It literally came down to the wire on Thursday, but when all was said and done it was back to business as usual for the Steelers during practice. Just as the team was ready to stretch, after practice was pushed back an hour and a half, the 15 free agents who previously weren't permitted to practice put on their shoulder pads and jerseys and joined their teammates.
"They didn't miss much," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "They got the official word right at stretch which is exactly how I planned it. It was an unusual day for everyone.
"It's great to have our 90 or so guys out there on the field today. We'll just continue on with our team building process. Guys like Ike (Taylor), Willie Colon and others anxious to get back out were able to do it. We'll continue on with this process."
Players took the field at 4:30 for practice, but votes were still being counted league-wide to ratify the CBA. At 4:58, word came down that it was a go.
"Today it feels like training camp has officially started now that we have all of our guys back out there," said wide receiver Hines Ward, still a spectator himself on the PUP list with a thumb injury.
Among those who were allowed to practice on Thursday were Dennis Dixon, Mewelde Moore, Doug Legursky, Willie Colon, Tony Hills, Jonathan Scott, John Gilmore, Chris Hoke, William Gay, Ike Taylor, Ryan Mundy, Jeremy Kapinos, Dan Sepulveda, Shaun Suisham and Greg Warren.
There was even a celebratory dance when Chris Hoke did his, "Hoke-y Pokey" dance surrounded by teammates cheering him on. A much better scene than a few days earlier when he did the dance on a field by himself, far away from his teammates.
"We wanted to go start to finish," said Gay, who was happy the practice time was changed. "We wanted to stretch, do the walk-thru everything. I am glad he pushed it back.
"When not practicing you have to use the mental part of the game, get a feel for it and go through plays and make it an advantage, not a disadvantage. It's great to get back on the field. You can't go wrong with that."
No one might have been happier to be back on the field than tackle Willie Colon, who missed all of last season with an Achilles injury and was an unrestricted free agent before signing back with the team.
"I kissed my helmet today for the first time," said Colon. "I was sitting next to Crezdon Butler and he was like 'Did you kiss your helmet.' I told him I missed it. It still has the scuff marks on it."
Taylor has been on the sidelines as a spectator for the start of camp and was thrilled to be back in the swing of things.
"It's been different just watching," said Taylor. "I am glad to be back on the field with the boys. I was so used to being on the field with them and to just watch them work … there is no work like football work. I am just glad to be back on the field."
Injury Update: "Keenan (Lewis) was having migraine headaches today. (Adam) Mims had the quad strain, normal training camp thing. Cortez Allen hamstring, Crezdon Butler quad. All the others are working their way back and need to get back. Meanwhile they will provide rep opportunities for others and that is what camp is all about." – Coach Mike Tomlin
Tomlin also said that guard Dorian Brooks left the team.
The Steelers will hold a 7 p.m. practice on Friday night at Latrobe Memorial Stadium, one of the annual highlights of camp.
"I love everything about it," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "It takes you back to your innocence with the game of football. Everything from the bus ride over to the stadium is an awesome experience.
It's Friday Night lights. Every one of these guys can think back to their high school days and how special it was. It does give you that extra bit of energy to go out and perform."
Fans attending are asked to bring non-perishable food items to benefit the Westmoreland County Food Bank. Tents will be set up at the gates to drop off donations.