By BOB LABRIOLA
LATROBE – Willie Parker was undefeated. Rashard Mendenhall got his first taste of the end zone. And Chris Kemoeatu is a difference-maker.
All of those things are true, but then so is this: the Steelers defense posted its second win in the goal-line drill, 4-2, when a tackle by rookie inside linebacker Mike Humpal on Justin Vincent clinched it.
"The goal-line drill was much better, it was spirited and I think No. 68 had something to do with that," said Coach Mike Tomlin.
Tomlin would be referring to Chris Kemoeatu, the presumptive starter at left guard who returned to the field on Monday after spending the first week on the physically unable to perform list with a weak triceps. Playing with a brace, Kemoeatu pulled from his left guard spot to lead Willie Parker into the end zone over the right side of the line of scrimmage on the first play of the drill.
Neither Parker nor Kemoeatu participated in the first version of goal-line, also won by the defense but with the first-team offense going 0-for-3.
"It was nice for me to get into the end zone," said Parker. "I told the defensive guys that I was going to get two cracks at it, and I was going to be undefeated. I only got one chance, but I did what I had to do."
Rashard Mendenhall got the next two carries, and he scored standing up on the second of those. On the first, he was stopped short because it seemed as though James Farrior clogged the hole by taking on Kemoeatu and not giving any ground.
After Mendenhall's two carries, the offense had a 2-1 lead. The defense got into a 2-2 tie when Trai Essex false-started from his guard spot, and then the defense took a 3-2 lead when Andre Frazier kept Gary Russell out of the end zone on a play around the right end. Humpal then ended it by filling the hole and stopping Vincent.
"He was better. He was downhill," said Tomlin about Mendenhall. "He went in standing up one time, but it's a unit thing, and no doubt Chris' presence was a difference for us. We pulled him. It is what he does – he's a road-grader, a violent run blocker and we ran behind him."
The Steelers also used a formation in which three of their tight ends and Max Starks all were on the field in eligible positions at the same time.
"It's something we're exploring – ways of getting big people on the perimeter and making people defend more gaps," said Tomlin. "That's part of our football, and we feel like we have some quality tight ends working. It's something we're looking at."
Another thing that stood out during the evening practice here was the four interceptions recorded by the defense. Bryant McFadden started at right cornerback with Deshea Townsend sidelined with an injury, and he had one interception and also made a pretty play to knock another pass away that was intended for Heath Miller.
"We had another spirited practice this afternoon, an example of the ebb and flow of training camp. That was one of the points I made to the team," said Tomlin. "We have been talking about being opportunistic on defense and catching balls, and that's a good sign. But at the same time we can't be careless with the football on offense, particularly with some of the young men.
"Sometimes those things show when you have a guy like No. 7 limited and some of the younger guys stepping up in his place, but four interceptions is unacceptable. At the same time I'm excited about what I saw from the defensive standpoint, because we had opportunities and we cashed in."
INJURY REPORT: William Gay (groin), Deshea Townsend (groin), Anthony Trucks (lower back), Anthony Smith (groin) did not practice. Jordan Reffert was excused to be with his wife who had a baby.
Defense wins again
By BOB LABRIOLA