With the CBA ratification results still unknown – even after the Steelers had delayed the start of practice one-and-a-half hours until 4:30 p.m. – the Steelers' 15 free agents watched and waited for some 15 minutes on the sideline as their teammates went through drills. But the word came down and strength coach Garrett Giemont signaled to the players to take the field for the official start of the NFL fiscal year.
"They got the official word right at stretch, which is exactly how I planned it," said coach Mike Tomlin with a laugh. "It was an unusual day for everyone."
It was a start, of course, but for some free agents it was a rebirth.
Veteran nose tackle Chris Hoke couldn't stop smiling. He even waved to reporters from the field, a rarity to be sure.
And Willie Colon, who earlier in the day was finally given his gear, bent over and kissed his helmet.
"Did you just kiss your helmet?" asked teammate Crezdon Butler.
"Yeah, man, I missed it," said Colon, who sat out the entire 2010 season and then had to wonder whether he'd lost his job to Flozell Adams. But Adams was cut and Colon was re-signed, and he couldn't help but take in the beauty of his old hat.
"It's still got the scuff marks from the old days, so I'm happy, man," he said. "I'm extremely happy."
Colon lined up at right tackle yesterday, as he expected, even though the previous day a local paper had reported the Steelers would re-sign Adams and move Colon to guard.
"Man I haven't heard nothing," Colon said to one of that paper's reporters.
"It's only you talking about it. I talked to coach Koogs (Sean Kugler) all the time. I'll be at tackle. So until then my mind is set for tackle. I'll prepare to go to war as such."
Smith got through the practice without any hint of trouble from a torn triceps muscle that ended his 2010 season early, but he was unavailable for comment after practice.
Troy Polamalu remained sidelined as a precaution for his injured Achilles' tendon, but he has spent the summer working out and showing no ill effects.
Others who missed Thursday's practice: WR Emmanuel Sanders (foot), OT Marcus Gilbert (hamstring), ILB Mario Harvey, CB Cortez Allen (hamstring), CB Butler (quad), CB Bryant McFadden (hamstring), WR Adam Mims (quad), and CB Keenan Lewis (migraines).
The Steelers also made several roster moves after C Dorian Brooks had left camp. They put rookie LB Erik Clanton on injured reserve, and cut rookies OT Joshua Harrison, QB Chris Dieker, LS Derek Chard, and P Aaron Bates. The only addition was former Pitt guard John Malecki.
The Steelers' next open practice will be 7 p.m. Friday at Latrobe Memorial Stadium.