Pittsburgh Steelers rally around RBs coach Kirby Wilson

LATROBE, Pa. -- Ben Roethlisberger choked up. Mike Tomlin found perspective. Chris Rainey marveled at the display of "cheating death."

To Kirby Wilson, it was just a jog. To the rest of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it was, to use Tomlin's word, "a blessing."

Wilson, the Steelers' running backs coach, was on the field Thursday, barking at his players and even running with them from drill to drill on the first official practice day of Steelers training camp at St. Vincent College.

Less than seven months after sustaining life-threatening burns over almost half of his body in a house fire, Wilson is doing what he wants to do.

"It's awesome," Wilson said. "My favorite time of the year. The most rewarding camp I've had."

Beloved by his players, Wilson's services arguably are needed more than usual this season. With starter Rashard Mendenhall recovering from knee surgery, the Steelers have a young, deep and talented running back corps for Wilson to work with and sort through at camp. When asked about the competition for roster spots and increased roles at running back, Wilson used a pun that might have been in poor taste just a few months ago.

"It's heated," Wilson said. "That's the only way I can describe it.

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"You have one guy on (the physically unable to perform list) in Rashard (Mendenhall), and after that, (new starter) Isaac Redman and a bunch of young guys who really have a lot of ability but really haven't done it over the long hurl and are trying to find their niche."

Wilson will get to evaluate the stable of backs first-hand -- something that seemed unlikely just a few months ago. Although Wilson attended minicamp, he took part in practice primarily via use of a cart. Wilson said Thursday that returning in time for training camp "absolutely" was his goal and that he feels "pretty much 100 percent" now.

Wilson is committed to being "smart." That means regular "shade breaks," plenty of sunscreen and layers of clothing that leave virtually no skin exposed.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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