By BOB LABRIOLA
Last year, it was Lawrence Timmons' groin. This year, it's Rashard Mendenhall's hamstring. And none of it surprises Coach Mike Tomlin.
Last May, Timmons arrived as the team's No. 1 draft pick, but after taking part in one full minicamp practice, he was injured and ended up missing the rest of the offseason program. This year, Mendenhall was the No. 1 pick, and after taking part in both minicamp practices on Friday, he missed both sessions on Saturday with what was termed a slight hamstring strain.
"It's a precaution right now," said Tomlin about the decision to sideline Mendenhall. "He has somewhat of a hamstring injury. It's becoming somewhat commonplace for some of these high-round draft picks to have this situation happen to them during minicamp weekend. It happened to Lawrence last year, it happened to (No. 2 pick LaMarr) Woodley last year."
It's unlikely that Mendenhall will return to the field for Sunday's finale, but Tomlin doesn't expect his injury to linger as long as Timmons'.
"The schedule that these guys are on is really not conducive for preparing them to come in and meet what awaits them in terms of minicamp," said Tomlin. "They go through the combine and they go to their pro day, and then they go on this city tour, where they're visiting with respective teams and they have functions they need to go to.
"When they're in college, they spend a lot of time in winter conditioning programs getting ready to play spring football. It's an awkward time for these young guys, because they're not really a part of a team as they prepare for the draft. They miss a little bit of that, and injuries happen. But like last year, it's short-term misery. It's not going to define him. It allows him to take a step back, and watch and take some mental reps."
If the health news on Mendenhall was something less than ideal, Tomlin was tickled to talk about the progress two of his veteran players have been making after needing season-ending surgeries last year.
Ryan Clark did not play after the Oct. 21 game in Denver, and he eventually had to have his spleen and gall bladder removed. After losing between 25 and 30 pounds during the entire ordeal, Clark has returned and taken part in every portion of the offseason program to date.
"If you know Ryan, you don't count him out of anything," said Tomlin. "He has a great spirit, he's a great competitor, he has passion and loves to play the game of football. He's in the process of marching back, and you probably won't know (how he will do) until we go out and play football. We like where he is right now, and I'm sure he's glad to be back out there with his teammates. His teammates are happy to have him, and he's a great leader."
Marvel Smith battled back spasms for portions of last season, and his injury ultimately required surgery as well. He missed five complete games.
"When you feel good your spirits are uplifted, and all reports are that Marvel is feeling as good as he's felt in a long time," said Tomlin. "It's the sacrifice these men make to play this game. A lot of times you play in less than ideal circumstances in terms of health – it's part of it. But when you deal with those situations like he has and you come through the other side and you're feeling good, you really appreciate it. That's what you see from him."
MINICAMP NOTES: Tomlin said he excused Ben Roethlisberger from the afternoon session so that the quarterback could attend to some personal matters … Darnell Stapleton had been given permission to miss Friday, and he was back on Saturday … After one practice on Sunday, minicamp will end. The players are not allowed to gather as a complete team again until OTAs resume on May 20.