Training camp at Saint Vincent gave way Monday to the Pittsburgh Steelers returning to their practice facility at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side.
The transition coincides with preparation for the third preseason game, otherwise known as the “dress rehearsal” for the regular-season opener.
It’s the game in which veterans such as Ben Roethlisberger, David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey will make their first — and likely only — appearance before the real thing in September.
Coach Mike Tomlin referred to it as “simulation week,” with players watching film Monday before practice. Players will get their customary day off Tuesday before returning for three days of practice in advance of the game Sunday night at the Tennessee Titans.
It’s the same routine the players enjoy in the regular season.
“It’s a good exercise for all of us — coaches and players,” Tomlin said.
It’s an exercise some veterans covet, but others believe isn’t mandatory in order to properly prepare for the regular season.
Defensive tackle Cameron Heyward played 12 snaps Saturday in the second preseason game against Kansas City and is looking forward to getting some work against the Titans.
“I need it,” Heyward said. “I feel clumsy without it. That’s just me. I’ve got to be out there. I feel like it helps me.”
Cornerback Joe Haden is entering his 10th season and is dealing with an ankle contusion that has kept him out of practice for more than a week. Haden offered no timetable for his return and was unfazed about potentially missing a third preseason game.
“It doesn’t really matter,” he said. “I’ve gone through a lot of preseasons. As long as I’m ready for New England, I think I’ll be good to go.”
The offensive line, a group that relies on cohesion and repetition, has been without Pouncey (back) and DeCastro (unspecified injury) for chunks of training camp. The starting five — Pouncey, guards Ramon Foster and DeCastro, and tackles Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler — worked as a unit Monday.
“Practice always makes you better,” Pouncey said. “You’ve always got to go out there and work hard every single day. I know some of us get days off and some of us are a little bit more advanced, but it’s always nicer when you are playing football together.”
Foster and Villanueva made their preseason debuts Saturday. Feiler has played in both games, but took most of his snaps at guard in place of DeCastro. Feiler was back at right tackle Monday.
“It’s important so you can get familiar with everybody again and hear the calls being made and kind of know how everybody plays next to you,” Feiler said.
For a group with four starters entering their fifth season together and another in Feiler who started 10 games last season, the game at Tennessee will represent their only chance to play as a unit in the preseason.
“If you like playing football, you look forward to every week,” Pouncey said. “It’s a chance to get better. I know it’s the preseason, and I know it sounds weird saying it, but it’s an opportunity. There are only 15-20 snaps to go out there and play your hardest.”
Pouncey would be forgiven if, like Haden, he didn’t mind skipping the preseason entirely. It was four years ago, while playing in the second preseason game (after also playing in the first) that Pouncey broke his fibula, an injury that ultimately cost him the entire season.
Pouncey has played in only four of a possible 14 preseason games since.
“Guys get hurt in the offseason. Injuries are going to happen, you can never predict them,” Pouncey said. “If I knew I was going to get injured, I wouldn’t go in there that play. But it doesn’t work like that.”