Receivers vs. defensive backs as tempers flare at Steelers camp
The Pittsburgh Steelers don't play their first exhibition games until a week from Sunday, but already there is rivalry developing in training camp: the wide receivers against the defensive backs.
A few minutes after safety Tyrone Carter yanked wide receiver Nate Washington to the ground and the two began scuffling during the team's lone practice Saturday, Hines Ward yelled at safety Anthony Smith for what he felt were several cheap hits on receiver Willie Reid.
Ward decided to step in, he said, because new coach Mike Tomlin and his assistants were permitting Reid to get hit hard when he wasn't expecting it.
"It's been happening all day," Ward complained, still agitated even after catching extra passes following the nearly two-hour practice. "Yeah, you do it one time, but you don't let it keep happening and happening. If the coaches ain't going to stay anything about it, then hell, maybe a player has to stay something about it. Let's be smart, we're on the same team, we're not the opponent."
Reid, limited to one game as rookie last season because of a foot injury, is willing to absorb some contact during non-scrimmage conditions but doesn't want any repeats of Saturday.
"It's nothing personal, or nothing I'm going back in there (to the locker room) and get upset about. I like a little contact every now and then, but nothing excessive," Reid said. "Nothing that should go on past tomorrow and the next day. Until the preseason games, that should be it."
Smith put Reid down hard during a routine passing drill that was being run at less than game speed.
"Willie's slowing up on the play and somebody hits him," Ward said. "How far do you go to be cleared out of the way• We don't need a man to go down off something stupid. You lose somebody off a great hit• C'mon."
The twin flareups came as the first week of the Steelers' first camp under Tomlin is winding down, and may illustrate to him one of the challenges of being an NFL head coach. Namely, how to develop a physical, tough-minded team without crossing the line and becoming a dirty one that hurts itself by drawing poor penalties and relying too much on emotion.
"It's competitive and that's what training camp is about," Tomlin said. "You'd much rather say 'Whoa' than 'Sic 'em,' So we're having to say 'Whoa' a little bit. The main thing is to stay professional and leave it on the grass."
Smith, a third-round pick from Syracuse a year ago, is pressing Ryan Clark at free safety by attempting to show he can be physical and a strong downfield defender. Reid, also a third-rounder last year, is attempting to make an impression after getting little out of his rookie season.
"I know at times tempers are going to flare," Tomlin said. "Part of building this team is understanding and controlling our emotions, because they're going to flare on Sundays in the fall. It's also showing your ability to take some blows and catch some balls and bounce back. Willie Reid is distinguishing himself because of some of the things that are happening."
Carter blamed himself for getting upset at Washington, and Tomlin cautioned Carter would have been penalized during a game.
"I had to keep my poise and not get a stupid penalty like that," Carter said. "I'm not going to let anybody throw no ball at me. ... But I acted crazy by doing that."
Wide receiver Santonio Holmes, last year's first-rounder, practiced for the first time after sitting out four days with an unspecified medical problem not related to football. Holmes skipped team drills but participated in individual drills.
"He's going to do everything tomorrow (Sunday) so he can start catching up," Tomlin said.
First-round pick Lawrence Timmons (groin) sat out a third consecutive afternoon practice, and Tomlin offered no timetable for his return. Earlier, Tomlin called off a planned morning practice and did so for Sunday, when the Steelers will practice only once.