Is he honoring NFL tenure?
"Tenure?" LeBeau repeated as he pointed to the questioner. "Well, that could be it. But you'll have to see what's coming next."
Well, after LeBeau's 52 seasons, and Farrior's 14, and Smith's 12, next Tuesday's jersey number should be 98 in honor of Casey Hampton's 10th NFL season. At least that jersey should fit better than the tight No. 91 LeBeau wore Thursday
"I'm just in awe," said the awestruck Smith. "I can't believe that guy is wearing my jersey."
Smith's tenure probably has a little bit to do with an attitude that took him over to the blocking sled after Thursday's practice.
Smith – who hasn't taken a day off this spring (even though he could use his healing rotator cuff as a legitimate excuse) – joined fellow linemen Chris Hoke and Brett Keisel at the sled, where the three wise men gathered to help undrafted rookie Cordarrow Thompson with his fundamentals and footwork. After Thompson left, the three vets took turns hitting the sled, and then attempted to avoid the media by taking the backdoor into the weight room.
But they couldn't sneak away quickly enough, and after the perfunctory Ben Roethlisberger questions, they were asked why, as accomplished vets, they felt the need to stay so late after practice. But the defensive linemen weren't the only players staying late.
Out on the field getting in some hand-eye work were David Pittman, Antonio Brown and Isaiah Williams catching tennis balls with one hand after they were shot out of a machine; Dennis Dixon working with first-year WR Jason Chery on the youngster's routes; fullback Demetrius Taylor and tailback Stefan Logan working on their backfield motions with RB coach Kirby Wilson; James Harrison working on new steps at the tackling dummy with assistant coach and former linebacker Jerry Olsavsky; and Jeff Reed spending time alone over at the kicking net.
Mike Tomlin took in the busy scene with a satisfied smile before departing.
Special Teams: Speaking of Reed, the placekicker took his turn kicking off Thursday and turned in a superior performance compared to those of the previous kickoff specialists this week, Piotr Czech and Adam Graessle. Reed had much better hang time and distance than the others, putting return men Stefan Logan, Mike Wallace, Brown and Joe Burnett all inside the 10 and sometimes back to the goal line.
Attendance: After fuming to myself over the lack of reps and returns for rookie receiver Emmanuel Sanders, I learned that Sanders and fellow rookie Jonathan Dwyer had left after warm-ups to attend a league function. Both were whisked away in a limo. Also, Hines Ward and Keyaron Fox remained on the sidelines in street clothes.
Team Scrimmage I: Byron Leftwich came out throwing darts to Wallace as the two continued to build their rapport. Leftwich also threw a laser to slot receiver Tyler Grisham, who jitterbugged his way through the secondary for a big gain. Dennis Dixon received only one snap and found converted fullback Demetrius Taylor along the sideline and the rookie caught and rumbled as if he's been doing it his whole life.
Team Scrimmage II: In the hurry-up drill for the first team, these eyes, for the first time, watched Rashard Mendenhall drop a pass. On the next play, Wallace blew past Anthony Madison, but Leftwich underthrew him. But in drawing contact, Wallace drew an imaginary flag at the one-yard line. Heath Miller then made a difficult catch along the sideline to move the chains for the first team, and Arnaz Battle made a difficult catch over the middle. Leftwich quickly called the offense's last timeout, at the 14, with 35 seconds left, and shouted to Battle, "Good snag, Hands, good snag." Battle followed with a diving catch at the 4, Leftwich spiked the ball, and on third down threw a bullet low and away to Wallace, who pulled it in with his left hand for the touchdown. If Leftwich lacks touch in his short game, it doesn't seem to faze Wallace.
The second team didn't fare nearly as well in the hurry-up. After Dixon threw to Brown on the sideline for a first down, his quick out to Matt Spaeth was nearly intercepted by Pittman, who knew he should've scored a touchdown on the play. Dixon was intercepted a few plays later by rookie Crezdon Butler on an underthrown deep ball in the end zone. Butler has good size and showed good ball skills on the play. The 5b pick hasn't been embarrassed by anyone yet and is setting a solid base for training camp.