Tomlin Sends Steelers Rookies Home Hungry

The final practice of the spring ended with a rookie interception, but the coach wasn't impressed.

PITTSBURGH -- Gerod Holliman might have been the only Pittsburgh Steelers rookie with a hint of a smile on his face Wednesday afternoon following the final practice of the spring.

Holliman intercepted Ben Roethlisberger in the end zone after Roethlisberger had directed the first team inside the five-yard line during a two-minute drill that marked the end of Steelers minicamp.

Holliman, the seventh-round pick who led the nation with 14 interceptions last season, had received scant reps throughout the last four weeks, but can take credit for making the first and last interceptions of the spring for the team.

Did it feel good?

"Yeah, it felt great getting a chance to go out there and play against a quarterback who's already established himself," said Holliman as he was on his way to the shower.

Holliman said "Ben tried to pump me off, but I didn't go for the fake," and thus the interception.

But the play didn't seem to register much with Coach Mike Tomlin -- at least publically. Tomlin was asked after practice whether any of the rookies had impressed him, and here's what Tomlin had to say:

"No."

Inside the locker room, that vote of no confidence seemed to be the prevailing wind as one rookie after another mumbled his way through their personal assessments when asked about the spring.

First up was Sammie Coates, who had been a bundle of positive energy the previous week but who was now sitting deep inside his locker with his head down, barely responsive to questions.

"It went good," was about all he could muster.

When asked if he was down for any particular reason, Coates answered, "Nah."

Of course, Coates has missed most of the last two weeks of practice with a left hamstring injury. But said he felt fine after a rigorous set of running drills he performed on another field for the training staff. Coates believes he'll be 100 percent for the start of training camp July 25.

Doran Grant, the fourth-round cornerback and another high-energy type, was also unusually quiet.

"Got a lot done, learned a lot," Grant said in a near whisper. "The older guys gave me great examples of how to practice and how to be a good player."

Senquez Golson, the second-round cornerback, said he "definitely likes the slot a lot," but, when asked if he was as down as he looked, said, "I've just got a long way to go."

First-round pick Bud Dupree, who appears to be in line to play left outside linebacker with the first-team nickel unit this season, was the most upbeat of the highly drafted rookies.

But, then again, Dupree was interviewed at lunch time, before the final practice.

"I think I did pretty well," he said. "Learning the plays was the hardest part. Once I got that down pat the game started to slow down for me. I'm looking to make plays now."

Some of the experts around the team weren't nearly as down on the group as Tomlin, who sent them into the summer with heavy minds.

Ike Taylor, who worked as a volunteer coach for defensive backfield coach Carnell Lake, and who will work in the same capacity at training camp, gave a positive assessment of the rookie cornerbacks.

* On Grant:

"Strong as an ox, from what I see. Still kind of raw but has all the athletic ability. Played at a college where guys coming to our team have done well: (Ryan) Shazier, Cam (Heyward), Will Allen. You can go down the line, back to Rodney (Bailey) when he played D-end here. And (Grant)'s willing to learn, willing to work. A lot of rookies don't come in with that willing mentality, especially coming from schools like that. We call him DG. Every day he's getting better."

So, Taylor was asked, is his number 24 in good hands with Grant?

"I was only borrowing that number anyway," Taylor said.

* On Golson:

"We call him Q SanQuan. Highly intelligent for a rookie. If you just sit down and talk to him about a couple things, a few things about football on the field, he'll answer some of those questions like a veteran guy. Now he's got to transfer that over to the field. He's patient, smooth. Of course you see he's got hands. Quick, but it's 'I'm not going to waste my energy when I don't need to. OK, now it's time for me to break.' And then he's a flash. He's going to be good."

Former NFL scout Matt Williamson was on the sideline Wednesday for the individual portion of practice -- when Coates was working with the receivers -- and liked what he saw.

"Sammie Coates surprised me," said Williamson. "His hands are a lot softer than I expected. Big body and he moves it well. His cuts are a little exaggerated but he looks like a player to me."

The Steelers have a practice left on the schedule today, but word is that Tomlin will let the players go home after their stretch, if not before.

There's little doubt he'll be sending the rookies home with a hunger to come back better at training camp.

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