Sean McHugh tempted not only fate, but his personal well being after standing James Harrison up in a blocking drill. "Someone else on this team lifts weights, too," McHugh said to Harrison, who did not answer, only seethed while waiting a return engagement. But the coaches never paired the two up again, so perhaps we have a storyline for another day. The only other interesting note in the drill came from Coach Mike Tomlin. After Matt Spaeth beat Bruce Davis, Tomlin said: "Big 10 beats the grass basketball league again!" He's obviously unaware of the Big 10's abysmal bowl record the last three years.
Sidelined at practice today were Scott Paxson, Martin Nance, Brandon Williams, Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, Mewelde Moore, Willie Parker and LaMarr Woodley. None of the injuries appears serious. In fact, Woodley plans to be back on the field Sunday. Parker and Wallace had back and groin problems, respectively.
The backup quarterbacks showed some arm strength today. Charlie Batch let loose a bomb that landed five yards behind the double-covered Limas Sweed. Dennis Dixon, in a later drill, threw a bullet down the middle of the field to Shaun McDonald, who speared the ball with one hand and reeled it in. Even punter Dan Sepulveda showed some arm strength when he lofted a deep ball to placekicker Piotr Czech in the end zone on a fake field goal.
Hines Ward made a great catch of a Ben Roethlisberger fastball in front of Troy Polamalu during the no-huddle drill. The catch may have brought the loudest cheer of the day. Batch led the second team in the same scrimmage and was helped by a great sideline toe-tap by McDonald. Batch also read Arnold Harrison's blitz to hit Matt Spaeth on a hot read for a big gain.
In line drills, Davis brought some pride back to his "grass basketball league," the Pac 10, by bullrushing Tony Hills deep into his backfield. He followed it up by running around Hills to get to the quarterback on the next snap. In a 2-on-2 rush, Davis and Brett Keisel feigned a stunt and Davis ran by Max Starks to Tomlin's delight.
Rookie guard Kraig Urbik, according to a source, had improved his level of play at Friday night's practice, but his difficulties in one-on-one drills resumed today with Jordan Reffett and Nick Eason. Urbik, the right guard with no one over him, even jumped the snap count when left tackle Hills lined up to take his turn.
Ziggy Hood was just too much for Ramon Foster. Ziggy's hands moved as quickly as his feet as he easily ran by the left guard.
In what was called "the backed up scrimmage," Tomlin placed the ball at the one and asked his offense to gain enough yardage to provide room for the punter. He reminded his defense not to fall for hard counts, but the first team offense flinched three times in failing to gain more than a few yards. The second team gained a first down when Batch completed a pass to Dallas Baker. Dixon led the third team to two first downs on passes to Steven Black and the aforementioned downfield bullet to McDonald.
After practice, Tomlin spoke to the media:
"Thought we had a good day today. One of the things we wanted to get done this morning was focus our energy on young guy development. We had a shortened practice this morning, helmets only, trying to get rid of some re-occurring problems with our young players so we could move on to new problems. I just think that's part of the maturation process, not only of the young players but of the team this time of year. Wanted to give those guys quality reps; we were able to do that. We came out this afternoon with the focus of everybody practicing and I thought we had a good practice.
"On the injuries, Willie Parker woke up this morning with back spasms. It shouldn't be a big, major deal but we wanted to exercise caution. Scott Paxson has a calf strain. Brandon Williams has got an abdominal strain. In practice we shut a couple of guys down early: Mike Wallace's groin got a little tight on him and Keenan Lewis's back got a little tight on him. We got Sonny Harris out there participating. He's a young guy. It's tough to get on a moving train, as they say. He's attempting to do that. No time like the present. A lot of the other injury situations are status quo."
Q: What was the scrimmage from the 1-yard line called?
A: Backed up. From a defensive perspective, your chances of scoring offensively are pretty good if you deny a first down, so that's what we were trying to get done there. You can't give up free grass. You've got to understand you're going to get hard-counted. People may take a deep shot. Educating our defense to play in that area of the field. Also educating our offense, because from a flip side it's the same area of importance. We need to get a first down and give our punt team an opportunity to operate.
Q: Goal line drill tomorrow?
A: Perhaps. Perhaps. I would encourage you to come because there might be goal line tomorrow.