UNITY TWP. – Ben Roethlisberger complained that his arm won’t be full strength for about a week, but cornerback Joe Burnett wouldn’t believe it. The rookie intercepted a Roethlisberger fastball with one hand – after juggling it – to make a sensational diving catch.
“That was a fastball, like you said,” said Burnett, the 5-9 fifth-round pick who the Steelers view as a return man and nickel back.
The interception was the up in an up-and-down day for Burnett.
Early in practice, Burnett was beaten by at least five yards by rookie speedster Mike Wallace, who hauled in the bomb for a touchdown. Later, Burnett received several reps in the thankless task of punt gunner up against two defenders who took turns smacking him at the line of scrimmage.
Most of the reps included beastly rookie corner Keenan Lewis, who wound up and drilled the pinballing Burnett several times, but Burnett accomplished his goal of slithering through to the return men more times than not.
“Coach put it in my head that he wanted to see me be aggressive. ‘I want you to be my gunner, and I want you to beat the guy in front of you.’ Plain and simple, that’s how he put it to me,” Burnett said. “And I was aggressive. With two guys, they have the advantage and that’s what I’m going to see in a game, so I need the reps, and I got them. I think I opened coach’s eyes with that drill.
“As for Mike Wallace beating me deep, he’s going to do that to a lot of guys. He’s a good player. I was in nickel and I blew the coverage, but you also have to give a handclap for Mike Wallace. He ran a great route.”
MORE THAN A HANDCLAP
Wallace got more than a handclap from noted headhunter Tyrone Carter yesterday. During a 7-on-7 passing drill, one play after fellow safety Ryan Clark showed mercy on Shaun McDonald over the middle, Carter decked Wallace over the middle in a fashion similar to the way Anthony Smith decked Willie Reid the last two camps.
But, Wallace took the killshot, held on to the ball, got up off the ground, and started running for the end zone.
Was he surprised to be hit during the normally easygoing drill?
“Not really,” Wallace said. “I know our DBs are looking to rock the rookies out there. It’s all part of the game. I’m just playing football.”
Wasn’t it over the top?
“It’s all part of coming in. I don’t have a problem with it. I like it, actually. I feel like it’s going to make me better.”
Perhaps the incident, along with brief scuffles between Keyaron Fox and Tony Hills, and Scott Paxson and Ramon Foster, led Tomlin to comment about practice etiquette.
“We have to develop our practice etiquette, professionalism, just like we do our techniques and assignments,” he said.
COME AND GO BLUES
Pint-sized kick returner Stefan Logan was activated from the PUP list in the morning, but last year’s starting right guard, Darnell Stapleton, could be lost for a while. He came to camp with a problematic knee, but sat out both practices yesterday as he walked gingerly around campus.
“His knee acts up every now and then,” Tomlin said of the 23-year-old. “We’re actually taking a look at him (Monday). I’ll have more information in the morning or (Tuesday) afternoon.”
With Justin Hartwig also sidelined with a toe injury, Doug Legursky is now the center. Legursky was a three-year center at Marshall University. He made the Steelers’ practice squad last season as an undrafted rookie.
As for Logan, the 5-6, 180-pounder looked right at home returning punts on the Steelers’ artificial morning practice field. The 28-year-old finished fourth in the CFL in rushing last season and is hoping to catch on with the Steelers as a running back-wide receiver hybrid.
Logan has darting quickness, but there’s a rumor that Willie Parker beat him handily in a 40-yard dash last spring after a practice.
“No,” Logan said of the rumor. “Willie P needs to be out here right now. See, it wasn’t even a race really. We did 16 drills of cone work, and after that Willie P was like, ‘Hey, we’re going to run a 40-yard sprint.’ OK. Are we all out? Or are we just coasting at 75 percent? And he said, ‘No, I’m going all out.’ I was like, OK. After we took off, I didn’t know he was going to take off that fast, and I was like, ‘What?’ So once I saw it, I took off, and right at the line I passed him, so I did win. He’s a veteran so I’ll give it to him. If he wants to say he beat me, then he beat me, but really I won that race. That’s fine though. He said we’ll race again and I’m fine with that.”
Logan said he once ran a 4.35 40, but calls himself a 4.4 man.
“I think I have a legitimate shot as a punt returner, kickoff returner,” he said about making the team. “And I’m pretty sure the coaches would throw a few wrinkles in the offense to get the ball in my hands in the open field, and that’s what they’re trying to do. That’s why I have to take advantage of every opportunity and make something happen.”