By BOB LABRIOLA
LATROBE, Pa. – In the public safety business, it's often wise to simulate disasters so that the people who need to know how to respond to such situations get some practice doing it.
On the fifth day of this training camp, Coach Mike Tomlin put his team through a little bit of disaster training. Specifically, the defense was forced to work without James Farrior during the morning session, and the offense had to make do without Ben Roethlisberger in the afternoon.
"We presented some challenges for some units today," said Tomlin. "I made the defense operate without their quarterback this morning in James Farrior. We watched Keyaron Fox lead that group and communicate, and we did the same thing this afternoon when you take No. 7 out of that offensive huddle. We got to watch Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon and those guys make that group go.
"Creating a little adversity for some groups – that's part of team building. Hopefully we won't have to play a lot of ball without some of those people, but it's good to take a look at it and see how the communication flows, and see how the guys maintain the tempo and the personality of the units when they lose some key people. We all understand that's potentially part of the game that we play and coach."
The closest thing to a real disaster the Steelers have experienced to this point in camp is an injury to starting right guard Darnell Stapleton. When camp opened on July 31, Tomlin said, "Darnell Stapleton has some swelling in his knee. We are going to be cautious with him, particularly when we are talking about two practices a day, and things of that nature. We are going to keep an eye on him."
Stapleton was able to work through the first few practices, and then his knee responded in a way that the decision was made to give him an MRI. That was on Monday, and on Tuesday Tomlin said that there was more work getting done and some other things were being checked. After Wednesday's afternoon session, Tomlin responded to a question about Stapleton with, "No new news. When I'm ready to talk, we'll talk about it."
In the meantime, Trai Essex is working with the first unit at right guard and rookie Kraig Urbik is getting a lot more repetitions.
"(What I like about Trai at guard are) the same things that make him a valuable part of our unit when he's working outside or when he's a multiple position backup," said Tomlin. "Trai is a very intelligent football player. Nothing happens too fast for him, in terms of some of the obscure looks in games. He's a very good communicator. He's doing some pretty good things in there, and we'll just continue to move forward with him."
Another area where the absence of the starter is creating opportunities is at wide receiver, where Hines Ward has not practiced since last weekend. As a result, guys such as Limas Sweed, Brandon Williams, Shaun McDonald, Martin Nance, Dallas Baker and rookies Mike Wallace, Stephen Black and Tyler Grisham are on the field for many more repetitions.
"I'm just evaluating it day by day," said Tomlin when asked when Ward might return. "Again, when I pull guys out it's less about those guys and more about the growth and development opportunities of the guys that we have working. We all acknowledge we have some young wideouts we need to take a look at, guys who need to take a step forward. When you take a guy like Hines out of the mix, it provides more snaps and opportunities for those guys to grow. We have a pretty decent idea of what No. 86 is capable of."
And because he's not in pads practicing, Ward has been acting as an extra coach by offering pointers and comments that only someone who has played the position in this offense could.
"That's just Hines," said Tomlin. "Hines understands the obligations of being the kind of veteran player that he is. I say obligation, and it's an obligation that he welcomes. He's interested in us winning, and so he's going to help in the growth and development of our young guys."
INJURY UPDATE: In addition to Farrior in the morning and Roethlisberger in the afternoon, Mewelde Moore (hamstring) and Sonny Harris (groin) did not practice. Tomlin said Roethlisberger will work on Thursday, when the only practice of the day is the one at 2:55 p.m. that's open to the public.
LOMBARDIS IN LATROBE: The Steelers will hold their lone night practice of this training camp on Friday, Aug. 7 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.
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