By BOB LABRIOLA
LATROBE, Pa. – The defense did its thing on Sunday afternoon. During the first goal-line drill of this camp, the defense kept the offense out of the end zone on the first four of the seven repetitions to clinch the competition before ultimately winning, 4-3.
On Monday afternoon, the offense showed what it is capable of doing when it reeled off a perfect dozen plays during a down-and-distance drill. The ball never touched the ground.
The period called for between 12 and 15 plays, and throwing out the couple that were runs, Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon completed every pass they attempted. Even though there were no attempts deep down the field, the three quarterbacks weren't simply dumping the ball off, because the object of the session was to convert based on the down-and-distance.
It was an impressive performance, and all three quarterbacks have been throwing the ball well lately, after a little bit of a slow start.
"I thought the execution was pretty impressive this afternoon," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "We had a very productive day both offensively and defensively. We introduced more things from a kicking game standpoint to get ourselves ready for (the preseason opener) on Thursday night, but I'm really pleased with the quality of the execution. It needs to be moving into that direction, as we are into our second week in training camp and pushing forward towards the game on Thursday night. I like what I saw from that standpoint."
Tomlin also had a chance to see the video from Sunday's goal-line drill, and he offered some insight into what happened and why.
"I thought I saw some standout individual efforts, and quite frankly that was the difference in a lot of those plays," said Tomlin. "On the first snap, Aaron Smith had great pad level and created penetration and really took the guy who was blocking him plus a backfield guy plus a puller. One guy got three. When you stack people up like that you're going to have a party in the backfield, and that's what happened.
"On the second play, I thought there was unbelievable overlap and effort from Brett Keisel, who made the play and he was the backside defensive end. Those kinds of things jump out at you when you're looking at goal-line, some great individual efforts from a couple of people that are the difference in those kinds of plays. When you're fighting over a yard, usually that is the case."
Earlier in the day, as reported on Steelers.com, the team signed veteran center Alex Stepanovich. With only 11 healthy offensive linemen in camp, and with only Doug Legursky and A.Q. Shipley lining up at center, the Steelers felt the need to add some depth at the position.
Stepanovich has played in 46 NFL games with 34 starts over five seasons with the Cardinals, Bengals and Falcons. He was on the field with the Steelers for his first practice with the team on Monday afternoon.
"We wanted to go into Thursday night with another interior lineman, seeing that Darnell (Stapleton) of course will not be participating, and in all likelihood, Justin Hartwig will not as well," said Tomlin. "We'll see what we can do in terms of getting him up to speed and being able to participate, but it's great to have a guy there as we go into the game on Thursday night."
There will be an afternoon practice on Tuesday at Saint Vincent College that is open to the public. It begins at 2:55 p.m.