We talking about practice, the Aug. 4 edition

SteelCityInsider.com contributor Dale Lolley breaks down what he's seeing at the Steelers practices thus far.

We've gotten a handful of practices in as the Pittsburgh Steelers begin the run up to the 2009 season and we're learning more about this team every day.

Unlike Allen Iverson, I feel that practice does mean something and therefore I try my best to pay attention to what's happening during it.

Here's what we've learned thus far:

© Darnell Stapleton's balky knee might just be the straw that breaks the camel's back at the right guard position.

With Justin Hartwig out, Stapleton had been working at center while Trai Essex mans the right guard position.

But even though it appears Stapleton is OK - he was walking around campus today without anything on the knee – he didn't practice again Tuesday morning.

The team wanted to give Essex a shot to win the starting job from Stapleton. I expect Essex to win that job whether Stapleton is healthy or not.

© Tuesday morning's practice was largely a special teams workout and thus there wasn't a lot going on.

But one thing I did notice was that both Mike Walllace and Joe Burnett, a pair of rookies vying for the kickoff return job, dropped kickoffs from a Jugs machine.

Many coaches are reluctant to put unproven guys in key positions and those two dropping the ball in a non-contact drill can't help that mindset.

© The early returns on second-year linebacker Bruce Davis aren't good.

I've been around this team for 17 years now and have seen a lot of guys go through the conversion from college defensive end to outside linebacker.

One thing the guys who made it well had in common was that they were able to stand out in one-on-one pass rushing drills.

That's one thing all these guys should have no problem with if they're going to play at this level. Instead of thinking about their new linebacker duties, it's just pinning your ears back and beating the guy in front of you.

Davis still can't do that. He's still too much of a finesse player.

I fear that you cannot teach toughness.

© Stapleton watched the afternoon practice on the hillside by the team dormitory, not venturing down to the practice field.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said there's still no news on him in terms of the injury, but he looked like a player who had been grounded by his mom as he stood at the top of the hill watching his friends play.

© John Legend was at the afternoon practice and had his picture taken with Mike Tomlin. Yeah, somebody had to tell me who he was, too.

Hines Ward sat out another practice with veteranitis.

Tomlin said it's no big deal, that Ward is just getting time off because he's a vet. Ward said Tomlin is telling him he doesn't want him to practice so that he can get more of a look at the younger guys.

It sounds like B.S. to me, but that's their story and they're sticking to it.

© Willie Parker (shoulder), Deshea Townsend (hamstring), Troy Polamalu (hamstring) and Sonny Harris (groin) also did not practice.

Heath Miller did more work than before and appears close to returning to the team portion, while Justin Hartwig continues to do position drills but little else.

© Miller, in fact, was the star of the tight ends/running backs versus linebackers passing drill, catching every pass and beating every defender thrown at him.

The only other person who was close to being able to say the same was Carey Davis.

In fact, after the offense missed on seven consecutive passes - with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback - Tomlin yelled, "Come on guys, this is an offensive drill."

© Smoking Joe Burnett showed me something as a gunner today.

Working one-on-one against Keenan Lewis, he turned Lewis inside out and then stuffed Lewis at the line of scrimmage when they flip-flopped.

"Two dogs and one bone," Tomlin yelled before lining them up against each other again.

Anthony Madison also showed his chops here, schooling Roy Lewis in how to seal off a gunner.

© The two-minute drill looked a little disjointed without Ward on the field.

Roethlisberger moved the team into scoring position - despite a pair of drops by Santonio Holmes - but he appeared to be sacked on the final play before throwing incomplete to Martin Nance in the end zone with no time on the clock.

But with no Heath Miller or Ward on the field and Doug Legursky playing center, it's tough to judge.

Dennis Dixon got a shot to lead the second group and threw a couple of nice passes to Brandon Williams. But Dixon was also intercepted to end the possession when Keiwan Ratliff caught a deflection off the hands of Dallas Baker.

© I really like what I see of undrafted rookie offensive lineman Ramon Foster. During one-on-one drills, he stood Scott Paxson up at the line of scrimmage twice, getting Paxson an earful from defensive line coach John Mitchell.

Both Jason Capizzi and Jeremy Parquet were getting work at tackle today and I didn't see a clear winner there.

Those two could be vying for a backup tackle position - assuming the team doesn't think Tony Hills is ready - and it's a battle that bears watching.

Both players did a good job Tuesday, Capizzi at left tackle, Parquet at right.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.

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