MINNEAPOLIS -- Did Mike Mularkey sneak back into the offensive coordinator's seat for a few plays last night?
It certainly looked like one of those wicky-whacky calls from the 2002, 2003 seasons. Instead, this was coordinator Bruce Arians who had quarterback Ben Roethlisberger split wide ala Hines Ward twice in the first quarter and had halfback Willie Parker take a direct snap from center and run with the ball.
One came on first down at the Steelers 45 on their second offensive series. Roethlisberger split wide right and Parker took the snap and ran for 5 yards. The second occurred on the first play of their third series, from their 19. This time, Roethlisberger lined up on the left and ran in motion to the right. Parker took the snap and gained nothing.
Linebacker Larry Foote left in the first quarter with a knee injury. Coach Mike Tomlin said afterward he does not think it is a major injury, but Foote will have tests in Pittsburgh to make sure.
Tomlin returned to his previous coaching office, the Metrodome, for the first time last night. He served one year as the Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator before the Steelers hired him as their coach in 2007.
He arrived last night a bit more experienced head coach. He explained the difference a year made.
"The reality is that I have a better understanding of the men that I work with, strengths and weaknesses. I'm probably more focused on specific areas of our football team's development as opposed to last year when I was looking at everything.
"You probably don't miss as much when you have a focused attention to what it is you're looking at as opposed to watching the whole thing."
Troy Polamalu dressed for a game for the first time this preseason, but did not play. Tyrone Carter started his third consecutive game at strong safety.
Polamalu put in a virtual full week of practice, starting Tuesday. He came off the physically unable to perform list that day after recovering from a hamstring injury that kept him out of the entire Saint Vincent training camp. Polamalu did not work with the first team all last week.
The Steelers have developed some good depth in their offensive line.
It appears Justin Hartwig will start at center. If so, his two backups, veteran Sean Mahan and second-year player Darnell Stapleton, can each play guard and center. While Stapleton, an undrafted rookie last year from Rutgers, has little experience, he has shown coaches he can play.
"He is quietly a very effective football player,'' Tomlin said. "Sometimes you say he's a good little football player, but he's 310 pounds. He plays with great leverage. He's football smart. He has position flexibility. He's a guy who always is in the hunt and probably will be up until the 11th hour."
They also have two veteran tackles. Max Starks, who started two seasons at right tackle before Willie Colon beat him out last year, can play either side. Trai Essex can play either side, plus guard.
The Steelers did not dress four injured players last night: punter Daniel Sepulveda, quarterback Charlie Batch, tight end Cody Boyd and rookie linebacker Mike Humpal. ... Rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall was the lone deep man on the opening kickoff and returned it 25 yards. ... Tight end Heath Miller finally had a pass thrown to him in a game, and it came on the first play. He caught it for 5 yards. ... Santonio Holmes returned his first punt, and ran it back 10 yards. Mewelde Moore was back there for the second punt, but Holmes was back for the third.