LATROBE, Pa. – This is what Steelers President Art Rooney II was referring to all along when he said following the end of a disappointing 2009 season that he believed the team needed to be able to run the ball more effectively.
As in, run the ball more effectively in situations such as short-yardage and goal-line. Those situations were the highlight of Sunday's afternoon practice at Saint Vincent College, and Rooney had to like what he saw.
The Steelers ran four live plays, which means tackling to the ground was included, in a short-yardage period where the down-and-distance was always third-and-1. The offense was 4-for-4 in converting those situations, with Isaac Redman getting the yardage on the first two plays, with Dennis Dixon rolling out and hitting Mewelde Moore with a pass on the third, and with Jonathan Dwyer plunging for 2 yards before taking a big hit from safety Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith on the fourth.
Things were a bit more complicated to decipher during the goal-line drill, where the ball was placed just inside the 2-yard line on each of seven plays, with tackling to the ground included again. The offense was awarded the win, 4-3, but there was one disputed play in which Dwayne White was ruled to have crossed the plane while the defense was calling for a booth review via instant replay.
"Featured periods of the day were short yardage and goal line," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "They were live periods, and I like what I saw on both sides. There was a little bit of success and failure. There were a lot of teaching opportunities more than anything else. I am pleased with the work from standpoint."
The Steelers have been looking for a short-yardage back since Jerome Bettis retired, and following this little bit of live action they aren't ready to say the search is over.
"I think (the running backs) represented themselves well," said Tomlin. "I thought they exercised great vision, they found some holes and finished some runs off. They have to get their pad level down a little bit. I like the way Dwyer is hitting the hole, but he has to roll his shoulders forward and reduce his hit surface for his protection and protection of the football."
The star of the goal-line drill last summer was Isaac Redman, who used his success in it to make enough of a name for himself to be kept on the practice squad all season. Redman was 1-for-2 on Sunday, with Casey Hampton being the driving force that kept him out of the end zone on the second play of the drill.
"His physical characteristics are still the same," said Tomlin. "He has a great center of gravity and great leg drive. I think he's potentially better this year because of his patience and vision. He has done a nice job in camp thus far of putting the ball where it is supposed to be and that highlighted his effort today."
Was it the backs who deserve the credit for the plays in which the offense scored, or might it be the Legursky effect. Center Doug Legursky, the second-year pro, lined up in the backfield on two of the offense's four touchdowns, and the back ran behind him both times. For the defense, ther guys being credited for making the plays on the stops were Hampton, Steve McLendon and Renauld Williams.
"Guys like Legursky are backfield capable," said Tomlin. "He has great short-area quickness, which is the same thing that makes him a functional center. That kind of negates his lack of stature, if you will. He is a good leverage guy."
There are still a number of things that remain up in the air following the outcome of the first short-yardage and goal-line drills of this camp, but the football wasn't going to be one of them.
"By no means were we going to throw the football," said Tomlin.