Landry Jones headed to the Steelers' practice facility expecting to carry out his typical minicamp routine Thursday morning. Coach Mike Tomlin had a different plan for the rookie quarterback, who later signed a four-year contract with the Steelers.
Instead of tossing passes to pro receivers, Jones would throw them to middle and elementary school students.
"They switched it up on us," Jones said. "We got to come out here instead of going to practice, so it was cool."
Jones and the rest of the Steelers rookies joined Tomlin for the first session of his two-day youth football camp at Brashear High School. Boys and girls ranging from first to eighth grade joined Tomlin and the rookies for a day of fundamental football and speeches from the coach and players.
Tomlin's day started at 7:30 a.m., meeting with the camp's area coaches, including ex-Steelers and West Virginia quarterback Rasheed Marshall, to plan the day. He then left the school to meet with another group of coaches and players -- the ones who play for the Steelers.
At the team meeting, he notified his players their final minicamp practice was cancelled, before heading back to Brashear.
"I like the juggling act," Tomlin said of his morning's back and forth. "That lights my fire."
Tomlin brought 24 rookies to the camp, introducing each one and giving them a chance to speak to the kids and explain why they love football -- aside from the thick paychecks and celebrity status that typically parallels playing in the NFL.
Most of the rookies were divided into teams and played quarterback for the kids against one of their Steelers teammates.
One of the competitors Thursday included linebacker Jarvis Jones, the Steelers' first-round pick from the University of Georgia, who felt the camp was a good chance to introduce himself to the Pittsburgh community.
"With me being new to the city," Jarvis Jones said. "Nobody really knows me. They can learn who I am, and I can learn who they are."
Originally from Richland, Ga., Jones never experienced anything like what he saw Thursday and savored the opportunity to have an impact on lives in his new city.
"When I was growing up, I never really got a chance to meet any NFL players," Jarvis Jones said. "When I have a chance to give back, it's a wonderful feeling."
A staple of Tomlin's camp is its price -- free. Gregg Darbyshire, chief executive officer of ProCamps Worldwide, says corporate sponsors help make the camp free to all participants.
He called it an "impact camp."
"There's two guys we know of in the NFL that do something like this," Darbyshire said. "Coach Tomlin and Coach [Marvin] Lewis in Cincinnati."
Tomlin arrived at the camp at 10:20 a.m., and spent the rest of the day meeting the kids and giving talks about staying out of trouble and following their dreams.
"I don't want to lend my name to stuff, I want to participate," Tomlin said. "I want to roll my sleeves up and get to know these young people. To let them know I'm a regular guy like anyone else."
One of the attendees, Sam Shaffer, 10, learned a few lessons of his own. His father, Steve Shaffer, won tickets to the camp in a radio contest while the two were headed to a Pirates game. Steve said his son hasn't stopped smiling since.
Sam said he learned how to properly catch a football with his hands out in front, rather than trapping it at his chest, along with one other important lesson that Tomlin preached throughout the day: "Never say you can't."
Mike Vernon: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @m_vernon. First Published June 14, 2013 4:00 AM