Notebook: Goal-line drill tonight

LATROBE – Jerome Bettis teed off with Tiger Woods this morning in the Buick Pro-Am in Grand Blanc, Michigan -- a walk in the park compared to what his former teammates have planned later in the day.

The battle to replace Bettis as the Pittsburgh Steelers' short-yardage runner begins in earnest tonight with the goal-line drill at Latrobe Memorial Stadium.

Practice at the downtown facility begins at 7 p.m., following an autograph session at 6:45 p.m.

At the end of the practice, fans will be treated to the goal-line drill, the first live tackling exhibition of training camp.

On Monday, Verron Haynes told reporters how much he wants the ball at the goal line. On Tuesday, Duce Staley said much of the same. Coach Bill Cowher was asked which back will carry first from the five-yard line against the first-team defense.

"I don't know," Cowher said. "We're going to sit down (last night) and we'll see where those guys are. We'll take a look at all of them. We'll get a couple opportunities to do it. We'll come back and do it Saturday, o they'll all get an opportunity -- Verron, Duce, Cedric [Humes] and even Willie [Parker]. Jerome had been the guy the last couple years and we've got open competition right now.

"That's a good group of guys. They did a good job today in the protection against the linebackers. It's a very unselfish group and I think they're very capable backs."

Haynes was the star of the "backs on backers" blitz pick-up drill. He drove linebacker Arnold Harrison to the ground and roared in the fellow Georgia Bulldog's face. One linebacker who did reach the quarterback – Cowher – was James Harrison, who beat Heath Miller and, while on the ground, grabbed Cowher's lower leg as if he were Kimo von Oelhoffen tackling Carson Palmer. Cowher didn't say a word to Harrison, who walked away without any apparent concern.

One player who won't carry the ball at the goal line in Latrobe tonight is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He's improving with each practice, but will wear the proverbial bright red shirt that warns defenders against contact.

"He's always got the red shirt on. The quarterback is off limits," said Cowher, who was asked the question a second time.

"You're not going to run that Super Bowl keeper?" a reporter asked.

"No, no, no, no. There'll be no keepers," Cowher said. "If there's a keeper it will be because of a missed handoff. A whistle will be blown, trust me."

THIRD-DOWN BACK

After the first practice of training camp, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said there was no set plan for using the backs, and he's followed through on it. Yesterday, Staley was used in several third-down situations during the team scrimmage.

"He looked fine," Cowher said. "Again, there's another guy. He really didn't have a training camp last year, minimal practices. I just think the more he's out here the better he's going to get back a feel for the game. The year off has really kind of invigorated him more than anything else. I like where he's at."

INJURY REPORT

Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson injured his Achilles' tendon and sat out half of Tuesday's practice. Cowher doesn't believe the injury to be serious.

Tight end Jerame Tuman was too sick to practice and is expected back for Wednesday morning's workout. Chukky Okobi (neck) is also expected back this morning.

"Santonio might do a little bit (Wednesday). He should be okay," Cowher said of Santonio Holmes, who has a sore left hamstring.

Linebacker Joey Porter (right knee) ran on the side and Cowher said "he's starting to feel very comfortable, so we'll re-assess where he's at next week.

Porter is the lone player on the Steelers' PUP list after the team activated wide receiver Walter Young for Tuesday's practice.

TIGHT END DERBY

The Steelers have only two veteran tight ends on their roster, and with Tuman missing practice Tuesday a trio of rookies – Charles Davis, Isaac Smolko, Jon Dekker – was able to show their wares. Davis, the 6-6, 260-pound fifth-round pick, saw the most action.

"Charles did some good things. It was good to see him," Cowher said. "With Jerame down a lot of those tight ends had a chance to get a lot more reps today and there's no substitute for that, especially when they're going against that first group of defensive guys. A lot of things speed up and you don't just get acclimated to the heat up here, you get acclimated to the speed of the game and I think that's what a lot of these young guys are going through."


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