Practice report for Aug. 6

Trai Essex ready to step in, LaMarr Woodley among the slightly injured, more and more and more notes from Dale Lolley.

We're nearly a week into practices as the Pittsburgh Steelers continue the run up to the 2009 season here at Saint Vincent College 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 to this point:

© Darnell Stapleton's surgery, which head coach Mike Tomlin finally announced Thursday, pretty much assures Trai Essex will be the team's starting right guard against Tennessee in the opener. Essex looks good here and gives the team a much bigger body at right guard.

Will that make a difference for a team that allowed 49 sacks and was 23rd in the league in rushing last season? Possibly.

With Essex starting, it really opens things up for Jason Capizzi or Jeremy Parquet or both to make this roster. Tony Hills, in my opinion, still isn't ready.

© The other big news today was linebacker LaMarr Woodley sitting out with swelling in his right knee. In fact, both he and tight end/fullback Sean McHugh were out with the same injury and MIA.

Since Tomlin is guarded with his injury news, we can only assume that since both Woodley and McHugh weren't around today, they were also getting tests done.

© Mike Wallace has what one scout once described to me as "Oh $%#@ speed."

That scout was talking about Kordell Stewart in his prime, but easily could have been describing Wallace, the rookie wideout who had the second-fasted time at this year's combine.

Wallace showed that off a couple of times today, drawing a pass interference penalty on fellow rookie Keenan Lewis on a pass from Dennis Dixon in the second two-minute drill for about a 40-yard gain. Wallace just blew by Lewis in the last 15 yards like he was standing still but had to come back to the underthrown pass.

He did it again on a deep ball by Ben Roethlisberger in seven-on-sevens, blowing by Anthony Madison only to see the underthrown pass intercepted by safety Roy Lewis.

It goes back to the Randy Moss saying, "If I'm even, I'm leaving." The Steelers QBs still need to get used to Wallace's speed.

© As impressive as those plays were for Wallace, it was even better to see him catch a TD pass from Dixon on fourth down to complete the second two-minute drill – Charlie Batch ran the first one against the first-team defense and failed to score. Wallace found a way to get open in the back of the end zone and leaped high to bring down the Dixon pass with both feet in bounds.

© Tight end Heath Miller still isn't doing any team work, but he's been working in non-contact drills and making whoever is attempting to cover him look silly.

Miller's catching everything thrown his way and even burned veteran James Farrior with a beautiful head fake and move down the seam during a linebackers on tight ends and backs passing drill.

© With Woodley out, Andre Frazier took the snaps with the first-team defense.

© Brett Keisel was the star of the first two-minute drill.

After the offense moved the ball down inside the red zone, Keisel dropped into good coverage on a short zone to screen Limas Sweed and force an incompletion on third down. He then came up the middle like a freight train on fourth down, batting down a Batch pass to end the possession.

That kind of athleticism can't be overlooked.

© You don't fool around with James Harrison.

The final play of practice today was an attempted direct snap to Santonio Holmes with a throwback to the left side to Ben Roethlisberger, who was supposed to be by himself.

Trouble was, Harrison didn't bite on the play and when everybody else ran to the right, he stayed home and broke up the throwback to Roethlisberger. It would have been a scoring play for the defense considering it was a lateral.

© I really like what I've seen from undrafted rookie offensive lineman Ramon Foster and I can understand why he's already been in a couple of dust ups.

Foster really likes to finish his blocks. He's relentless. And apparently some of the defensive guys aren't liking it too much.

But the kid from Tennessee looks good and he could end up helping this team down the road.

© Hines Ward was back on the field today so all is well with the world.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.

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