LATROBE, Pa. – For things to take root, grow and then blossom, a mixture of sun and water is required. Since coming to Saint Vincent College, the Steelers have been well-watered, and Coach Mike Tomlin probably wouldn't mind seeing a series of days of sunshine right about now.
The Steelers were rained out on July 29, or more accurately they were chased from the field by lightning, and on Wednesday they were forced to move their practice to the artificial turf field because of a persistent rain that began overnight.
When it became clear that a heavy rain was going to fall overnight, the tarps were dragged out and used to cover the three grass fields. The tarps stayed on until the morning, but then another burst of rain hit the area in the early afternoon.
With practice scheduled to begin at 2:55 p.m., the decision was made to conduct it on the turf. There was only a slight drizzle falling toward the end of the session, but conducting a full practice with some 80 players could have damaged the grass fields, and the Steelers still have two full weeks here.
Given that, Tomlin was upbeat about the session when it was over.
"Very productive day for us out here," said Tomlin. "We got some good, quality work in and we're starting to see the fruit of some of our labor. We're playing better from an assignment standpoint. Of course, we still have miles to go technically. It's going to take a great number of snaps to get some of the technical things down but we know and understand that. I like our energy and enthusiasm and how we've been working and we'll just continue with the process."
The process was supposed to get a big boost tomorrow – Thursday, Aug. 4 – because that was supposed to be the start of the league year, the day when the $120-odd million salary cap went into effect and when all of the players who have signed new contracts since the lockout was lifted would be eligible to return to practice. But over the course of the day, word leaked that there still were issues to resolve, and if the process isn't completed in time then the league year would not open on Aug. 4.
The Steelers players whose ability to participate in practice hinges on the ratification of the new CBA are Dennis Dixon, Mewelde Moore, Doug Legursky, Willie Colon, Tony Hills, Jonathan Scott, John Gilmore, Chris Hoke, William Gay, Ike Taylor, Ryan Mundy, Jeremy Kapinos, Daniel Sepulveda, Shaun Suisham and Greg Warren.
"We're anticipating (ratification)," said Tomlin. "Of course, I'm hearing rumors like you guys are hearing rumors. We'll address those things as we get legitimate information. Right now, in my mind, I expect those guys to participate."
The guys who are participating currently have been presented with an opportunity to attract more attention from the coaches, and some of the guys who did some interesting things on Tuesday included rookies Baron Batch and Curtis Brown, wide receiver Limas Sweed and cornerback Keenan Lewis.
Lewis got enough of a hand on a deep ball to Mike Wallace to force an incompletion, Brown continues to see a lot of playing time with the veteran players on defense, Sweed made a diving catch over the middle, and Batch showed some nice quickness and burst through the hole on running plays.
Tomorrow is another day, and if it turns out to be the day when Tomlin has everybody available to practice, that will be fine with him. If not, well, he doesn't see it as a distraction.
"I don't because we're all dealing with it, so from that standpoint the playing field is level," said Tomlin about an issue that will affect all teams either way. "I don't worry about things that we all deal with, largely from a league standpoint. It's not creating a competitive advantage or disadvantage, and that's what concerns me as a football coach."
INJURY UPDATE: "Somewhat of a laundry list of injuries, some training camp-like injuries," said Tomlin. "OLB Erik Clanton has a quad, CB Cortez Allen still has a hamstring, CB Crezdon Butler has a hamstring, T Marcus Gilbert has a hamstring, CB Bryant McFadden has a hamstring, WR Emmanuel Sanders you guys know about, and, of course I took care of James Harrison and Troy Polamalu today (with a day off)."