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Steelers, Bills play nice during joint practice

Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon battles with Bills center Eric Wood on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, at St. Vincent College near Latrobe.

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By Alan Robinson
Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 7:51 p.m.

When push came to shove, the Steelers and Buffalo Bills didn't go any further than that.

Unlike other NFL joint practices this month that have been disrupted by fighting — including a full-scale brawl Tuesday involving the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders — the Bills and Steelers managed to avoid throwing punches during a 2 12-hour practice Wednesday.

The format — seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 passing with minimal contact, plus some pass rushing and tight ends/backs vs. linebackers drills — was meant to encourage work and discourage extracurricular activities. And it largely succeeded.

There were a couple of brief shoving incidents that didn't percolate into anything else, and for that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin credited the teams' “professionalism.” He used that term four different times during a 2 12-minute, post-practice news conference.

“I thought it was great practice and great etiquette. … It doesn't get reported enough. We like to turn on the TV and see gory, unfortunate incidents like what happened between Dallas and Oakland,” Tomlin said. “We're here to prove that teams are capable of coming together and doing it in a productive and professional manner, and I compliment both teams for how they did it today.”

As Bills and Steelers team leaders gathered at midfield before the practice, Tomlin could be heard saying, “Let's do this the right way.”

NFL teams only recently revived the two-team practice concept. The Steelers and Washington Redskins scrimmaged almost annually for a decade until 1999.

But multiple fights have disrupted multiple practices this month, with Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith ejecting one of his own players during a practice with the Tennessee Titans in which one player threw a helmet at another.

The Cowboys-Raiders brawl was full scale and spilled over into an area where fans were watching. One spectator threw punches at a Cowboys player. Last year, Cary Williams of the Philadelphia Eagles was tossed out for fighting during a practice against the New England Patriots.

Many more such fights, and the NFL might rethink the idea of allowing two teams to share a practice field before a season.

Avoiding a headline-creating ruckus seemed to be on Tomlin's mind. At one point, he walked by a group of reporters watching a blocking drill and referred to them as “ambulance chasers” and questioned if they were there only to see a fight.

“I think we've got an obligation to show our professionalism,” he said.

The Bills and Steelers practice again at 5:30 p.m. Thursday before playing a preseason game Saturday night at Heinz Field. Whether they'll still be friendly “dance partners,” as Tomlin referred to them, is yet to be determined.

Ben Roethlisberger seemed to enjoy his work, though it wasn't substantial, against a Bills defense that plays a 4-3 scheme rather than the Steelers' 3-4.

“Going against new guys is good because going against the same guy every day, you learn how that guy is,” he said.

However, it was about as vanilla as it gets strategy-wise. Roethlisberger went with a single snap count and didn't employ hand signals or audibles.

“One time I changed the count and got them to jump, but we kept it very, very basic, and we will tomorrow, too,” he said.

Of the lack of hostility, he said, “There was a little bit, but nothing crazy.”

No doubt Tomlin and Bills coach Doug Marrone are hoping the dance partners decorum of Day 1 carries over into Thursday.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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