LATROBE, Pa. – It wasn't what it seemed.
What it seemed to be was a case of a rookie deciding that he had had enough, that he couldn't or wouldn't put himself through the mental and physical rigors anymore, that he had decided to quit the team. After all, Dorian Brooks already had left camp after a few days, and he was a guy good enough to be on the team's active roster for Super Bowl XLV. So why not an undrafted rookie free agent?
But the truth of the matter is that John Clay wasn't trying to quit. He was just doing what he thought he had been told to do.
Here is the account of what fans and media saw during the final part of the Monday, Aug. 15 practice at Saint Vincent College, as reported in the Tuesday editions of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"Rookie halfback John Clay pulled a rare move on the practice field Monday and it did not involve a play – he stormed off the field and walked toward the hill that leads to the locker room, as if he were quitting the team. He got more than 100 yards away when a staffer caught up to him. The two talked for a bit, then Clay walked back and joined practice just in time for it to end."
To be fair to the Post-Gazette, many other media outlets reported the same thing, but Coach Mike Tomlin explained what actually happened.
The incident occurred during team drills toward the end of practice, and Tomlin told Steelers.com that it began when running backs coach Kirby Wilson had become frustrated with Clay, the 6-foot-1, 248-pound rookie from Wisconsin, after he made a series of errors during the practice period. Tomlin said that Wilson told Clay to "get off the field," which veterans would understand meant "go to the sideline."
But Clay didn't know that, and when Wilson told him to get off the field, Clay assumed he was being sent to the locker room. So Clay dutifully did what he thought he had been told, until he was spotted going to the locker room, which was when the staffer was dispatched to explain things and bring him back.
Clay was back on the practice field with the rest of his teammates on Tuesday afternoon for the final workout of the 2011 training camp that was open to the public.