An ominous sky was more than just a threat as rain poured down on the football fields at Saint Vincent College ending the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first public practice about a half-hour early.
As the smallest training camp crowd in recent memory left, they had to be encouraged from a solid practice from the Steelers.
Mike Tomlin was pleased as well.
"It was a good start for us today here, day one," said Tomlin. "Of course we came out to practice this afternoon and got some good quality work in until the weather forced us off, but that’s football. We’re not allergic to rain but we are allergic to lightning, so we called it and we’ll try it again tomorrow."
Until then, here is a look at some camp observations from Friday’s afternoon practice.
Ben Roethlisberger is once again in great shape and was jovial out on the field while chatting with Tomlin.
Beyond enjoying himself, Roethlisberger had a solid outing. He was throwing tight spirals around the field and connecting with his receivers.
Not all was perfect though as he had a couple of passes under-thrown, including one in team drills. It was intercepted.
Despite this, Roethlisberger had a strong day and has to be enjoying his speedy receiving options.
There is little to report from the running backs practicing without pads.
Rashard Mendenhall and the rest of the backs stretched as a small group in the end zone while the rest of the team stretched in a block. They looked like a pretty tight group already, with a lot of laughing.
Baron Batch made some quick cuts and made a tough catch while off balance. He is small compared to the other backs and is very difficult to see behind the linemen.
John Clay is big, much bigger than Isaac Redman. He is also faster than he looks on film and surprised me with his burst through the line.
Hines Ward did not practice as he is on the physically-unable-to-perform list, but that did not stop him from making an impact.
Ward helped give individual instruction to one of the young receivers and Mike Wallace did the same to another. It is great to see veterans pass their knowledge to younger players.
Speaking of Wallace, he looked excellent—easily the best receiver on the field.
Wallace was effective in intermediate routes and looked good coming out of his breaks.
Emmanuel Sanders was behind Wallace and had a strong outing as well. He caught everything that came his way.
Antonio Brown worked with the second team and has moved up to third on the depth chart with Ward out. Like Sanders, Brown caught the ball well and ran well.
Both Sanders and Brown fielded punts. Brown was first team and will likely have that role as well as the kick returner role when the season opens. Sanders muffed one of his punts.
One of the biggest questions heading into camp is, “What is going on with Limas Sweed?”
Sweed is carrying himself with more confidence so we will see how it plays out. At the start of practice he dropped one pass from the jugs machine but, rather than wait for his next turn, Sweed took another pass and made the catch.
He was the target of a number of passes during team drills as he was getting open. Sweed did drop one pass which would have been a difficult reception as he had to dive and only got one hand on the ball.
Wes Lyons is an impressive prospect towering at 6’8” and he runs pretty well. He does not have enough bulk to convert to tight end but is intriguing. Keep an eye on him in game action.
Undrafted free agent Adam Mims fielded kicks and punts.
David Johnson was on the first team as the second tight end. Behind him there are a number of options.
Charlton Vaughn, Jamie McCoy and Weslye Saunders all worked with the second team.
No one really stood out at this point. Things should begin to clear up when these players are able to suit up and demonstrate their blocking ability.
To say the offensive line was a jumbled mess would be an understatement. What the Steelers sent out with their starters could have been the worst collection of offensive-line talent ever to be assembled on a first unit.
Kyle Jolly was at left tackle, Keith Williams at left guard and Chris Scott at right tackle. Maurkice Pouncey at center and Ramon Foster at right guard were the only two starters along the line.
Second-round draft choice Marcus Gilbert, worked at left tackle on the second team. It is clearly a sign that the Steelers may view him as their left tackle of the future.
There was very little to see from this group without pads other than Pouncey is in a class of his own.
When working on offensive-line drills, Pouncey clearly stood out in how he performed each drill.
It was also impressive to watch the one-on-one instruction that offensive line coach Sean Kugler gives the players.
After one rep of a blocking drill, Kugler pointed out how Scott did something well. Minutes later he demonstrated a technique to Scott.
Chris Kemoeatu is on the PUP list.
Every year entering camp there are questions regarding Casey Hampton’s physical condition. He appeared to be in good shape for a nose tackle. The best way to describe him is a ball of mass.
Aaron Smith started at left defensive end and Ziggy Hood worked with the second team.
Hood looks stronger than last year with more definition in his arms. A lot is said about players breaking out in their third year and I would say this is Hood’s year.
He will be a tough physical matchup for any lineman that he goes against.
Cameron Heyward arrived on the field during the middle of practice, stretched and then went to the sidelines during team drills.
As a rookie he is a physically imposing specimen and it is hard to believe in a few years he will be even stronger.
I did not see if Heyward got on the field or not prior to the storm.
Not much to report on the linebackers but a number of people were asking about Stevenson Sylvester.
The linebackers worked on the far side of the field so I did not see their drills, but when Sylvester came over to the near side, he looked to have bulked up since last season.
Troy Polamalu was moving around well coming off of his Achilles injury. Ryan Clark gave two of his shoes away to a couple of fans during stretching. Great move by Clark!
Bryant McFadden and Keenan Lewis worked as the starters.
On the first play of team drills Lewis got beat by Wallace. The very next play Wallace got behind McFadden but the pass was under-thrown by Roethlisberger and McFadden made the interception drawing cheers from the crowd.
Rookie Cortez Allen saw some action early on as well, allowing Wallace to make a reception on a curl but bounced back on the next play to get his hand in front of Sweed to bat down a short pass.
Curtis Brown was not signed and did not practice.
Is Daniel Sepulveda still a free agent?
It is early, but neither Jeremy Kapinos nor Aaron Bates were overly impressive. Instead, both punters were relatively inconsistent with several short punts.
Overall, it was a good day of practice. Without several veterans in camp, some of the younger players are getting valuable work. It will be good, though, to get the offensive line in place so they can begin to gel.
I do not know if I will ever again see a rookie show up during the middle of the practice after signing a contract like Heyward did.
It was great to see Dan Rooney once again roaming the sidelines at camp.
If you haven’t seen it, be sure to check out Chris Kemoeatu’s haircut.
If you have any specific questions, let me know in the comments section.
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