Steelers remain old school in training camp

LATROBE, Pa. -- Watching the Pittsburgh Steelers practice at St. Vincent College takes you back to the time when NFL teams held training camps at picturesque small colleges in the countryside. The Steelers, though, are going even more old school this year with how they're practicing.

During Pittsburgh's two-hour session Wednesday, I saw more hits than I witnessed in all of my previous visits in the division combined. And it's not simply putting a hit on a teammate. Three tacklers ganged up to bring running back Jonathan Dwyer to the ground. Cornerback Josh Victorian gave a shot to the head of rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton. Cornerback Curtis Brown delivered a shot on running back LaRod Stephens-Howling so hard in the open field that it put him on his back.

The Steelers are taking this aggressive approach -- coach Mike Tomlin calls it "training camp mode" -- for a reason.

"We got a lot of young people, ones that we're trying to sort out and we're trying to get as many ways as we can to distinguish themselves," Tomlin said after the team's evening practice. "To be quite honest with you, when you introduce physicality to a practice session, it's an opportunity for people to distinguish themselves. We have a lot of young linebackers and safeties and it's the nature of those position. The abiltiy to get people on the ground is a big part of the evaluation process. So, we're practicing in that manner."

Tomlin added, "Obviously, we have some young running backs trying to distinguish themselves. What better way to evaluate them? It just made sense for us. There is some risk involved in it; such is life. We got some things that we have to find out in Latrobe and we have a short amount of time to do it."

Here are some quick notes from Wednesday:

  • The Steelers welcomed back one of their injured cornerbacks when Brown had a full practice. He injured his ankle nine days ago and hadn't practiced since. Brown moved around well while working with the second team.

  • It was a tough day for the backup quarterbacks in the two-minute drills. Bruce Gradkowski hung a pass to the sideline, where it was intercepted by Victorian. Landry Jones suffered the same fate when safety Shamarko Thomas picked him off across the middle.

  • Pittsburgh spent about 20 minutes of practice on special teams. That was a major area of weakness in the preseason opener.

  • As I wrote earlier, the most noticeable change to the Steelers' depth chart was rookie Le'Veon Bell being listed as a co-starter with Isaac Redman at running back. "I wanted it to represent how we intend to work in the game," Tomlin said. "It speaks for itself."