Hellacious first practice

LATROBE – The Steelers snapped, crackled and popped their way through an intense first practice in pads yesterday.

It became so heated that at one point coach Bill Cowher had to step between his offense and defense and ask for a bit of common sense.

With the two units jawing at each other, and the crowd helping with the momentum, the practice was one of the more physical opening-day practices that veterans could remember.

"It was probably one of the best I've ever been around," said running back Jerome Bettis. "I mean, it was pretty fierce. If that's an indication of the camp, it's going to be a tough camp. But it's going to be a great camp because the guys are going to be ready to play."

Bettis was part of the reason, both physically and verbally, but the straw that stirred the drink was newcomer Cedrick Wilson.

On the third play of the team scrimmage, Wilson caught a short pass over the middle from Ben Roethlisberger. Wilson zigged and zagged through the middle of the field as he had done several times during mini-camp. But free safety Chris Hope reminded Wilson he was not in mini-camp anymore with a vicious hit that included helmet-to-helmet contact. Wilson circled backwards but never went down.

After defensive end Brett Keisel broke through the line and threw rookie running back Noah Herron for a loss, Cowher scolded the defense for hitting the running backs too hard. So on the next play, the offense went over the top. This time Wilson gained revenge on Hope by going up to catch the wobbly deep ball for a big gain.

"I'm glad those guys got me involved," said Wilson. "They started talking to me, talking about how we need to do something on offense. I tried to come up with a few plays. I shouldn't have pushed my teammate in the back but it's all in the game."

Wilson pushed cornerback Ricardo Colclough in the back before going up over Hope for the catch.

Wilson started at flanker in place of Hines Ward -- who was in the third day of his holdout -- and Hope felt the need to welcome Wilson to the lineup.

"A lot of people say that, but Ced's a very prideful guy," said Hope. "I don't want to create no bad blood between the offense and the defense. It was a friendly thud, saying hello, letting him know I'm back there. During the coaching sessions he said he never seen me back there. I said he'd better keep his eye on me.

"It's kind of bad not to see a guy back there at the safety position when you're running post patterns and deep routes all the time.

"Nothing personal; he's a very tough guy. We look forward to him making some big plays."

"They welcomed me to practice today. That's good," said Wilson. "That's good for me and it's good for the team to see me compete. I think they wanted to bring it out of me and Joey (Porter) pretty much did."

Porter got the mouths off and roaring on the defensive side. His banter was matched by that of Duce Staley and Bettis.

"I've been known to pump the offense up a bit, so I needed to come through in the clutch," said Bettis. "It was a lot of fun."

"Hopefully he'll still have that fun by the end of the week. We'll see," said Cowher. "But it was good. We have to be able to compete against each other and push each other. You can come close to that line but not cross it. It's probably the first time we've had the pads on since the New England game. It was a good start."

NOTES – Cowher reported no injuries, although wide receiver Lee Mays and rookie cornerback Bryant McFadden "tweaked" hamstrings. "Nothing serious," Cowher said. … The Steelers will have a rare second consecutive day of two practices, but will only have seven such days this camp.

Steel City Insider Top Stories