Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011
Pittsburgh Steelers practice pool report
By Peter King
Pro Football Writers of America
FORT WORTH, Texas—As expected, center Maurkice Pouncey, the keystone to the Pittsburgh offensive line, was absent from the Steelers’ first day of Super Bowl XLV practice at Texas Christian University with a high ankle sprain, while defensive end Aaron Smith (torn triceps) was dressed but limited in the 1-hour, 58-minute session as the Steelers began preparing for Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers.
An ice storm and light snowstorm shut down school at TCU Tuesday and Wednesday, and the Steelers were forced inside the Horned Frogs’ all-purpose practice field because of it. With 17-mph winds howling outside, making the wind-chill temperature 4 degrees, Pittsburgh worked crisply in 51-degree temperatures inside the unheated Sam Baugh Indoor Practice Facility 38 miles west of Dallas.
Pouncey, the rookie from Florida who stepped into the starting center job early in training camp and never relinquished it until suffering the ankle injury early in the AFC title game 10 days ago, has been walking with a protective boot on the right ankle. Tomlin said he was inside the TCU trainers room rehabbing while the team practiced and would not predict if he might be able to even practice by Friday. Pouncey said this week there was a 75 percent chance he would play Sunday, but that may be overly optimistic.
"He’s a center who’s got a high ankle sprain,’’ said Tomlin, minutes after dismissing his team for the afternoon. "If he played a skill position, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But he’s an interior lineman. Whether he practices [by Friday] depends how he responds to treatment.’’
But the chances of Smith playing seem far lower than Pouncey’s. He injured his left triceps Oct. 24 against Miami, and the Steelers held out hope that the 34-year-old Smith might be able to return at some point in the playoffs. Asked if he had any realistic hope that Smith could be ready to play Sunday, Tomlin said: "I do, but it’s fading.’’ As he has since midseason, second-year man Ziggy Hood took Smith’s place at left end.
Noticeable for his performance Wednesday was center Doug Legursky, who faces the daunting task of making his first career start at center in the Super Bowl if Pouncey can’t play. Steeler centers have traditionally been athletic pullers and blockers, and Legursky fit that description in the first practice of the week. The 6-1, 315-pound Legursky was quick to get outside on some running plays, the way Tomlin has asked. "He’s an athletic guy,’’ said Tomlin. "And I’ve challenged him to get out and run and lead that group.’’
The Steelers seemed loose and comfortable in their surroundings, despite the chilly feel that had some players dressed like it was an outdoor December practice on the South Side of Pittsburgh. The Steelers re-installed much of the Super Bowl gameplan that was begun last week in Pittsburgh, with some extra emphasis on red-zone defense.
"One thing we’re used to is weather,’’ said Tomlin. "We’re not going to fight elements. We're used to adjusting as we have to, and we got all our work in. It was a good day.’’
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looked sharp throwing 10- to 12-yard sideline routes. Number three quarterback Charlie Batch, performing with the scout team, was particularly sharp against the first-team defense late in the session, hitting rookie receiver Antonio Brown up the seam for a long gain, and earning praise from Tomlin.
The lightest moment of the afternoon came when starting cornerback Ike Taylor dropped a sure interception. "Save it for the game!’’ linebacker Larry Foote yelled from the sideline. "Save it for the game!’’ But others were more critical of Tayor for the drop. As Tomlin said, "Our peanut gallery was in perfect form today.’’
The FOX TV crew, led by Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, were on hand to watch practice on the 80-yard TCU field.
The Steelers will resume work Thursday at 1:30 p.m. CST inside the TCU facility.