NFL officials were on hand at Steelers training camp on Thursday, working with the team to go over some rule changes for the 2010 season and providing a refresher course of things that haven't changed.
One of the biggest differences the players will notice is where the umpire will be positioned. Starting with the 2010 season umpires will be behind the offense instead of behind the defense. While the rule is designed mainly to protect the umpires, it will also have an impact on the game.
Because of that Coach Mike Tomlin ran different scenarios during practice to show how the umpire's new position could affect timing, especially in hurry-up situations.
"We worked five minutes, hurry-up offense as if we were down by two scores," said Tomlin. "We wanted to see logistically how the position of the umpire was going to help and affect the game in those situations. We look how it affects the five-minute offenses like we worked in that sequence, how it affects one-on-one pass rushing and what that guy is going to be looking at in terms of pass rushing from a defensive and offensive standpoint. Those have been two areas where his location has been significant. We got a bird's eye view of it today."
One of the biggest changes could be how long it takes to spot the ball, as opposed to when the umpire was behind the defense and could affect how teams use their time outs.
"The reality is you are going to lose some plays," said Tomlin. "The spotting of the ball isn't going to be as quick as it would be if he was positioned at his original position. On balls that are 10-20 yards down field in the middle of the field, when you don't utilize a time out, there is going to be a lapse relative to what it has been in the past in terms of the spotting of the ball and the readying of the ball for play. That is just the reality of it. Not only is he coming from a further distance than he used to be, but he also has to remove himself a further distance to allow the ball to go into play. It is subtle, but very significant when you talk about that situation. When trying to navigate the ball down the field in a quick manner you lose a second.
"It is just going to be an element that we all need to become aware of and that is why it was important that we executed the drill in the manner that we did today. Now we have visual evidence of what the potential changes are."
The big story at the morning practice on Thursday was a visit by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Goodell, along with former Oakland Raiders Coach John Madden, has been on a tour of NFL training camps and stopped at St. Vincent College to see the Steelers.
The hot topic of conversation was Ben Roethlisberger's suspension and whether or not it will be reduced from six games to four games. Goodell said he has been pleased with Roethlisberger's progress, but will not make a decision on the suspension until closer to the start of the season.
"I'm very encouraged by what he's doing but I'll take the period I have before I make a decision and make it probably right before the regular season," Goodell said. "He hasn't just done what he's been told to do. He's worked hard to really try to improve and understand what he's been through and what he's going to do differently going forward. I think that's a very positive thing.
"I've been encouraged by what I have seen. He's understanding the seriousness of the issue. I think that's a very positive development. I hope he'll continue to focus on himself, continue to work on what his advisors are suggesting he needs to focus on and use it as a productive period for him."
Injury Update: Coach Tomlin: "There were really no new updates on the injury list. Some of the guys that are having the nagging camp type injuries are continuing to work their way back. We had Jonathan Dwyer back at running back and some others back as well. Tony Hills sustained a stinger and Jonathan Scott may have a concussion. We will have information regarding those guys later."
The Steelers will hold the only night practice of training camp on Friday, Aug. 6 at Latrobe Memorial Stadium. There will be a 15 minute autograph session beginning at 6:45 p.m. and practice begins at 7 p.m.
Admission is $5 for adults 18-65 and $2 for children under 18 and senior citizens. Children under 12 will be admitted for free if accompanied by a parent. Tickets will be sold at the gate, which opens at 5 p.m. Proceeds benefit the Greater Latrobe School District Athletic Program.
The Westmoreland County Food Bank will collect non-perishable food and household items. Giant Eagle will match the donation on a per-pound basis. Fans unable to attend the practice can still participate through the virtual food drive by visiting www.westmorelandfoodbank.org.