Defense stuffs offense at goal line

Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers had a breakout practice in downtown Latrobe last night, but the Steelers' defense came out on top in the end by stopping the team's short-yardage running backs in the goal-line drill.

LATROBE – The defending world champion Pittsburgh Steelers put on the pads Wednesday night and did their first live hitting since whipping the Seattle Seahawks, 21-10, in Super Bowl XL.

And, as usual, the goal-line drill did not disappoint those who look forward to the first live hitting action of training camp as the first-team defense stuffed the first-team offense on four downs.

On first down, Duce Staley carried for one yard and followed that up with another one-yard gain behind right tackle Max Starks on second down.

Verron Haynes, who's competing with Staley for the short-yardage back job vacated by Jerome Bettis' retirement, then got two chances as well. Haynes gained two yards on first down, but was smacked by linebacker James Farrior on fourth-and-goal from the one so hard that he fumbled.

"They had the little back in; Verron, he's the little back, so we weren't too worried about that," said Farrior. "I made the first contact and my boys came in and finished him up."

The second team offense fared a little better, though not until after Cedric Humes took some ribbing from linebacker Joey Porter, who's still not practicing.

Humes carried on first down and seemed tentative hitting the hole. He was stopped for no gain and Porter screamed, "He's scared. He's tip-toeing up to the line."

On second down, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt threw a curveball, calling his first passing play in three seasons of running this drill. Charlie Batch hit wide open fullback Branden Joe in the front corner of the end zone for a score.

"They had to throw it against us because they knew they couldn't run it in," said linebacker Clark Haggans.

After a poor opening practice of the morning, wide receiver Santonio Holmes looked much better in the evening, making several nice catches, including a leaping reception along the sidelines on a throw from Batch. Maybe this morning's malaise was caused by his previous inactivity.

Fellow rookie wideout Willie Reid has all but locked up the punt returner's job. He's a natural centerfielder and is explosive when he takes off with the ball. The team is also using him on some wide receiver sweeps and other little gadget plays. He's Antwaan Randle El with more speed and looks like a keeper.

Ben Roethlisberger continued his good day by looking strong in the pocket tonight. He also scrambled out on the edge a couple of times and hooked up with Hines Ward.

Watching Ward when Roethlisberger scrambled, he just turned Ike Taylor inside out, zigzagging three times to shake loose of the corner and get open. It was a thing of beauty.

After Tuesday's near fight between Haggans and Willie Colon, we had the first real fight of camp. It took place between defensive tackle Scott Paxson and center Tim Brown. The two squared off after a play had been completed, with Brown ripping Paxson's helmet off before the two could be separated. As he walked back to the huddle, Brown tossed Paxson's helmet into the air back over the line of scrimmage.

Cedrick Wilson aggravated the Achilles tendon injury that kept him out of practice Tuesday. Head coach Bill Cowher said the training staff has figured out the problem is actually a tight hamstring that is causing Wilson's Achilles tendon pain. I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. I'm just reporting what Cowher said.

Linebacker Mike Kudla and wide receiver Eugene Baker didn't practice again today and Cowher said the hamstring injuries they have are serious enough that both could be out a couple of weeks. They'll return just in time for first cutdowns.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.

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