OTA 13 -- Troy, Ben on comeback trail

SCI.com publisher Jim Wexell gives his thoughts and makes some notes on each of the Steelers' OTA workouts spring. Here's the 13th installment:

Ben Roethlisberger's best practice yet was fueled by Antwaan Randle El, which is a good sign for Steelers fans on both ends of the passing game.

While Byron Leftwich seemed to choose Mike Wallace as his go-to man, Roethlisberger seems to prefer Randle El – at least he did on Wednesday, particularly in the red-zone session.

On the first snap of red zone, Roethlisberger hit Randle El in the back shoulder at the pylon between Will Allen and Ike Taylor. It was similar to a stop-fade, except Randle El never stopped, just twisted severely to make the grab. Two snaps later, Roethlisberger hit Randle El for another touchdown on a short pass that No. 82 took to the end zone.

Randle El caught a third touchdown pass from Roethlisberger on a fade in the right corner. Instead of out-jumping cornerback Keenan Lewis, Randle El cut under and behind him to catch the ball before it hit Lewis in the back.

In the 7-on-7 passing drill, Roethlisberger went to Randle El on three of his first four passes. After Leftwich and Dennis Dixon took their turns taking snaps, Roethlisberger came back and threw a deep, picture-perfect touchdown pass to Randle El down the left sideline between rookie DBs Crezdon Butler and Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith.

While Randle El was the leading producer Wednesday, Tyler Grisham led the highlight reel with a couple of spectacular catches. The second-year slot man went way up and twisted his torso 180 degrees to turn a high-and-away Leftwich fastball into a first down. Grisham also went up over David Pittman to catch a Dixon pass in the corner of the end zone. Both catches brought star notations to my notebook, the only such notations of the day. Grisham, who was called up from the practice squad late last season, will once again be difficult to cut.

* Speaking of difficult to cut, Stefan Logan showed some ultra-quick moves coming out of the backfield on a pair of catches today. On one, Logan put a stupefying move on James Harrison and the two-time Pro Bowler fell to the ground as the rest of the team roared. Hines Ward ran out to help Harrison up off the deck.

* Ward suited up and participated in individual drills, but did not scrimmage. Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Clark missed the workout completely.

* Troy Polamalu returned and participated in the scrimmages, but at half speed. He told me that he's fine and has no worries about a successful return. I asked him why he cut out on his workout routine and returned for the final week of OTAs. He chuckled and said, "I think I'm getting to the age where I'd better start showing some responsibility."

* The deepest touchdown pass of the day was Leftwich's toss to Brandon London, who was wide open in the end zone after Anthony Madison had fallen down. London, because of his size and his solid performance this spring, will also be difficult to cut at what's becoming a deep receiving corps.

* The first four wide receivers are Ward, Wallace, Randle El, and Arnaz Battle. They're followed by two rookies who are near-locks, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. Those six are followed by Grisham and London.

* I watched Heath Miller catch an out and then square up his shoulders to challenge the man covering him, LaMarr Woodley. Miller was tabbed about seven yards later by Woodley. It was a matchup of premier athletes, returning Pro Bowlers, and Miller looks as if he's at his athletic peak and ready for a career year.

* On the other end of the spectrum, second-year tight end David Johnson dropped another pass during team drills, this one at the sideline from Leftwich. Johnson, though, is still seeing more action than either of his competitors, Eugene Bright and Sean McHugh.

* While we're doing that tight end thing, Matt Spaeth went up to snare a pass that must've been 10 feet off the ground. Not that the 6-fooot-7 Spaeth jumped that high, but the wingspan was impressive.

* One incomplete pass to Antonio Brown appeared to be an "in" after Brown cut "out." Judging by the angry display by his position coach, Brown was at fault.

* Interceptions have been on the decline of late, but today Keyaron Fox picked off Larry Foote's deflection of a Dixon pass during red-zone work. Also, Tuff Harris intercepted another poor pass from Dixon, while Will Allen dropped an easy interception of a Roethlisberger pass over the middle.

* Former Steeler Bill Priatko was on the sideline today. He played for the 1957 team as the fourth linebacker. He told long-snapper Greg Warren that back then the fourth linebacker also had to be the backup center and the long-snapper, all for a salary of $8,500. "That was a lot of money for a kid from North Braddock," Priatko told me.

* The Steelers, of course, signed long-snapper/linebacker Matt Stewart earlier this week. A Steelers personnel man explained that the team is not looking to replace Warren, but wanted to upgrade its depth since Warren has suffered serious knee injuries the last two seasons.

* Also of note, Roethlisberger did one-on-one TV interviews this afternoon with KDKA's Bob Pompeani and WTAE's Sally Wiggin, parts of which will air Thursday evening on their respective news channels.

* Since rain forced the Steelers to cancel their Wednesday practice at Heinz Field and forced them indoors, the team hopes to finish its spring workout schedule at Heinz Field on Thursday. If that's the case, media will not be permitted to attend.


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