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Inside the ropes: Johnson improving as blocker

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Saturday, July 28, 2012, 7:12 p.m.
 

• Tight end David Johnson might not catch a lot of passes, but he proved on Saturday he's vastly improved as a blocker. Johnson, who had 12 receptions and a touchdown last season, was dominant at fullback during blocking drills back-on-backers drill. With Heath Miller sitting out practice, Johnson stole the spotlight.

• Cornerback Curtis Brown, who was slowed some by nagging hamstring injuries last season, was working hard to make an impression. He's tried out both flanks and turned in some duty as the nickel back. But he was working overtime on special teams, where he excelled as a rookie with a team-high 15 tackles.

• With money comes responsibility, and WR Antonio Brown was challenged by coach Mike Tomlin to fire up the receiving corps. He did so by reeling in an acrobatic catch, one topped only by a twisting, diving grab on a come-back route by Emmanuel Sanders, who is working with the first team during Mike Wallace's holdout.

• Tomlin is fueled by enthusiasm and caged anger. So, he was pleased as guard Willie Colon ignited a brawl on the first snap of a controlled scrimmage. Colon tangled with a handful of defensive players, including LB Chris Carter.

• Ohio State products OT Mike Adams (2nd-round pick) and DE Cam Heyward (2011 first-rounder) reunited during an intense drill. Adams may have more to prove, but Heyward won a split decision.

• RB Baron Batch was in contact drills for the first time since suffering a season-ending knee injury during the final practice before last year's preseason opener. Batch didn't blink an eye in the back-on-backers drill. “I like that there was no hesitation in his play,” Tomlin said.

• Starting inside linebackers Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons didn't overwhelm the coaches during blocking drills. A frustrated Foote pulled himself together after twice getting challenged by Tomlin. “We're putting them in the process of them being in competitive situations,” Tomlin said. “Obviously, we won't read much into it.”

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