LATROBE, Pa. -- He knows his team is capable. But is it willing?
That is the challenge that coach Mike Tomlin issued to his team (actually, more smacked them with) in two practices in pads on Pittsburgh's first full day of training camp on Saturday here at Saint Vincent College. Some NFL teams wait at least a day or two in camp to hit in pads. Not these Steelers. Tomlin seemed bent on his guys knocking each other around and into the reality that the Super Bowl is gone, the 2009 season trek is here, so, embrace it.
"I really think that's the mentality we have to have as we approach this," Tomlin said. He called it a good "attitude" day.
» Ben Roethlisberger knew it was an attitude day. He knew he would be pressed by the press on his civil lawsuit. He came prepared to deflect.
"I am here to play football" was his mantra.
His coach took it from there: "He (Roethlisberger) is handling high. I expected him to handle it to be honest with you. I understand it's that time of year and it gives us something to talk about, but it's not going to be an issue for us, it's really not. If this derails our football team, then we've got a lot more problems than this story."
Roethlisberger looked effective in practice. Receiver Hines Ward said, "those 2 hours and 30 minutes where he is with his teammates, is time with family. It can be a time away from all things. It's peace, not just for Ben, but for other guys going through other things that just aren't as public."
» You ask the Steelers about their receivers. They start with two Super Bowl MVP starters in Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. Nate Washington, last year's No. 3 guy, is gone to Tennessee. So, who's No. 3? Who steps in if Ward or Holmes has to step out? And the Steelers cannot answer that question now.
The hope is second-year receiver Limas Sweed can rise. The prayer is that speedy receiver Mike Wallace can become a rookie sensation. After those two on the depth chart are veteran Shaun McDonald and second-year player Dallas Baker. Ward and Holmes are the truth. After practice, they caught 100 extra balls apiece from a jugs machine. Sweed is a lanky receiver who Pittsburgh wants to toughen mentally and physically. Wallace has to make sure he can catch it before he can run with it, Roethlisberger said. Wallace looked smooth in his running style.
"We have always had depth at receiver here," Ward said. "It's up to us to find a way to create that again."
» I noticed a huge weapon for Pittsburgh that should be an excellent addition for its offense this season. I kept seeing 5-10, 225-pound running back Rashard Mendenhall bully his way into tacklers, into the line, around the corner and into more contact. He is a force. He missed last season, his rookie year, due to injury. This guy plays tailback like Pittsburgh's original Bus (Jerome Bettis). He could be a hammering factor and a robust weapon for this Pittsburgh offense in 2009. After all, the Steelers are the epitome of the NFL's most punishing brand of football. Players such as Mendenhall help keep that wheel churning.
No Dan Rooney here for the first time. He has attended each of Pittsburgh's 43 previous training camps here. This one, the 44th, he will miss, since he is now U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. The Steelers are not sure if he will be back for their opening game against Tennessee on Sept. 10.
Also, the Steelers return 20 of 22 starters. The new starters are William Gay at cornerback and Lawrence Timmons at linebacker. Both played a lot of football for the Steelers last season. Both looked comfortable and prepared in practice today. Other teams should be so lucky to have, first 20 starters returning and then these two types of quality replacements.
Cornerback Kennan Lewis of Oregon State was turning heads. This third-round pick is picking things up fast, showing natural skills, a nose for the ball and a toughness the Steelers love. In defending today's spread offenses, the Steelers know they can never have enough quality cornerbacks. Looks like they have found another one.
Dick LeBeau, 71, involved in NFL football for 50 years, is back for another season with another stacked defensive group. When it was the Steelers offense vs. Steelers defense in drills here, the offense packed a punch, but the defense delivered the deciding one. This defense, with NFL defensive player of the year James Harrison up front and with unique safety Troy Polamalu on the back line, continues to be exceptional and defining. So does LeBeau, its tutor.
"Things happen for a reason. It has definitely humbled me. I see that catch on t-shirts. On TV. It's on a lot of walls in my house, too. And just imagine -- I made it." -- Holmes talking about his winning Super Bowl grab and how Steelers fans flock to him now here at camp and everywhere else he travels.
» High praise today for the start of rookie defensive end Ziggy Hood. At 300-plus pounds, he was impressive in pursuit.
» You watch cornerback Ike Taylor work in practices and see how he prepared this offseason and you realize he is a difference-making player on this team and in this league.
» Tomlin on the Steelers' work on the screen game: "We'll see how that continues to develop. More than anything, we've got a desire to be great in that area, but also great at defense with it. We want guys to redirect and chase the ball. We have a finished emphasis in terms of starting this thing. It always helps the defense when you can provide them some misdirection plays and some screens where they have to turn and chase the ball."