OTA No. 8

SCI.com publisher Jim Wexell gives his thoughts and makes some notes on each of the Steelers' OTA workouts spring. Here's the eighth installment:

Kraig Urbik said he hasn't gained any weight, that he's only gotten stronger. And I could only agree after shaking hands with the second-year interior offensive lineman. He nearly crushed my means of employment, but I sucked it up and interviewed him anyway.

The big guy's been playing first-team center this week because of the injuries to Justin Hartwig and Doug Legursky, and Urbik believes he's made great strides since his rookie season. I'll have the complete interview, but I'd better roll through the highlights of OTA No. 8 right now:

* This one started like most, with a big play to Mike Wallace. It's almost as if Byron Leftwich wants to make that statement every practice. This time, Wallace lined up in the slot and whipped strong safety Will Allen across the field to catch the pass before heading for the opposite sideline.

* Leftwich came back for a second turn at QB during the first scrimmage and his first play was a deep post to tight end Heath Miller, with Lawrence Timmons trailing by a few yards.

* Leftwich is playing with complete confidence right now, while his backup, Dennis Dixon, also looks like a different quarterback than he was just a week ago. Both quarterbacks are finally taking command of their respective units and have pulled away from Charlie Batch. We presumed as much, but it's now become clear that Leftwich is the team's best big-play threat at the position and that Dixon is the youngster with upside who must be given work every day.

* I watched third-round pick Emmanuel Sanders closely today and noticed he runs an awful lot of short ins, outs and curls, and that the QB doesn't look his way much. Dixon did on one play, but Sanders cut the wrong way and Dixon's pass landed inside instead of out. On another play, Keenan Lewis cloaked Sanders on an intermediate route and the two squabbled about each other's contact all the way back to the line.

* Speaking of Lewis, he was beaten deep by 6-foot-4 WR Brandon London, who made the diving catch of the day along the sideline. Lewis, otherwise, has been superb. At minicamp he said, "I'll be awesome this year," and his buddy Wallace agrees with him. Said Wallace: "He's been doing pretty well, 10 times better than last year, night and day. He's just grinding. He's so much more focused than last year. If he keeps it up, we've got a good one." Lewis is playing behind Bryant McFadden as the second-team left cornerback.

* Speaking of London, he also made a great catch on Wednesday – right in front of me along the sideline – and after he got up and fired the ball in celebration against the fence, I told him "nice catch." But since he didn't thank me, I didn't include him in my notes. (Ha, that'll show him.) So, anyway, his catch today made me re-think my position and give the guy a break. I'm not saying he'll be any kind of camp surprise, but the big man's doing OK in shorts.

* Antwaan Randle El had another strong practice. Leftwich hit him deep between Will Gay and Ryan Clark off a play-action fake and Randle El made a juggling, fingertip snag.

* The staff concentrated on the run game today, but without contact there's really not much to say, other than Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer all look fit, quick and ready to form a solid corps.

* Limas Sweed stood on crutches while watching practice. Said Sweed: "I was playing the best football of my life before I got hurt. Everything had slowed down tremendously."

* Later in practice, Leftwich threw deep to Wallace, who was being tied up by first-year cornerback Trae Williams. The young CB was physical with Wallace – perhaps too physical, because he might've drawn a flag had it been a game.

* Dixon may have found himself a main man in rookie receiver Antonio Brown. The two connected on back-to-back 20-yard gains against rookie cornerback Crezdon Butler. Brown cut out on the first and in on the second.

* Chris Scott played second-team left guard today. Down a couple of men, first-teamers Chris Kemoeatu and Trai Essex had alternated at the spot Wednesday, but the staff finally moved the rookie tackle inside.

* Tight end Eugene Bright led linebacker Lawrence Timmons across the middle by a step or two, caught the pass, turned it up, but Timmons recovered to poke the ball free from behind.

* Leftwich threw an interception directly into the waiting hands of Butler, who was playing well off the line in the Steelers' Cover-3. Obviously, Leftwich and receiver Arnaz Battle had a miscommunication. On the next play, Leftwich smoked an out to Miller, who shielded Butler from the ball and made the catch.

* Batch connected with Brown for a touchdown pass over David Pittman to end practice.

Later in the evening, the league announced that QB Ben Roethlisberger could return to the Steelers on Tuesday for their final six workouts.

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