By BOB LABRIOLA
LATROBE, Pa. – It long has been a training camp ritual to make rookies sing during dinner. As it turned out here on Monday afternoon, it might be the veterans who are singing to Piotr Czech. At the very least, they should be singing his praises for the next few days.
One of the traditions Coach Mike Tomlin has established during training camp is to pick an extremely hot day during the end of the team's stay at Saint Vincent College and then gather the players with about 30 minutes left in the afternoon session. At that point, the ball is placed down at a pre-arranged distance, and from there it's simple: if the kicker makes the field goal, practice is over; miss it, and the whole team is required to finish the session as scheduled.
Jeff Reed is a veteran with two Super Bowl rings, and since he also was 2-for-2 in this particular exercise, Tomlin hung it on Czech, a first-year player from Wagner College who was born in Olesnica, Poland.
The distance was 52 yards, and Czech nailed it. And for those who don't think 30 minutes of football practice is such a big deal, try watching 30 minutes of football practice in the 90-degree temperatures bathing this campus Monday. And for the players, those 30 minutes would have included seven-on-seven and team drills, which are the two most physical periods of a practice.
"We came out this afternoon and got after it again, provided Piotr Czech an opportunity to drill a 52 yarder, and save the guys about 30 minutes of sweat," said Tomlin, "and thankfully for him he delivered. I hate to think what would happen to him if he didn't."
Compounding the pressure on Czech, and the joy in the locker room, was the fact that Monday was the second-to-last scheduled two-a-day session of this camp.
"As long as I get the opportunity to showcase my talent over here, I'm happy with that," said Czech. "We knew all day (about the practice-ending field goal attempt), it was kind of a rumor going around that I was going to have a chance to end practice on a long kick. Fifty-two yards is a perfect range for me, and I just lined it up and nailed it. I had my teammates behind me, and I tried to bring everybody to the locker room and get them some rest."
As Tomlin announced the situation to the team, many of the players started exhorting their teammate, but he claims not to have heard any of their encouragements/threats.
"I know I have these guys behind me, and they want to get up to the locker room as much as I do," said Czech. "I don't hear anything. I just line up and focus on what I gotta do."
And what might have happened to Czech if he hadn't done what he had to do?
"I don't know," said Czech. "I wouldn't want to know."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE: "On the injury front – no major deals whatsoever here today. Shaun McDonald got kicked in the calf, he should be fine, and should be back out tomorrow. Frank Summers' groin looks like it's going to be fine; he's going to be back at it again tomorrow. Mewelde Moore is starting to get some more participation. He is catching up to Martin Nance and some other guys who are battling back from those hamstring injuries. We've been blessed on the injury front."
TOMLIN ON SUNDAY'S GOAL-LINE DRILL: "I thought we had hats on hats. There were singular individual efforts that were outstanding when the defense won the drill the week before, and I thought it was similar offensively. I noticed that we ran a lot to our right over there behind Willie Colon and company. I thought they controlled the line of scrimmage and gave Isaac Redman an opportunity to pick his spots and finish plays off. You got to give kudos to Willie Colon and those tight ends who were working over there on that right side."