The live goal-line drill has eroded steadily in terms of excitement under Mike Tomlin. For one reason, he doesn't like to put any valuable running backs through the proverbial meat-grinder. Yesterday afternoon was no exception.
No Le'Veon Bell. No LeGarrette Blount. No Dri Archer. No Will Johnson, except as a blocker. What Tomlin looked at was an array of backs who've been picked up off the street since the end of last season: Miguel Maysonet, Tauren Poole and Josh Harris. The newest back, Jawan Jamison, signed on Friday, did not carry in this drill.
No one carried on the first play, a play-action pass from Ben Roethlisberger to a wide-open Matt Spaeth. This brought about the usual clamor from the defenders, namely Joey Porter, that you don't throw passes in goal line because it's not very manly.
Said Mike Tomlin after the drill ended: "I don't care what they like. It's their job to keep them out."
On the third snap, Tauren Poole ran wide left for a touchdown, and then a fight broke out between Fangupo and Maurkice Pouncey, replete with wild, roundhouse swings.
Harris, who's showing a bit of quickness, toughness and pass-catching ability since being signed last week, dove in for a touchdown over David DeCastro, who made like Jerry Kramer in the Ice Bowl and opened a path with a low block from right guard.
On the final snap, with Roethlisberger and the first-team O-line still on the field, Harris fumbled an exchange from Roethlisberger before diving on the loose ball behind the line.
The final score was 3-3 and Tomlin was asked about his use of running backs, as in "Who are those guys?"
"What better way to get to know them?" Tomlin responded. "I think one thing the National Football League proves to all of us is that backs explode onto the scene every year and they come in different forms, free agents and so forth. What better way to get to know some of those guys?"
Bell and Blount have dealt with minor injuries through the first week of camp, as has Archer, who has struggled since spring drills with a left knee issue. He left the field with the knee wrapped once again.
Here are some other practice notes, from the stretch:
* Jordan Zumwalt continues to rehab a groin injury that has to be frustrating a rookie who's watching his linebacking teammates rip through these practices with impressive physicality. Behind the starting four are Sean Spence, Vince Williams, Arthur Moats, Chris Carter, Terence Garvin and Howard Jones, to name 10 who could keep Zumwalt, a sixth-round pick, in a roster fight even if he were practicing.
* First-team free safety Mike Mitchell continued to impress me with his agility work in rehab, but apparently he's not showing the training staff enough to get off the PUP list. Has to happen any day now.
* Offensive coordinator Todd Haley replaced Roethlisberger in the dubious garbage can drill; dubious in these parts ever since Bill Nunn mocked the practice under Kevin Gilbride. But Haley was as accurate, if not more so, than the backup QBs.
One fan yelled, "Put Haley in! Put Haley in!" as a bit of irony for a coach who's been hated by fans for no good reason the last few years other than for media supposition that he and Roethlisberger would not get along.
"He's so competitive," Roethlisberger told the crowd as he gathered the loose balls from the drill. "He's so mad that I'm not playing."
* In yet another linebacker-vs-running backs drill, the linebackers had to cover the running backs in pass routes. Tomlin set up Archer to go against Lawrence Timmons, and Archer aced the four-pass test:
1.) Timmons stepped up to chuck Archer, but only got half of him as Archer slipped away to catch the pass. Timmons put on his best burst but could not catch the fastest player on the team.
2.) Archer lined up outside and caught the ball in the flat. He gave Timmons a dead-leg hesitation move and was gone.
3.) Archer came out of the backfield on a wheel route down the sideline and caught a pass over his shoulder with Timmons right on him.
4.) Archer ran another sideline route to beat Carter and then burst past Timmons, who was angling over from his inside position.
* In the first team session, Williams flattened Harris in the backfield and looked like Bart Scott in the process. Scott, of course, was Tomlin's comparison for Williams the previous night.
* Two interesting plays occurred back-to-back right in front of me on the sideline. On the first, Thomas barreled over to knock a back out of bounds, but the safety turned an ankle and came up cursing in pain. He got up limping, waved off a substitute, and then limped off the field after the next snap, but only because his unit was done. Thomas waved off inspection and was back on the field a snap later. And the second, just after Thomas got up, Martavis Bryant made a catch over his shoulder while dragging both feet in bounds. It was the first of a handful of outstanding catches for the big rookie receiver on this day.
* In the short-yardage drill, Stephon Tuitt held the point on a couple of runs to his side, but the more spectacular play was Spence closing a wide-open hole to cut down Poole with a low tackle as Poole was looking at acres of open grass in front of him.
* The top play of the red-zone session was Carter diving to break up a certain touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Markus Wheaton. The deflected ball went up into the air and Shazier dove for it but just missed the interception.