Steelers’ players continue to learn Todd Haley’s offense, putting some of that to the test on Tuesday when they ran the no huddle in practice.
“I think as a staff, myself included, we feel that there’s been enough good to feel good about the direction we’re going in,” said Haley before practice. “There’s a lot of work to do. We’re still reinstalling a bunch of the things from the spring so that they all hear it for the third time.
“To this point, today’s a big day. We have a lot of no huddle, running and passing out there today. So this will be a big day for us because whether it’s two-minute or true no huddle situations, it will be a big part of our offense one way or another. But to this point there is a lot to clean up still and a lot to come. But we feel good about where we are.”
After practice Coach Mike Tomlin was pleased with the way things continue to progress.
“It requires some attention of course,” said Tomlin. “It’s new. I like where the group is. It’s obvious we’ve made good use of our offseason time. When I’m talking about that, I mean OTAs and minicamp. But it’s a process. We’re going to continue to get better. We need to.”
Haley said the ideal situation is to have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger calling the plays in the no huddle.
“He’s shown the propensity to do that at a high level,” said Haley. “This is new to him, so we’re still working together on it. Ideally, if you have a quarterback like Roethlisberger and what he’s done, when he’s in full control, that’s a good situation to be in because he’s right in the middle of it, seeing what’s going on. There’s always communication at least in my experiences because we can communicate until the (play) clock gets to 15 (seconds).
“I could tell through the spring that Ben’s got his arms around it and he likes it. You can see his eyes light up a little bit when we get in that mode. That’s the sign of a great quarterback. The ones that I’ve been around, they want it, give me control and let me run this thing. He has the ability to do it, as he’s shown in the past and through the spring. I’m just excited to see us continue working as a group and get this thing ready to go for the season.”
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Isaac Redman knows that he is going to be busy during training camp as the team’s top back with Rashard Mendenhall on the PUP list. So he is making sure he takes care of his body, resting when he has to, getting in the hot tub and one of the most important things…getting in the cold tub.
“You never want your legs to get tired so I am always in the cold tub,” said Redman. “I get in the cold tub before the walk through, after the walk through, trying to stay ahead of the game. I make sure I get in the cold tub.”
While it might seem like an easy way to keep the legs in shape, imagine immersing your body in a cold tub that is about 56 degrees.
“You can never get used to it,” said Redman. “We have a tradition when you get in you have to go all of the way in. You have to dive all the way in with your head and it takes off the initial shock and you can sit down with no problem.”
Redman is apparently doing the right thing because he is earning praise from those who have to bring him down.
“He is a hard runner. You have to wrap him up,” said linebacker LaMarr Woodley. “When you hit him you can’t think he is falling down because he is spinning and he keeps his feet moving forward for yards.”
Cornerback Ike Taylor also likes what he sees in the rugged back.
“He is tough,” said Taylor. “He was a state champ in wrestling. He is hard to bring down. Isaac is tough.”
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A year ago Marcus Gilbert didn’t know exactly what to expect at training camp, simply knowing he had to show the coaches a lot after not having OTAs or mini-camp because of the NFL lockout.
In his second season things are a lot easier for the Steelers right tackle.
“The advantage is getting with the players, getting with the coaches and getting extra reps,” said Gilbert. “Last year, our first day in pads, coaches wanted to see how we did. The coaches wanted to see how tough we were, how fast we could play and what mistakes we made.
“Now it’s more about just getting better at the position and working on the areas that you need to improve on from last year. I think this second year is really a big step for me, and especially for our offensive line.”
Gilbert saw action right off the bat last year when Willie Colon was injured in the season-opener at Baltimore, taking over the starting right tackle spot in week two despite mainly working on the left side in training camp and the preseason.
“With the injuries that go on you have to be prepared,” said Gilbert. “Last year when I came in I was mainly working on the left side and when Willie went down I stepped into the right side without playing it in the preseason. I think all linemen need to learn both sides. You don’t know when you will be thrown in the fire. I will be prepared on both sides, but I won’t count myself out on the left side.
“At left tackle you go against the best athletes, that is the quarterback’s blind side. The best tackle on the team plays that left tackle position. I feel like I am that type of guy, but wherever the coaches put me, whatever helps the team, I am willing to do anything to help the team win.”
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Running back Baron Batch has waited almost a year to get back to hitting in pads, and after doing it for two days he impressively is right back in the swing of things.
“It felt good,” said Batch. “It felt good to get back out there and start hitting again with the pads on. It’s been roughly a year since I have been in the pads and I have been anxious to get out there and it felt good.”
Batch suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp last year, bringing his rookie year to a quick halt. When he took the field for the first time on Saturday he said there were some thoughts about contact in the back of his mind, but after the backs-on-backer drill that quickly went away.
“That is probably one of the most physical drills we do in camp,” said Batch. “Being able to do that helps with confidence, getting hit with what I went through.”
Coach Mike Tomlin was pleased with what he saw out of Batch on the first day of hitting.
“I like the fact that there was no hesitation in his play,” said Tomlin. “For a guy that’s coming off a knee injury, I thought he moved with authority and trusted his knee, not only in competition periods but in individual work. You get an opportunity to see those things when they’re working with Coach (Kirby) Wilson as running backs. He’s a sharp young guy and he’s coming back nicely.”
So far Batch has been trying to go through practice without wearing a protective brace or sleeve on his knee.
“One of my goals for coming back off this was to be able to go through OTAs and minicamp and be able to come back out here and not have to wear a brace,” said Batch. “I’ve met those goals and it feels good, and I won’t have to wear a brace.”
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Larry Foote remembers being a young linebacker, looking up to veterans on the team for leadership.
Now Foote, entering his 11th season, is that player that younger linebackers are looking up to.
“It feels good,” said Foote. “I call myself a leader. I’m just going to try to do what the older guys taught me and pass it on.
“We need to keep doing what we do. Be examples. Come out and play and can’t make a lot of mental errors, have a lot of energy and make plays, basically. And just be an example.”
Foote is enjoying training camp so far, especially some of the position battles that are unfolding as things progress.
“There’s going to be a lot more battles,” said Foote. “A lot of guys are going to be battling for a spot. That’s a good thing. We can make each other better. So there aren’t going to be too many shoe-ins this year because a lot of guys left. It’s going to be exciting.”
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Players have been practicing in shoulder pads and shorts for the last few days, but rookie running back Chris Rainey has taken it a step further, dressed in uniform pants along with all of the padding.
“I have to stay safe,” said Rainey. “Anything can happen without pads. I put on my thigh pads, my knee pads, everything because anything can happen at practice.”
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Nose tackle Casey Hampton is nothing but a spectator in camp so far, on the PUP list with a knee injury, but his goal is to be on the field for the start of the season.
“I’ll be ready to go,” said Hampton. “I have been running. My goal is to be ready for the first game.”
Hampton has always said he doesn’t like training camp, but missing time because he is injured is something he likes even less.
“It is different when you are forced to be on it because of injury,” said Hampton. “You never want to be hurt. But hopefully I will be ready to go.
“I don’t have a problem with being on there (PUP list) as long as I need to be. I just want to get it right and be right when I am out there. I don’t want to be out there hobbling, limping around. I want to be ready to go.”
With the Summer Olympics underway, Hampton was asked what his best event would be.
“The 10-yard sprint,” joked Hampton. “I am at top speed at 10 yards .I don’t have nothing left after that.”
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Rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu has been back on the field the last few days after missing time at the start of camp with a foot injury and is still adjusting to the tempo of the NFL.
“It’s fast,” said Ta’amu. “The tempo is a lot different than college. Just like high too college, the NFL gets a lot faster.”
Ta’amu said the foot injury didn’t occur on the field, but on a walk to a local store.
“I think I had a sprained foot. They thought I broke my foot but I felt good,” said Ta’amu. “I went on a long walk to Wal-Mart. They said it was a mile but on my phone it was three miles. I won’t do that again.”
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Antonio Brown might be the happiest player in Steelers training camp after signing a five-year contract extension, but quarterback Byron Leftwich isn’t far behind as he is thrilled to see Brown get the new deal.
“We all know he means a lot to us,” said Leftwich. “He is a unique talent, a real good friend of mine. I knew him before we drafted him. I am happy for the kid. When you do things like that you should be set for life. We know what type of player he is. We know he is going to work his butt off continuously. He has earned everything he has gotten.
“His energy, his hunger to be great is special. You have people with talent that don’t work as hard as him. He has always worked extremely hard to be one of the best in the game. He is hungry. That is what we see every day. I am happy for him, for the person Antonio Brown. I know what it means to him.”
Leftwich also is happy as one of the Steelers quarterbacks having a young, talented receiver locked up for the long-term.
“To be able to throw to people like that is great,” said Leftwich. “To be able to have people like that is special. Those types of stories when you see someone work that hard and they get to this point it’s a beautiful thing to see.”
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Isaac Redman spent the offseason preparing to carry the load for the Steelers ground game throughout training camp and for as long as Rashard Mendenhall is sidelined with the knee injury he sustained at the end of the 2011 season.
“I have always worked hard, brought everything to each practice,” said Redman. “I know there is going to be a lot more on my shoulders and I will be ready.”
Redman is well aware all eyes will be on him, and while he knows the coaches have faith in him, he still understands he has to prove himself on a regular basis.
“I feel like the coaches know the type of player I am,” said Redman. “I just have to prove it day in and day out. I have worked hard since I have been here. I am going to come out and show them I have gotten better and come out and perform.”
Redman plans on seizing the opportunity while Mendenhall is out and continuing to compete for playing time when he returns.
“He is working hard. I am working hard,” said Redman. “He knows the type of player I am and that I can hold it down until he gets back.
“There is always competition when you are playing football. Each day you are competing. All of the running backs, we are out here competing against each other. Once the season starts there is always going to be competition each time you step on the field.”
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Steelers’ players had Saturday morning off, but the practice field at St. Vincent College was buzzing as the team hosted the annual Women’s Training Camp.
Around 300 women from all over the country took part in the annual event, learning the ins and outs of the game from current Steelers Shaun Suisham and Greg Warren, and Steelers alumni Mark Bruener, Jason Gildon, Jeff Hartings and Kordell Stewart.
“This is so much fun. It’s a neat experience,” said Jennifer Colson, who used to work as a training camp security guard. “I’ve picked up some terminology, some things they use in the huddle and what it means. It’s great to know. Everyone here is crazy about the Steelers and we love it.”
The ladies were all decked out in the latest gear, from jerseys to just about every Steelers t-shirt and accessory you could find. There was one group that even came wearing their own beards in support of Brett Keisel.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Stewart. “When you have a chance to be around these ladies who are so enthusiastic about the game, and how astute they are, it’s great. Our fans are really educated. When I was here I always had fun at things like this. This is a complete blast.”
One of the participants who had a wealth of knowledge was Samm Lewis, 60, originally from Pittsburgh but now living in Warren, Ohio. Lewis played for the Pittsburgh Powderkegs, a women’s professional football team in 1970-71.
“Things have changed so much,” said Lewis, who played center and linebacker. “We ran basic formations. We never long snapped. There are a lot of changes and a lot more mental aspect to the game when I played.”
After on-field instruction the ladies enjoyed lunch, watching the 2011 highlight film and the team’s afternoon practice.
“To be able to go out here with all of the women who like the Steelers, meet the players and learn some things is great,” said Colson.
She isn’t the only one that enjoyed the overall experience. For Stewart it was his first time back to training camp since 2002.
“I love being back here,” said Stewart. “A lot of things have changed, a lot stayed the same. When you see things evolve for the better that is great. With all of the championships a lot of things have come around. It’s wonderful.
“It brings back a lot of memories. To come back and see everything is great. I came in as a Steeler and I wanted to go out as a Steeler, that is why I retired from here. To complete that journey is something I had to do.”
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One of the fun battles in training camp is at cornerback, where Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown are among those competing for the spot left by William Gay’s departure.
But don’t expect Troy Polamalu to say who has the inside track on the job.
“A lot of the guys, but I am not willing to put any names out there so you guys can run with it,” said Polamalu. “I think there are exciting battles going on in the secondary and there is some learning for them to do. It will be interesting.”
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Friday’s practice was the first one open to the public, and the players loved having fans cheering them on during a hot afternoon practice.
“Steelers Nation is really big, travels well with us and we love them to death,” said center Maurkice Pouncey.
The fans were lined up waiting to get in before campus opened, and once they did they settled in all around the practice fields to watch.
“I am always excited about that,” said quarterback Charlie Batch of the fans’ presence. “This is what it is all about. They get you pumped up for training camp. You have to put on a good showing for them.”
While Heath Miller didn’t practice on Friday, he knows what it means to have the fans at St. Vincent College cheering them on.
“It adds a new element to practice,” said Miller. “It breaks the monotony. They give us energy and we feed off them. The energy picks up and we are happy to see the fans. It makes practice more fun, more exciting.”
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With Hines Ward retired and Mike Wallace having yet to sign his one-year tender offer, receiver Antonio Brown is going to get even more attention on the field and the reigning team MVP has his sights set on improving this year.
“You want to be more consistent,” said Brown. “You always want to take it to the next level every year and definitely want to be better, more precise and more accountable.”
With each practice Brown feels more comfortable with the team’s new offense, and like many of his teammates, is ready to put it to the test.
“I’m ready to see how it all fits,” said Brown. “Get a real fit now that everyone’s geared up and see how it all comes together. It’s kind of similar. It’s a lot easier to understand. It’s a lot simpler.”
Brown knows he could be the go-to guy for the passing game if Wallace doesn’t sign by the start of the season, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t willing to continue to be a part of the return game.
“Whatever the team needs me to do. I’m always open and will always be available to do whatever they need me to do,” said Brown. “I did it all last year and I’m looking forward to the opportunity this year.”
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James Harrison is beginning camp on the PUP list with a knee injury, but don’t expect it to keep him down for long.
“It’s day by day,” said Harrison. “We will see how it goes and hopefully in a little while I will be able to get back out there.”
Harrison and fellow linebacker LaMarr Woodley battled injuries last year but with both of them healthy he is looking for a big season from them and the defense.
“Hopefully it will be good, twice as good,” said Harrison. “He missed games maybe seven or eight games and I missed four or five games. That is why we play the season, go out there and play it out.”
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Tight end Heath Miller left the field before the end of practice on Thursday with an ankle injury, but on Friday he said it shouldn’t sideline him for long.
“It’s feeling good, it’s a little set back but it’s no big deal,” said Miller. “It’s nothing major. I shouldn’t be out too long.”
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