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Steelers' Reid displays toughness early in camp

It's a wonder the Steelers didn't check Willie Reid's jersey for a bull's-eye after last Saturday's practice, or at least something that said a gust of wind hits harder than Anthony Smith.

Smith, the feisty free safety, popped Reid in successive days last week, and the licks he delivered to the second-year wide receiver/punt returner during 11-on-11 drills touched off some verbal sparring between the wideouts and defensive backs.

What almost became lost amid the heated exchanges between the two sides and a perturbed Hines Ward saying that the defensive backs needed to chill was this: Reid hung onto the ball both times he got decked.

The toughness he displayed no doubt found its way into the positives category regarding the Steelers' first week of training camp. It may have been necessary, too, because Reid didn't get to show much toughness or much of anything his rookie season.

He sustained a mid-arch sprain in his left foot while returning a kickoff in an Oct. 8 game at San Diego and missed the rest of the season.

Fans no doubt grumbled about the Steelers using a third-round pick on some fragile wide receiver, but Reid has been anything but brittle during camp thus far.

He hasn't experienced any problems with his foot, and after Smith belted him last Saturday, Reid popped right up and spun the ball at Smith's feet.

"Willie Reid has proven to us that he doesn't have any fear, that he can catch balls in traffic," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's distinguishing himself because of some of the things that can happen (in practice)."

Reid shining in early practices has been a pleasant surprise, especially since the Steelers were concerned enough about his foot -- he missed most of the OTA practice after experiencing soreness in it -- that they signed wide receiver/punt returner Dan Sheldon before the start of training camp.

"I think I'm a lot ahead of the ball from last year," Reid said.

The 5-10, 187-pounder could catch his share of balls as a slot receiver, because the Steelers plan to spread the field more this season. That is, of course, assuming he stays healthy.

"That's all it's been about," wide receiver Cedrick Wilson said on what has held Reid back.

The Steelers need Reid to stay healthy so he can also return punts and kickoffs.

He left Florida State as one of the more successful punt returners in Atlantic Coast Conference and school history. He and Deion Sanders are the only players in Florida State history to eclipse 1,000 yards in career punt return yards. Reid returned three punts for touchdowns during his senior year, including one against Penn State in the Orange Bowl.

Along with an alma mater and the ability to make tacklers miss, Reid and Sanders have something else in common: Both like to talk.

Reid did some of that to the defensive backs last week, which partly explains why he got treated like a pinata.

"He's doing a nice job as a wideout, he's doing a nice job as a return man," Tomlin said. "Again, it's still early, but I like his attitude. He comes out with the same approach every day."

"I'm real proud he thinks that of me," Reid said, "but I'm just trying to go out here and get better every day. That's just my main focus right now."

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