By BOB LABRIOLA
LATROBE – The grass was wet and slick, the legs are getting heavier, and the lines are getting shorter as more guys are claimed by nagging injuries.
It was a third straight day of two-a-day practices for the Steelers here, and working through the combination of these minor adversities is what coaches believe helps mold a group of players into a team.
"I just wish it was hotter to make it even more miserable," said Coach Mike Tomlin.
Temperature aside, Tomlin said there were a lot of things that happened on the fields here that brightened his mood.
"It was a really productive day today, a lot of highlights," said Tomlin. "I thought the 9-on-7 drill was particularly physical this morning on both sides of the ball. We installed some play-action passes offensively. I thought we had a nice pocket. Guys competed. It's kind of the dog days of summer. It's kind of when it starts to wear on people – mental and physical warfare, and I thought they did a nice job of fighting through it."
The gridiron wars the Steelers have been fighting this week have claimed some casualties, but with the exception of punter Daniel Sepulveda's torn ACL, the wounds have been minor.
Limas Sweed and Jeremy Parquet both were taken off the field before the end of the afternoon session because of cramps. James Farrior (groin), Marvel Smith (groin) and Mewelde Moore (illness) joined Bryant McFadden (groin) and Anthony Smith (groin) as players who did not practice in the afternoon.
Tomlin characterized all of those players as day-to-day.
"Tomorrow morning there is no practice, and it's right on time," said Tomlin about the first break in the schedule. "That's what it's about. I guess I did pretty decent with the schedule."
Sweed has shown some playmaking ability during his first few days in an NFL training camp, and so there were concerns when he was taken off the field on a cart.
"Limas just went off with cramps and we took him off to protect him," said Tomlin. "The morning off will help him; hopefully he'll be able to get back out there tomorrow. He's a guy who runs all day, and he's run a bunch. His body betrayed him just a little."
Paul Ernster, the punter the team claimed off waivers on Tuesday, took part in his first two practices with the Steelers on Wednesday.
"He got in and got acclimated with some of the things we asked him to do. He did that pretty quickly," said Tomlin. "He's a professional. He did a nice job this afternoon holding the ball (for placement kicks), and we're just going to continue to be in the evaluation process on that front."
Tomlin said Sepulveda's surgery is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 6, and he also indicated the Steelers are in no hurry to place him on the injured reserve list because there is no immediate need for his roster spot. Tomlin did stop short, though, of saying that Ernster was the final answer to the situation.
"We're playing catch-up if you will in regards to that, and looking at people is part of that process," said Tomlin. "We'll see how that goes."
With Chris Kemoeatu on the physically unable to perform list, and with Marvel Smith missing the afternoon session and with Parquet unable to finish because of cramping, the number of bodies along the offensive line was down to 10. Because a team has to play five at a time, that doesn't leave a lot of recovery time.
Darnell Stapleton has shown the versatility to play both guard spots plus center, and on Wednesday afternoon Trai Essex played at both guard spots and left tackle.
"Kudos to him," said Tomlin when asked about Essex. "The lines are getting short because some men are down. He played left guard, he played left tackle and he also played right guard today to finish this thing when Parquet went down. It's part of his value. He's a veteran player, he's got great position flexibility. It's a distinguishing characteristic, and it's something we strive for in a lot of our men."