By Donald Starver
Yesterday was a fairly uneventful day on the field at Latrobe. The biggest news of the day actually happened off the field. The Steelers finally announced that injured guard Darnell Stapleton will have arthroscopic surgery on his knee today. Prior to this announcement, the Steelers and coach Tomlin had essentially avoided answering any questions about Stapleton’s status.
With center Justin Hartwig already missing practice due to a toe injury, Stapleton had moved into the starting center position at training camp. Now with both Hartwig and Stapleton out, Doug Legursky has moved into the center position with the first unit, while rookie A.Q. Shipley moves into the second unit.
Back-up tackle Trai Essex has moved into the right guard position that Stapleton filled for the final 15 games of last season. The injuries to Hartwig and Stapleton leave the Steelers a bit short on offensive linemen at camp.
Other news from yesterday’s practice included the return of Hines Ward. Ward had been held out of practice since Saturday. Ward is not injured, but coach Tomlin has allowed him to skip practice to preserve Ward’s veteran legs, as well as to give the young receivers more reps at practice. While Ward was dressed for practice, he hardly did any practicing. I don’t think I actually saw him run any plays after warm-ups.
Troy Polamalu and Deshea Townsend were still sidelined nursing hamstring injuries. That may or may not be a problem. Last year, Polamalu missed almost all of training camp nursing a hamstring injury, and he ended up having possibly the best season of his pro career.
The Steelers’ quarterbacks and wide receivers continue to spend most of their time practicing short outlet passes. They have worked on these plays everyday of training camp. Perhaps the Steelers are finally acknowledging how well the New England Patriots utilize these short passes to Wes Welker. These short passes often serve as a de facto running game in the Patriots’ offense. Or perhaps the Steelers are using them as a bailout option when QB Ben Roethlisberger feels the rush coming. Either way, the amount of time being devoted to it says that we are going to be seeing more of these short passes than we’ve seen in the past.
Finally, the plays of the day were both turned in by rookie wide receiver Mike Wallace. On one play, Wallace had fellow rookie Keenan Lewis beat on a long pass play. The ball was under-thrown, and Lewis ran into Wallace and was called for pass interference on the play.
On a separate play near the end of practice, Wallace leaped high and came down with an acrobatic catch in the corner of the endzone on a pass from Dennis Dixon in the 2-minute drill. Wallace kept both feet in bounds and the crowd erupted in a thunderous roar. It was a perfect way to end practice.
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