PITTSBURGH - The Steelers brought in a young punter Thursday for two reasons: to work him out for potential service in the future and to give their return men the chance to catch punts from a left-footed punter.
So, Ricky Schmitt, of Shepherd University, a Division II school in West Virginia, gave the Steelers their money's worth yesterday.
A lifelong Steelers fan, Schmitt's father attended Gateway High School in nearby Monroeville before moving his family to Virginia Beach, Va. Schmitt was a soccer star in high school, but began kicking his senior year. He then went on to set 10 kicking records at Shepherd, where he was a three-time All-Conference punter and placekicker. His 44-yard punting average as a senior would've placed him among the national leaders, but he only punted 41 times all season and didn't qualify statistically.
Schmitt was signed after the 2007 draft by the Arizona Cardinals, and averaged 38 yards on three kicks in the preseason, but was waived at the end of camp. He signed with San Francisco this year and averaged 43.7 yards per punt in the preseason and was again waived.
The Steelers aren't expected to sign Schmitt, but have his workout on record in case 36-year-old veteran Mitch Berger falters. Berger averaged 43 yards per his three punts last Sunday against the Texans. His net average was 41.3.
Cleveland punter Dave Zastudil, a lefty, averaged 40.6 gross and 35 net last Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.
BEN PRACTICES, WILL PLAY: Ben Roethlisberger returned to practice Thursday, but was limited because of his sore right shoulder. Roethlisberger hurt the shoulder against the Texans when he was sacked by Mario Williams.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin expects Roethlisberger to be ready for full duty Sunday night in Cleveland.
"He's pushing forward toward game-readiness and (Friday) will be a better day I'm sure," Tomlin said. "He'll be ready to play on Sunday."
Tomlin wasn't as certain about left cornerback Deshea Townsend, who missed his second practice this week with a foot injury.
"I really don't have the answer to that right now," Tomlin said. "He wasn't good enough to go (Thursday). We'll see where he is (Friday), but as of right now he's not game ready. We're taking it day by day."
Those two were the only players to miss all or part of Thursday's Steelers practice. In Cleveland, the Browns practiced a second day this week without safety Sean Jones (knee), rookie tight end Martin Rucker (knee) and wide receiver Donte Stallworth (quadricep).
Participating on a limited basis for the Browns were kick returner Josh Cribbs (ankle), linebacker Kris Griffin (elbow), guard Rex Hadnot (knee), safety Brodney Pool (concussion), OT Ryan Tucker (hip) and linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (groin).
McHUGH UP TO SPEED: New Steelers tight end/fullback Sean McHugh, who sat out last Sunday's game with a slight ankle injury and also because he wasn't up to speed on the offense, is expected to suit up this week.
"He's showing he's moved toward game-readiness," Tomlin said. "Of course, we're not throwing the entire playbook at him. I think that would be unrealistic. But he is functional in terms of the packages he's been asked to learn at this point. That's been encouraging."
QUOTABLE: Tomlin on whether he should, like the Dallas Cowboys, pass frequently against the Browns' injury-depleted secondary:
"We're concerned about our player's personalities and playing to our strengths. What Dallas was able to do was right and good for Dallas. It may play out very differently because we're not Dallas; we're the Steelers. We're going to put together our plan and that is going to include some passing, but not to mirror what Dallas did. We're going to play to our strengths."