Thursday, August 03, 2006
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers' first night practice of the season ended with a thud -- and nobody knows who delivered the blow.
None of the defensive players wanted to take credit for the thundering fourth-down hit on running back Verron Haynes that caused a fumble and ended the first-team offense's chance of trying to score on the No. 1 defense in the annual goal-line drill last night at Latrobe Stadium.
It was the first time the Steelers have been involved in tackling since the Super Bowl -- and the hit on Haynes showed that somebody hasn't lost his edge.
Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu appeared to be the player who popped Haynes as he tried to score up the middle, but Polamalu smiled sheepishly and refused to take credit for the hit.
"I didn't think that was me," he said.
"Somebody hit him hard," said inside linebacker James Farrior. "I don't remember who it was."
"I don't know," said coach Bill Cowher, who was acting as head linesman for the series. "I didn't see the hit."
The second-team offense got a small measure of revenge on the second series when quarterback Charlie Batch threw a play-action touchdown pass to FB Brandon Joe on second down. But the hit on Haynes had the defense hopping and screaming at the first-team offense.
The first-team offense will get a chance for revenge when the Steelers do the goal-line drill again during the afternoon practice Saturday at St. Vincent College.
"You can't do this enough," Cowher said. "How many opportunities do you get? Those are very, very critical. I always thought it was very important to get at least two good [hitting] sessions in camp for these guys to get a feel for it. That's the first time we've hit since the Super Bowl, and I think it kind of got the juices going a little bit, which is good. We needed to do that."
Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson (Achilles' tendon) did not practice in the morning but took part in individual drills at Latrobe Stadium before sitting out the remainder of practice.
Cowher said he is going to be "very cautious with that [injury]" with Wilson, the team's starting split end.
Tight end Jerame Tuman and center Chukky Okobi also returned to practice. Cowher said the hamstring injuries to wide receiver/kick returner Eugene Baker and rookie inside linebacker Mike Kudla are substantial, and they could be out a couple more weeks.
When the Steelers arrived at Latrobe Stadium at 6:45 p.m., the heat index on the field was 100 degrees, one degree higher than it was Tuesday.
"I thought it was a good night's work," Cowher said.
Nua's stock rises
When the San Francisco 49ers tried to sign defensive end Shaun Nua from the practice squad in November, the Steelers quickly prevented the move by signing him to their 53-man roster.
That's a strong indication of what the Steelers think of Nua, a seventh-round pick in 2005 who came to camp bigger, stronger and more determined.
Nua has been a terror in one-on-one drills against the offensive line, using quickness and newfound strength to win nearly every individual matchup. But Nua said he knows he has to learn how to stop the run before he can play in the 3-4 defense.
"The one-on-one stuff, that's a good thing, but that's not the foundation of this D-line system," Nua said. "I would turn in every pass-rush move I have to be like Kimo [von Oelhoffen] on the run stuff, in a heartbeat. I need to show I can be physical in that line [more] than just be a pass rusher. We'll leave that to Joey [Porter] and Clark [Haggans] and those guys."
Nua, who is 6 feet 5, added 15 pounds in the offseason and weighs 290. His goal was to get big enough to play stronger against the run -- one of the top requirements of defensive ends in the 3-4 defense.
His hero and role model was von Oelhoffen, who left in free agency to sign with the New York Jets.
"Kimo always said, 'You have a good pass rush, so work on that and keep on getting better, but get a lot better in the run-stopping thing,' " said Nua, who is American Samoa. "That's what I need to focus more on. If I have a chance on this team, I need to earn coach [John] Mitchell's and Aaron Smith's respect and especially their trust. I want them to trust me I can do this job and stop the run."
Once will be enough
The Steelers will practice at 3 p.m. today at Saint Vincent College. The session is open to the public.