QB, pass game show signs of life

UNITY TWP. – Ben Roethlisberger's arm came back to life Monday and the football rarely hit the ground in one of the Steelers' best offensive practices of training camp.

Roethlisberger threw the ball particularly well in the third-down scrimmage in which Coach Mike Tomlin put the offense back inside its own 10-yard line with mainly four-receiver formations. In his reps, Roethlisberger:

* Zipped a 30-yarder down the middle to Matt Spaeth with Troy Polamalu in tight coverage.

* Hit Dallas Baker in stride on an in-route and Baker broke it upfield for a big gain.

* Drilled a fastball to Hines Ward, who sat down inside a zone for a 20-yard gain.

* Hit Ward on a deep out for a 25-yard gain.

* Scrambled and found Mike Wallace, who caught the ball and turned on the jets for what might've been a long touchdown in a game.

Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon were also perfect in the drill as all 11 passes were caught. Dixon did hand off on one of the 12 snaps as he and the motioning wide receiver faked an option the other way.

Roethlisberger remained sharp throughout the rest of the drills. Two drops by Heath Miller and an errant throw on the final play of practice were the quarterback's only incompletions of the day.

"I thought the execution was pretty impressive this afternoon," said Tomlin. "We're really pleased with the quality of execution. It needs to be moving in that direction as we enter our second week of training camp and push forward for a game on Thursday night."

On Thursday, the Steelers host the Arizona Cardinals in the preseason opener, also a rematch of this past Super Bowl. Santonio Holmes said he and the offense will be ready.

"Today was definitely one of our better practices as an offense," Holmes said. "We came out well-rested. We were ready to get out there today and Ben was placing the ball where it needed to be and guys were snagging it out of the air. No complaints."

After struggling last week with a sore arm, Holmes said Roethlisberger is finally finding his rhythm.

"I'm pretty sure he felt more relaxed today throwing the ball," Holmes said.


Tomlin was asked what he saw on the tape of Sunday's goal-line practice. He pointed to two defensive linemen who helped stop Rashard Mendenhall for no gain and a loss of two in the tailback's two carries.

"On the first snap," Tomlin said, "Aaron Smith had great pad level and created penetration that really put the guy that was blocking him and a backfield guy on the floor. One guy got three. When you stack people up like that, you're going to have a party in the backfield, and that's what happened. On the second play, I thought it was an unbelievable, overlapping effort from Brett Keisel, who made the play (on the strong side) as the backside defensive end."


Casey Hampton (knee) and Willie Parker (back) were the big names on the sideline, but Tomlin expects both back "very soon." Also sidelined were Martin Nance, Brandon Williams, Mewelde Moore and Dezmond Sherrod with "minor issues," according to Tomlin.

Darnell Stapleton, of course, will remain sideline for at least two weeks with his knee injury. The Steelers signed center Alex Stepanovich, a journeyman who'd been released by Atlanta after last season, and released defensive lineman Jordan Reffett.


Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau on what he wants to see from his unit Thursday night:

"I want to see our guys grow. I don't care if we're young, old or intermediate, I want to see us get better. That's what I want to see every day when we come out on the practice field. You can grow a little bit quicker in the actual game situations than you can in practice, but you have to grow in both situations to get ready for the championship season."

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