… About 20 minutes before practice, Charles Davis was in pads and his helmet working by himself on the blocking sled. This is a good thing.
… After warm-ups, the field goal team worked on trick plays. On the first one, Aaron Smith, Heath Miller and Travis Kirshke all ran pass patterns with Smith catching a touchdown pass from Chris Gardocki. Yeah, you had to see it to believe it.
… Branden Joe Update: We all know that he caught a touchdown pass during the goal line drill Wednesday night, but I didn't mention in my last column that he almost took me out after he made the catch. It was a play action pass with Joe eventually catching the ball in the right flat. Some nifty footwork near the sideline allowed him to slip into the end zone untouched, but his momentum carried him out of bounds and if he didn't catch his balance, I would've been road kill. Nothing like seeing 250 pounds of muscle coming right at you.
Early in Thursday's practice, players were walking from one field to the next. On their way to the next drill, Dan Kreider, John Kuhn and Joe all walked past several photographers with their telephoto lenses when I heard Joe turn to the other two fullbacks and say, "What, are you taking an MRI with that thing?" Kuhn thought this was the funniest thing in the world and laughed as he repeated it to Kreider a second time.
… Quincy Morgan had a much better practice on Thursday after a pretty blah effort the night before. During the wide receiver drills, he didn't drop a ball and he looked very focused on running precise routes and catching the ball out in front of his body.
Also during the drill Sean Morey – yes, that Sean Morey – showed a knack for making the tough catch; Willie Reid exploded out of cuts and showed soft hands; Hines was Hines; Walter Young looked slow and plodding despite making every grab; and Santonio Holmes ran at half speed presumably because of his tweaked hammy, but he did manage to make an unbelievable shoestring grab on a crossing route while still maintaining his balance.
And oh yeah, Mr. Training Camp 2006, Nate Washington, had another solid practice. I can't express enough how much everybody is talking him up this year. And maybe I'm brainwashed by all the hype, but Washington has yet to disappoint. It's funny, because when you see him without his helmet, he looks like a freshman in high school. But once he's on the field, he's all business.
… Next up, the punt return team. Back to field punts were the usual suspects: Cedrick Wilson, Reid, Holmes and special guest, Ricardo Colclough. Colclough didn't work with this unit Wednesday night because he struggled holding on to the ball earlier in the week. Well, the day off didn't help because he muffed the first one he saw on Thursday – which led to Bill Cowher letting out a "Ricardo!" – and on his next attempt he caught the ball over his head, which I'm guessing is generally frowned upon by most special teams coaches.
Reid again showed a knack for making players missed and then reaching full speed in a matter of steps. And just so you know, some people think Reid is actually faster than Holmes.
… During the punt return drills, I was standing a few feet from rookie running back Cedric Humes and there's no way in hell he weighs 230 pounds. He shows surprisingly good hands coming out of the backfield, but he'll need to put on some weight if he's going to be a short yardage back.
… The field goal team followed, and Jeff Reed was a perfect 5-for-5 on kicks. His last one, from 50 yards nicked the right upright about a third of the way up. Not bad from that distance. I like Reed because I grew up in North Carolina and I'm a big UNC fan, but it's impossible to convey how much Steelers fans love this guy. Not bad for a dude who was working construction in 2002.
… On the 11-on-11 drills, Ben Roethlisberger dropped back, looked right, avoided the pass rush like only he can, rolled left and let one fly in the direction of Willie Parker. The only problem was that James Harrison made a great play on the ball and if they were keeping score, it would've been 6-0.
… A few plays later, Big Ben made a normal drop and threw a BB to – you guessed it – Nate Washington running an out pattern.
... With Batch under center, he threw high to Washington, but Anthony Smith was there to break it up.
… Omar Jacobs is a lot of fun to watch. I was talking to my buddy Andy and I said he's basically like Jeff Blake – because he loves throwing bombs – but has a stronger arm. Well, Jacobs didn't disappoint Thursday because during 11-on-11, he hit Lee Mays on a deep crossing pattern over Mike Lorello. As much as I like giving Mays the business, he had a very good day catching the ball. Still, he'll basically have to cure cancer if he hopes to make the team out of camp.
A play later, Humes made a nice block on a blitzing Lorello and Jacobs, in the face of heavy pressure, patiently hit Holmes running an underneath crossing route.
… One of the pitfalls of watching practice – at least for me – is that I get caught following the QBs and WRs and neglect the other position players. Well, thanks to some reader suggestions, I instead watched the OL/DL one-on-one drills. Easily the best decision I made on Thursday. Basically, Russ Grimm stands behind the defensive linemen, and barks instructions during each showdown. Players line up as they would during a game, with the center snap starting the play. Here's a rundown of each matchup:
… A few plays later Big Ben sprints left and throws a seed to Cedrick Wilson near the sidelines. On the next snap he play actions, turns quickly, and hits Hines Ward on a slant pattern. Every time I've seen this play it's worked. Every time.
... Willie Reid sits down in a soft spot in the zone, catches the pass, and then Anthony Smith proceeds to rip his helmet off in the process of making the tackle. Good stuff all around.
… Cowher ended practice with the two-minute drill, and Mark Kaboly has all the ugly details . (Both Morgan and Morey had, shall we say, a little setback.)
… After practice I hung around for a while and guess who stayed late? Santonio Holmes, Quincy Morgan and Hines Ward all took turns catching passes from the Juggs machine. At one point, Ward was catching bullets one-handed. You know, because using two hands can become so insanely easy, that you need a little challenge. Ward also seems intent on helping Holmes make a successful transition to the NFL, and the more I see of Holmes the more I think he's going to be just fine. At one point, Hines stood behind Santonio and acted like a defensive back, trying to slap the ball out of his hands after the reception. All three players were there for about a half an hour.
Holmes then answered a few questions from the media. I wasn't so much concerned with the actual Qs & As but I was interested in watching Santonio's demeanor and body language. The more I see and hear him, the more I really like this kid. Yep, he's made some mistakes, but I think he wants to do the right thing and hanging out with Ward can only help him. We'll see.