LATROBE, Pa. – At the start of every training camp, the fans, the media typically train their focus on the rookies. Did they sign their contracts on time? How much signing bonus did they get? Do they look good during the conditioning test? How do they respond once the hitting starts?
Not that he would ignore the rookies by any means, but Coach Mike Tomlin likes to focus on the second-year players, because the time between a player's first and second seasons is when he believes the biggest improvement happens. So when it comes to Tomlin's microscope, it's focused more at this stage on the Class of 2009 rather than the Class of 2010.
The players from the Class of 2009 who earned spots on the roster included Ziggy Hood, Kraig Urbik, Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, Joe Burnett and David Johnson. Frank Summer spent the season on injured reserve; Sunny Harris played some for the Carolina Panthers before coming back to the Steelers late in the season; undrafted rookie Tyler Grisham started out on the practice squad and was activated late in the season; and undrafted rookies Isaac Redman and Steve McLendon spent most of the year on the practice squad.
Another trait Tomlin has exhibited during his seasons as the Steelers coach is that he is reluctant to heap praise on any unproven players too early in the process. And so it was that Hood, despite a nice showing in some of the early drills of this camp, didn't get much in the way of high praise from his coach.
"He looks like a second-year player," said Tomlin. "He is markedly better than he was a year ago, as is expected. The standard of expectation for him has changed, as it does for everyone in his draft class. To this point, and I stress that to this point, he is meeting those challenges."
The challenges posed by the two practices here on Monday had to do with a lot of teaching in the morning session and a more competition oriented workout in the afternoon.
During a one-on-one session pitting receivers vs. defensive backs, WR Emmanuel Sanders made a nice play to get open and catch a touchdown pass; CB Bryant McFadden did a solid job in press coverage, twice not allowing receivers to get off the line of scrimmage; and WRs Antwaan Randle El and Antonio Brown both flashed the short-area quickness that allow offensive players to get separation in that situation.
"I think they're past the initial learning stage, to be quite hones with you," said Tomlin about Sanders and Brown. "Both of those young men had productive offseasons, not only the official offseason but even after the offseason came to an end. Emmanuel Sanders was in the building as much as anybody during the summer, and Antonio Brown spent a lot of time working out with Byron Leftwich down in Miami. Those are two guys who feel the urgency of the moment."
INJURY UPDATE: Said Tomlin, "Jonathan Dwyer continues to be out with his hamstring; Maurkice Pouncey is pretty close to coming back from his hamstring based on the testing results we got; Andre Frazier (knee) did some light running this morning, and we'll see how he responds to that and then go from there; Casey Hampton (hamstring) worked in a limited capacity and it looks like he's coming back to us, as is Ramon Foster (concussion). As for the new injuries, Rashard Mendenhall had his foot stepped on in the morning workout and sustained a minor toe injury, which makes him day-to-day; and Jason Worilds has a hamstring injury, and I don't know the extent of that yet because it just happened late in the afternoon practice."