LATROBE, Pa. – The Steelers clinched the AFC North Division championship in Baltimore because they were good at it. They won Super Bowl XLIII because they were good at it. And the only way a team gets good at it is to practice it.
"We specialized in two-minute football today," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "We had a little success on offense with the first group and some success on defense with the second group. There was ebb-and-flow, and that's what this is about in terms of our team building. I liked the energy and enthusiasm and we're just going to continue to press on toward (the preseason opener in Washington on) Friday night."
As Tomlin explained, the major competitive period on Tuesday afternoon at Saint Vincent College was the two-minute drill, and the precise circumstances were these: 1:21 on the clock, ball at your own 40-yard line, one timeout.
Ben Roethlisberger worked with the first group, and it turned out to be a pretty efficient showing. On first down, Roethlisberger completed a 17-yard pass to Heath Miller, and then with the clock still running, Roethlisberger hustled the offense to the line of scrimmage and completed a 7-yard pass to Arnaz Battle.
On that play to Battle, Lawrence Timmons flashed up the middle on a blitz and had it been a live tackling drill he might have had a sack. But then on second-and-4 from the 36-yard line, Roethlisberger found Tyler Grisham deep down the left sideline for the touchdown.
Then came the second group, and Dennis Dixon was the quarterback this time. Same circumstances – 1:21 to play with one timeout and the ball on the 40-yard line.
Dixon started with a 4-yard completion to undrafted rookie Armand Robinson from Miami (Ohio), and then with the clock running he converted with a 6-yard pass to Robinson.
On first-and-10 from the 50-yard line, Dixon completed an 18-yard pass to Robinson. On the next play, Dixon threw incomplete, and it was another of those situations where a blitzing linebacker might have had a sack. This time it was Stevenson Sylvester.
On second-and-10 from the 32-yard line with 18 seconds left, Dixon couldn't find an open receiver and so he scrambled out of the pocket and ran for 13 yards before calling a timeout. There were 11 seconds left at that point, and on first-and-10 from the 19-yard line, second-year linebacker Jason Worilds ended the drill with a sack.
"I'm not concerned about it based on where I would normally be this time of year," said Tomlin about his team's readiness on the eve of the preseason opener. "I'm concerned about it relative to the people we compete against. We're all faced with the same obstacles, and that makes it fair and that's what we need to do. If we focused on how we felt this time of year in past years, all of us would be extremely frustrated. That would be naïve."
INJURY UPDATE: Said Tomlin, "On the injury front, we've got some guys working their way back, partially participating and fully participating; some of the guys we've talked about over the last couple days. Some new additions: Weslye Saunders has a tight groin and Jason Worilds has the same thing. Normal training camp things and these guys need to take care of themselves so they can show what they're capable of. Mike Wallace had a tight groin. We wanted to exercise a little precaution there and stay ahead of the fatigue curve with him and we gave him a day. Ramon (Foster) might have partially participated today. He's working his way back. He'll be back to us here soon. He had a mild concussion, if there is such a thing."