Mr. Wilson dominating in Latrobe

After surviving the goal line drill during his first night in town, he has more inane minutiae from Thursday's practice. Want to know which defensive linemen looked great in one-on-one drills? Or which players stayed after practice for more reps? Well, you'll just have to keep reading.

In my last report I asked for suggestions on which Pittsburgh Steelers players to watch during practice and that's exactly what I got. Thanks for all the feedback – believe it or not, it makes my job easier. Okay, with all the pleasantries out of the way, let's get right to the good stuff.

… 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.

The second team ran a similar play except holder Mike Barr underthrew Brett Keisel in the end zone and the pass fell incomplete.

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:

  • Casey Hampton vs. Jeff Hartings: draw;
  • Aaron Smith vs. Kendall Simmons: draw;
  • Lee Vickers vs. Max Starks; Vickers put an inside spin move on Starks, but the big guy recovered and engulfs Vickers. To say that Starks is the biggest human being alive isn't much of stretch. He looks like he's in really good shape, and showed the ability to move his feet and once he gets his hands on you, it's all over.
  • Arnold Harrison vs. Marvel Smith: Harrison had a better chance of Cowher coming over and naming him the starting quarterback for the 2006 season than he did of beating Smith. I'll just leave it at that;
  • Shaun Nua vs. Alan Faneca: Nua put a swim move on Faneca, and beat him inside in the time it takes to say, "Holy crap, Nua just beat Faneca." If Nate Washington is the media darling this year, Nua ain't far behind. He's been very impressive as a pass rusher, but he still needs to work on stopping the run;
  • Chris Hoke vs. Jeff Hartings: good push by Hoke off the snap, but Hartings was able hold steady – draw;
  • Rodney Bailey vs. Kendall Simmons: again, good push by Bailey, but Simmons was able to hold his ground – draw;
  • Clark Haggans vs. Max Starks: Haggans tries to beat Starks outside, but Starks beats him to the spot, gets his hands on him, and pushes Haggans well outside the pocket;
  • James Harrison vs. Trai Essex: Before the play, Grimm said to Essex, "If you stick your head in[to the pass rusher] we'll take your helmet off." The implication being that Essex struggles with keeping his head up, and gets beaten by his defender as a result. Against Harrison he did a pretty good job, but would've been called for holding in a game situation. But hey, that's why they practice. And by the way, pound for pound, James Harrison is the strongest dude in camp;
  • Brett Keisel vs. Barrett Brooks: Not even close. Think Mike Tyson fight, late '80s – over before it started. Quick story: One of the cool things about camp is that I get to see all these players up close but I also get to share the same cafeteria with them. Of course I didn't find that out until Thursday, but better let than never. Anyway, after practice I'm eating dinner with Jim Wexell and Donny Drummond when Keisel walks by. Wex mentions to Keisel that a lot of people are impressed with his camp so far and Marvel Smith had nothing but good things to say about how well he's doing. Keisel went on to say that one of the best things for him has been going against Marvel every day. I think Barrett Brooks would agree with that contention;
  • Scott Paxson vs. Chukky Okobi: Paxson beats Okobi inside;
  • Clark Haggans vs. Willie Colon: Haggans beats Colon like he's Sean Locklear and it's early February;
  • James Harrison vs. Trai Essex: In a rematch for the ages, Harrison dispenses with technique and decides to bull rush Essex. Essex ended the play eight yards behind the line of scrimmage, about where Willie Parker would line up pre-snap in the I-formation;
  • Rodney Bailey vs. Chris Kemoeatu: Bailey tries a rip move on Kemoeatu, but Kemoeatu proves too strong.
  • ... During more offense vs. defense drills, Charlie Batch throws 15-yard out to Jon Dekker that was almost intercepted by Chidi Iwuoma. Chidi seems to be very popular among fans, the media and especially his teammates. After the play, Clint Kriewaldt came over to congratulate him, and Tyrone Carter offered him encouragement (read: "Great play, but next time you gotta make that catch!"). I really hope Chidi can do enough in the secondary to earn a spot on the team. It's going to be close.

    … 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.

    … On an inside handoff to Duce Staley, Branden Joe made a nice block on James Farrior to create a hole.

    … 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.

    Hopefully I've been able to answer some of your questions, but I've got two more practices to cover, so keep the requests coming and I'll keep scribbling down the notes. Alrighty, more later

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