By BOB LABRIOLA
LATROBE, Pa. – It's a natural part of every NFL training camp, especially so at one as competitive as the Steelers'.
Because so much of every practice session is devoted to one-on-one drills, and because a good bit of the evaluation process stems from how guys do in those drills, rules have a tendency to go by the wayside.
The NFL sends a group of officials to every training camp, and the purpose of the two-day visit is to explain to the players and coaches any rules changes and to work the practices. If it looks ridiculous to see an official throw a penalty flag during a seven-on-seven drill, for example, it's a necessary part of the process that Coach Mike Tomlin refers to as team-building.
"We added the element of the officials out here today because we acknowledge that is an element in the game," said Tomlin. "We do have to play within the rules. That was good, a factor in the drills and that's good for us. We're here to grow as a football team. We need to understand we need to keep it clean and understand the results when you don't keep it clean. So, from that standpoint it was a productive day. I continue to like the energy and the enthusiasm the guys are providing us, and we will just continue to march forward."
The Steelers always devote some of their daily practice time at camp to situational football, and Thursday afternoon it was the two-minute drill. With the first units going against each other, it was a win for the defense when Brett Keisel batted down a Ben Roethlisberger pass on fourth down, and when the next groups took the field it turned into the Mike Wallace show.
Wallace, the rookie speed-burner who could provide the team a dimension at the receiver position it never has had, has been blowing past defensive backs since camp opened last Friday. This time he ran past fellow rookie Keenan Lewis and when Dennis Dixon's pass was underthrown it created an obvious pass interference penalty, a 40-plus-yard penalty that put the ball on the 10-yard line.
Then on fourth down, Wallace went high in the back of the end zone to catch a bullet from Dixon and get both feet down for the touchdown. Think Santonio Holmes in Super Bowl XLIII, only more toward the middle of the field. And with two NFL officials right there to call it a touchdown, there was a little less complaining than if Tomlin had made the call.
"First things first, you need the energy, enthusiasm, hustle and tempo when we first start carrying the pads in training camp," said Tomlin. "We get that for a couple of days, and then we acknowledge that when we do that sometimes guys get outside of the lines in terms of the rules. You bring the officials in here four, five days into that process and get them back inside the lines, hopefully keeping the energy, enthusiasm, and hustle. It's part of team building."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE: "Sean McHugh had a little swelling in his left knee. We are getting him examined. Don't anticipate it being long, but we'll see. LaMarr Woodley had the same with his right knee. We held those guys out this afternoon. Some of the other guys, like Sonny Harris, is getting a little closer to getting back. Mewelde Moore, Martin Nance it's going to be a few days with those hamstrings. Troy (Polamalu) of course is going to be ready to go. Deshea (Townsend) is getting the same thing looked at in terms of his hamstring. Darnell Stapleton is going to have his knee scoped Friday morning, so we'll have more information after that's completed."
LOMBARDIS IN LATROBE: The Steelers will hold their lone night practice of this training camp Friday night at Latrobe Stadium. Gates open at 5 p.m., and there will be an autograph session from 6:45-7 p.m. After that, practice will begin. In addition, the six Lombardi trophies will be on display. The trophies will be set up on a corner of the track surrounding the field, and fans will be able to take photos with them beginning at 5 p.m. and running until approximately 8 p.m.