Notebook: Better Late Than Never

Kenneth Torgent's take on the Steelers' first day of workouts at training camp.

LATROBE – Just minutes after signing the first contract of his professional career, Steelers first-round draft choice Cameron Heyward donned a helmet and hit the practice field, albeit a little later than his teammates, for the first time as a member of the Black and Gold.

"Sorry for being a little late, but I'll make it up," said Heyward at a press conference to announce his signing. "Starting to get into the playbook tonight and just take advantage of this time. The season's right around the corner. I'm just looking to contribute and learn from these guys. I'm just gonna be a sponge and take it all in."

The son of former Pitt running back Craig "Ironhead" Heyward is ready to join in on a defensive line he holds in high regard.

"Best D-Line in the NFL," Heyward said. "I get to be a part of it. I get to learn from these guys. From top to bottom, these guys are sound. It's a true honor to play with them. It's a true honor to be coached by coach (John) Mitchell. They have fun. They work their butts off, but you can always tell they're having fun out there."

That group, which currently features Pro-Bowl-caliber veterans like Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, and Casey Hampton and an up-and-comer in 2009 first-rounder Ziggy Hood, will be charged with teaching to the rookie everything he needs to know in a shortened offseason with the hopes of having him join the rotation this September.

With Nick Eason departing for a two-year deal with Pittsburgh-West across the country in Arizona, Heyward has a clear path to playing time in his rookie year, especially if 35-year-old Aaron Smith continues to struggle with injuries. Look for him to make his mark much faster than Ziggy Hood, who was buried a bit further on the depth chart than this year's first-rounder.

The Steelers also signed third-round pick Curtis Brown to wrap up their draft class.

FIRST DAY RAINOUT: Pittsburgh was finally able to take the field for the first time this offseason thanks to the extended lockout, but the team wasn't able to complete the Friday session due to strong afternoon thunderstorms.

The rain began falling a little after 4:00 PM at Saint Vincent, eventually ushering players off the field for what was initially pegged as a rain delay.

After a brief break in storm activity, the team resumed practice only to have it called thanks to a larger thunderstorm encroaching in the area.

"We're not allergic to rain, but we are lightning," said coach Mike Tomlin after the cancellation of the practice.

THIN LINE: As the official start of the league year isn't until August 4, players signing new contracts aren't allowed to practice with the team quite yet. As such, newly-inked tackles Jonathan Scott and Willie Colon, the expected replacements for former-starters Max Starks and Flozell Adams, were on the sidelines.

Kyle Jolly, who served time on last year's practice squad, and second-year player Chris Scott took reps with the first team, also sans Chris Kemoeatu, in their absence.

Chris Scott is an interesting case, having stuck around on the roster after being activated off the PUP list last season, albeit as a game-day scratch. He looked impressive in drills before the rain delay, showing off great strength and footwork. He's also mammoth at 6'4" and 320 lbs, fitting with the larger-than-life theme along the offensive line, and can slot in at either tackle or guard on either side of the line.

He could push his way into the running at right guard before training camp is over, knocking Ramon Foster and Doug Legursky into backup roles. If that doesn't happen, he could at least be active on game-days this year and a favorite to assume a starting spot next season.

Regardless of where Scott fits in, coach Sean Kugler and his offensive line will be hard-pressed to get everyone up to speed with 3/5ths of the line unable to participate. The whole unit might be learning on the fly come September, which could spell early troubles for Big Ben and the Steelers' running game.

OPEN ROLE: One position clearly unsettled going into camp was the punter. Daniel Sepulveda hasn't fully recovered from a leg injury last year and it appears his injury history is scaring the Steelers into a new option. The first leg in camp has been undrafted rookie Aaron Bates, who punted for Michigan State last year.

Bates may not have the power that Sepulveda had when healthy, but he did launch a few boomers in special teams drills and was knocking out around five seconds of hang time on the majority of his punts.

While most fans would be just fine never seeing their punter on the field when live football resumes, it never hurts to have a solid option at the position when the need arises.

FIVE THINGS I LEARNED

1. The quick transition from lockout to camp will hurt the crowds at Latrobe early. The hills at Saint Vincent were nearly barren when the team took the field on Friday, possibly because the team wasn't in pads but probably because fans couldn't get off work or plan their pilgrimages on such short notice.

2. Kugler might be one of the best assistant coaches on the team right now, and one of its most important considering he'll be charged with another patchwork job this season.

3. Tight end will also be a great spot for an undrafted rookie to stick. The group could use a second or third body after the departure of Matt Spaeth. Former Temple QB Vaughn Carlton was impressive in limited action, showing off soft hands in passing drills. The real test will be to see if he, or fellow rookie Weslye Saunders, can block well enough to claim a backup spot with David Johnson.

4. Brett Keisel's beard will, once again, grow as the season progresses, so if you own a "Fear the Beard" shirt from last season, be ready to break it out of the closet in 2011.

5. There is no better place to be than Saint Vincent in August. If you're on the fence about making a trip out, do it. It's a wonderful experience.


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