LATROBE, Pa. – Mike Tomlin always includes what he calls competition periods within every practice session. As Monday's afternoon practice showed, not every competition period involves players crashing into one another.
"Good, spirited work today and just continuing with our team building process," said Tomlin. "As we move into this week, of course, we're facing a game opportunity at the end of the week (on Friday against the Redskins at FedEx Field). I think it is important that we ratchet it up and I think the group did that. We challenged them in that way and we'll just continue on doing so. We're going to be evaluated in some form or fashion here at the end of the week. I think their work displayed that today."
One of the more interesting portions of practice here today was a red zone passing drill, in which the receivers and tight ends were matched up against linebackers and defensive backs. Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon were the three quarterbacks who participated.
On the first repetition of the drill, Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward on a slant over the middle, between the safeties, for what appeared to be a touchdown. Ward had come off the physically unable to perform list earlier in the day and was taking part in his first practice of this camp.
On the next play, Roethlisberger again looked for Ward, but the pass fell incomplete because the timing was off. It seemed as though Ward didn't get his head around in time to see the ball.
"He looked like Hines and that's what we expect," said Tomlin. "It's great to have him back out here, not only in terms of what he's capable of but his outlook and energy that he brings to the game. He's a leader for us, of course."
On the next play, Roethlisberger couldn't find anyone open, and he threw the ball away. Then on each of the next two plays, Roethlisberger went to Heath Miller, and the offense scored both times. On the first, Miller got inside rookie outside linebacker Chris Carter to make the catch, and on the second he used his body to shield off cornerback Keenan Lewis for the reception.
On came Leftwich with the second group. On the first attempt, Wes Lyons couldn't make a diving catch, and on the second attempt Leftwich's bullet went off Lyons' hands. On the third play, Leftwich completed a pass to Tyler Grisham over the middle, with inside linebacker Mortty Ivy coming over and making contact at about the 2-yard line. On Leftwich's final attempt, his fade pattern for Eric Greenwood was incomplete with Ike Taylor in coverage.
Dixon's first pass was a short completion to undrafted rookie Terrence McCrae, and on the next play Dixon again went to McCrae but this time the receiver dropped the ball. On the third play, Dixon threw a beautiful pass to the back corner of the end zone, but free agent rookie tight end Weslye Saunders couldn't make the play. It was impressive that Dixon was able to get the ball through the coverage and to a spot where Saunders could get his hands on the ball.
On the final play of the drill, Dixon couldn't find anyone open and then was tagged by defensive end Cameron Heyward for a sack.
To summarize, Roethlisberger completed 3-of-5, Leftwich was 1-for-4, and Dixon was 1-for-3 with a sack.
INJURY UPDATE: Said Tomlin, "Normal laundry list of injuries and so forth: Limas Sweed wasn't able to finish but he did start the practice with that shoulder; Marcus Gilbert is crawling his way back and was able to participate in a limited fashion, as were others who went through individuals. Crezdon Butler and some of those other guys have training camp-like injuries. We'll continue to get those guys back and also the guys that are healthy will continue to take advantage of the opportunities that those injuries present." … Another player who returned to practice was Maurkice Pouncey.