PITTSBURGH – For whatever reason, Steelers quarterback Bruce Gradkowski
found himself with the ball as he turned the corner and began heading up the field at Wednesday's practice.
There was open grass in front of him, too. But that closed quickly as Lawrence Timmons swooped in from the middle.
That's when Gradkowski did what anyone without a prayer would do: He faked a pitch.
But Timmons didn't bite. No, he closed in and – because of the merciful nature of "football in shorts" – decided not to take Gradkowski's head off.
Coach Mike Tomlin called Gradkowski "Garcia," as in "keep that ball down, Garcia, when the Law Dawg's around."
Timmons is the Law Dawg. Gradkowski is ... Garcia? Jeff Garcia?
"I don't know. But I have heard that one before," Gradkowski said. "Shoot, I love Coach Tomlin's attitude and his charisma out here. He pushes the guys. He wants to get after it.
"There is a great group of guys here, good attitudes that want to win. It's a good team, a good united team. So it's cool to get out here and get a lot of work."
Gradkowski will receive many more first-team reps this spring, because the Steelers advised starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to undergo surgery on his right knee Wednesday morning.
"That was the result of slight discomfort this offseason," Tomlin said via Internet communication. "He will be completely healthy for the start of training camp."
That leaves Gradkowski at the helm. He's the veteran quarterback who returned to his hometown this off-season as a free agent.
Gradkowski, 30, was born in Pittsburgh, grew up in Green Tree, became a WPIAL and PIAA record-setting quarterback at Seton-La Salle High, went off and played at the University of Toledo, and then played for four NFL teams before signing a three-year contract with the Steelers this offseason.
"Hey, I'm really back home right now. I'm in my parent's basement," he said with a laugh.
Gradkowski and his wife Miranda just had their first child, a little girl named Lily. So it's a big time for dad, who really is the Steelers' starting quarterback – even if it's only June.
"It's good to get out here and just get working," he said. "It's a new system. Got to keep learning it every day and pushing to get better."
Word is that Gradkowski has picked up the offense rather well.
"He knows what he's doing. He knows the offense," said running back Isaac Redman. "If you have any question about what you have on the play, or what route you've got, he can tell you right like that.
"He knows what he's doing. He ran the no-huddle almost to perfection just now."
And at the end of the session, Gradkowski stepped up into the pocket and lofted a perfect pass to Jerricho Cotchery for a sizable gain.
Since it was his final rep of the day, Gradkowski ran down the field to high-five Cotchery.
"I'm competing out there and Jerricho did a great job with his route, with the catch, and that's what pumped me up," said Gradkowski. "I'm thrilled to be out here with the talent we have on offense. That excites me, and then to have a defense like that behind you? That's pretty special. We just have to keep working every day."
NOTES – Former defensive end Aaron Smith, 37, will be the Steelers' summer scouting intern at training camp. Former tight end Mark Bruener, recently hired as a full-time scout by the Steelers, was the team's summer intern in 2010. ... The Steelers expect Troy Polamalu back for minicamp next week after missing these last two weeks of voluntary OTAs. ... Free safety Ryan Clark missed his second consecutive practice. ... Terry Hawthorne, Justin King and David Paulson dressed but did not practice.
Bruce Gradkowski talks about his temporary reign as Steelers QB while Ben Roethlisberger recovers from minor surgery. More notes from OTA 9.
Local boy Gradkowski learns ropes while Roethlisberger heals.
Bruce vs. Law Dawg in '09 (Gojkovich/Getty Images)