For the first time since he had knee surgery in May, Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter took his usual spot with the first-team defense and went through contact drills at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.
Porter returned to practice last week, but worked only in 7-on-7 drills and did not participate in any contact drills. Yesterday, though, Porter lined up at his right outside linebacker spot in 11-on-11 drills and also took two turns in pass-rushing drills against the offensive lineman.
Pro Bowl wide receiver Hines Ward, who missed the team's preseason opener Saturday in Arizona with a hamstring injury, returned to practice, but only in 7-on-7 drills. He did not take part in any team work.
"Joey's coming along," coach Bill Cowher said. "It was good to pretty much get everyone out there. We're getting closer to getting a football team, and we have to. We did some good things the other day, but we had too many mental errors.
"People have to understand, if people are going to use us as a barometer, we got to set the barometer high. We certainly didn't do that the other day."
New spot for Essex
Left tackle Trai Essex (groin), who did not play against the Cardinals, also returned to practice and found himself at a new position -- left guard.
Cowher said he is trying to identify players who can play more than one position. He did not say the move is permanent.
"With the group we have, we're looking for some versatile guys who can be out there for game day," Cowher said.
Almost as a bit of theatrical foreshadowing, defensive end Brett Keisel began his new role as a starter with the kind of play people wonder he can make -- stopping the run.
And he did it in impressive fashion, taking an inside rush, blowing through a block and dropping Arizona running back Edgerrin James for a 2-yard loss on the first play Saturday.
"I told Aaron [Smith] before the game, I knew they had Edgerrin so I knew they were probably going to run on the first play and what better place to go than at the new guy -- let's run at him and see if he can do anything," Keisel said. "They gave us a great call, let me go inside and it worked out perfect."
For good measure, Keisel also made the tackle on the next play when he dropped quarterback Kurt Warner after a 5-yard scramble on second down. Keisel is replacing departed veteran Kimo von Oelhoffen on the right side. Unlike von Oelhoffen, Keisel is known more as a pass-rushing end.
"We understand when a call is made," Keisel said. "Those are my keys. If I get a run-defense call, that's the first thing I do. And when I feel like it's a pass situation, I'm getting in a sprinters' stance and trying to do the things I can do and get in the quarterback's face."
Gardocki wants to stay
Chris Gardocki has three more years remaining on a contract that will pay him $1,088,750 this season, and he would like to remain with the Steelers until his contract expires.
Gardocki, though, is 36 and entering his 16th NFL season, and the Steelers like the strong leg on backup punter Mike Barr, who is in his third training camp with the Steelers and has played the past two years in NFL Europe.
"I'd like to finish out my contract," Gardocki said. "That's my goal from when I originally signed with Pittsburgh. Whenever anyone gets in this league, you're thankful to get a start in this league and I've just been very fortunate to play as long as I have. And I plan on playing for a few more years. I truly enjoy it."
Gardocki has never had a punt blocked in 1,112 attempts, an NFL record. Cowher has often cited Gardocki's quick kicks as a reason for his effectiveness.
"There's a peace of mind knowing you can get it out of there quick," Gardocki said. "That's the last thing you want to do. You want to get the ball as far down [the field] as you can and you don't want to start it off with a negative play.
"It's one of those things I've taken pride in and always work on, and I'll always keep working on it. I'll never stop working on it till I get done playing."
Jacobs finds comfort
After struggling and appearing confused his first couple weeks at camp, rookie quarterback Omar Jacobs seemed more comfortable when he played in the fourth quarter against the Cardinals.
Jacobs, a fifth-round pick, completed 5 of 7 passes for 61 yards and a touchdown -- a soft but perfect 1-yard throw to rookie tight end Isaac Smolko in the corner of the end zone. His passer rating was 137.5, highest in the game.
"Instinct," Jacobs said. "You stop thinking so much about a lot of the assignments. When I got out there, my natural instinct took over and I played football -- the game I like to play."
Jacobs' peculiar throwing motion -- he looks as if he's throwing darts -- is because he was a sidearm pitcher in baseball and never changed his delivery.
"I was always accurate," he said. "So why change it?"
The Steelers practice once today at 3 p.m. The session is open to the public.