LATROBE, Pa. – It was Friday night under the lights, and it's proven to be a time when the stars come out. Not the celestial kind necessarily, but the Steelers' lone evening workout of training camp has been the time when some players who would become stars first announced their presence.
Often it happened during a session of goal-line, and that's when Levon Kirkland and Kendrell Bell and Earl Holmes and Chad Brown and Kordell Stewart first did something to elicit oohs and ahhs from the Steelers fans who always come early and stay late for this annual event.
It remains to be seen whether any of the new Steelers will be able to look back on this Friday night experience and think of it as a springboard to their careers, but it was a fun time that benefited the local community.
"Awesome evening here at Latrobe Stadium," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "We love coming out here in this atmosphere in front of our fans with 'Friday night lights,' if you will. I thought we had some quality work. We did our normal work and had a competition period, backs-on-backers was featured there. Our two-minute segments just continued with the growth and development of our team."
This installment of backs-on-backers was designed with the younger players in mind. There weren't repetitions for LaMarr Woodley or James Harrison or James Farrior. No, this was a period where it was more about Baraka Atkins and Jamie McCoy and Chris Carter and Baron Batch.
Atkins (6-foot-4, 268-pounds) was signed as a futures player by the Steelers last January, and the third-year pro from Miami, brought a nice intensity to the drill on Friday night and also enjoyed some success.
McCoy has been doing some nice things over the past several practices, and he continued that. Carter, the fifth-round pick from Fresno State, is learning the outside linebacker spot, and he has flashed some get-to-the-passer skills even while looking undersized compared to the other players at the position.
Batch was the feature attraction of the first backs-on-backers, and he continued to show promise. Tomlin is loathe to hand out any platitudes for Batch when meeting the media, but the seventh-round pick from Texas Tech regularly finds himself matched against the better linebackers. If he's being tested, he doesn't seem to have gotten a failing grade yet.
To most, it seemed as though it was simply a normal football practice, but Tomlin sees it as something more.
"It was awesome," said Tomlin. "It rekindles the love that you have for the game of football, thoughts and experiences that you had as a young guy. The bus ride over, the practice itself, a lot of it's awesome, and we really appreciate the fans and the energy they bring."
One of the guests at practice Friday night was Bill Cowher, always a big proponent of having this workout at Latrobe Stadium.
"It's great for the players, No. 1, because it breaks up the routine," said Cowher. "You're under the lights. You're out here with people, which stimulates you. But it's also good for the community. We've been through this offseason with the uncertainty of football being played, it's a chance to come out here and see it. Football in Western Pennsylvania is very big, the backbone in the lives of a lot of young men and women and boys. I just always got the feeling, a lot of these guys started this way around the country, they all started on a Friday night on a football field. This kind of reminds them of where they came from."
INJURY UPDATE: Said Tomlin, "From the injury standpoint, the normal training camp things, the normal guys we've mentioned. We have some guys marching back and you saw that we picked up Keenan Lewis. Maurkice Pouncey just sprained his ankle and it doesn't seem to be serious. Other than that we'll keep moving forward." … Among the players sidelined for the evening were cornerbacks Crezdon Butler, Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen, plus tackle Marcus Gilbert, who has yet to practice in pads.