After helping the first-team defense turn back the offense once again at the one-yard line, James Harrison and Brett Keisel lined up with the second-team offense and played key roles in Charlie Batch’s four-yard touchdown pass.
Wing tight end Keisel threw a big block on safety Anthony Smith, and Harrison, who’d blocked linebacker Ron Stanley on the first-down play as the fullback, slipped into the right corner of the end zone to haul in Batch’s throw.
“Just looking at guys,” explained Whisenhunt, who was asked if Harrison had demanded to play fullback for the first time since his high school days.
“Yeah he threatened me. He said he was going to kill me,” Whisenhunt said with a laugh. “He’s got the build for it, and he’s a powerful guy. If you saw the one-on-one running backs the other day, when he ran over the back, that’s the kind of thing a fullback does. You just never know during the course of the season. Usually we carry one fullback active so you’ve got to look at some other guys, and this is the only time that we know for sure it’s live and we’re going to get goal-line work, so in that situation we wanted to look at it.”
“Because I finally got tired of Brett Keisel and James Harrison beating me up about doing it,” Whisenhunt said.
Whisenhunt told the players they’d play offense earlier in the day, prompting Harrison to search for his wrist bands. He told Keisel to do the same, but the defensive end who was recruited to play tight end at BYU, couldn’t bring himself to dress like an offensive player.
“Once he found out he was going, he said ‘Keis, we’ve got to look pretty. We’re on offense now. We’ve got to look pretty.’ But I couldn’t do it,” Keisel said. “James’s going to be so blown up, his head so swollen. He’s probably going to try to look pretty every day now.”
Harrison’s touchdown gave the two players two wins in the goal-line drill in one practice. And in a drill known for its back-and-forth trash talking, Keisel and Harrison didn’t know which side to jeer.
“It’s just a better team all around,” Harrison said. “It’s just us going against each other and possibly that could be me in a game.”
FAST WILLIE AT GOAL LINE
Willie Parker opened as the first-team running back to start the goal-line drill at the five-yard line. He carried twice up the middle for three yards. Verron Haynes lost two when Aaron Smith blew up the offensive line, and then Haynes was stopped at the one on a close call.
None of the backs have put much of a dent into the defense in two goal-line practices, but Whisenhunt’s not concerned.
“We had two passes that were both wide-open walk-ins,” he said of playing against a defense that sold out to stop the run.
“It’s the toughest situation that you can put them in, so it’s the best situation to see how they react, to see if they can find the hole, and more importantly to see how strong they are running inside.”
“Because Willie was lobbying to do it and you want to give Willie a chance,” Whisenhunt said. “He did such a good job for us last year and he’s shown, especially at this camp, that he’s a strong inside runner, so we wanted to give him an opportunity.”
Cowher also praised Parker’s play this camp after answering a question about the outstanding camp performance thus far of wide receiver Nate Washington.
“The other guy who’s having a heck of a camp is Willie Parker,” Cowher said. “If you think about Willie Parker a year ago at this camp, he was probably the fourth back. Through the course of the season he added confidence and you can see in this camp the way this kid’s running, the way he’s catching the ball, a little bit of his blocking. He’s having probably as good a camp as anybody here.”
DESERVED DAY OFF
The Steelers have Sunday off and will return for two practices Monday. They’ll play their preseason opener at Arizona next Saturday. Cowher said he’ll make his decision next week on whether Ben Roethlisberger will play in the game.
“I think he was starting to get a little tired near the end of this week,” Cowher said of Roethlisberger. “The tough part for him was the inability to train prior to coming to camp, so I think he’s in good shape. But the endurance thing we’ll have to continue to look at.”
Hines Ward sat out practice after suffering a minor hamstring injury during Friday’s one-minute drill. Cowher said Ward’s day-to-day. James Farrior returned for limited work Saturday after missing Friday with a sore lower back. Rookie receiver Isaac West has a bone bruise on his knee and could miss a week. Eugene Baker and Mike Kudla continue to nurse hamstring injuries that will keep them sidelined for awhile. Joey Porter (knee) is expected back next week.