Isaac Redman, Doug Legursky – developed cramps in the afternoon session and couldn't finish, but he added that it was nothing major. "Other than that," said Tomlin, "I thought we got pretty good participation from the partial participation guys we talked about yesterday – Troy Polamalu, Deshea Townsend, Darnell Stapleton. All in all, I thought it was a good attitude day. Of course, far from perfect, but it's going to be and that's why we're here. I just like the way they attacked the tough day we put together for them."