The Steelers' top four draft selections have, at various times in training camp, shown flashes of the promise the team saw in them as college players.
Le'Veon Bell, a second-round pick out of Michigan State, has done so much that he is the likely starter at running back when the regular season opens. No. 1 pick linebacker Jarvis Jones, receiver Markus Wheaton (third round) and safety Shamarko Thomas (fourth round) have made their mark and figure to contribute in the regular season.
But, for the rest of this draft class, time is running short to make an impression, especially for two lower-round choices that returned to practice this week after missing most of training camp with injuries.
Cornerback Terry Hawthorne, a fifth-round selection from Illinois, returned to practice Monday after having right knee surgery this spring. Defensive lineman Nick Williams, a seventh-round pick out of Division I-AA Samford, also returned to practice Monday after sitting out last week with a knee injury.
Hawthorne was drafted to provide depth in the defensive backfield, but he must demonstrate in short order why he is worthy of a roster spot.
"On Monday, I pretty much did everything," Hawthorne said. "I went through individual and team [drills] and felt great about it. I'm ready to do some more."
One way for Hawthorne to get on the 53-man roster is to excel on special teams. Hawthorne said he is not a starter on any of the special-team units, but he will be tried as gunner on the punt team. He also has experience as a returner at Illinois.
Hawthorne will have his first opportunity to show what he can do in a game Monday night when the Steelers visit the Washington Redskins for the second preseason contest.
"Everyone still has to show what they can do out there," Hawthorne. "I just have to keep myself in it mentally and stay positive about everything."
Williams was a long shot to make the team before he was injured. Missing so many practices this summer hurt his chances even more.
"It's been uneven, but, hey, what can you do?" Williams said of his first training camp. "It's part of the game, getting injured. I'm bouncing back and trying to learn as much as I can right now."
Unless he wowed them in camp, the Steelers had Williams pegged as a practice-squad candidate because he only started playing football as a senior in high school and did not earn a starting job at Samford until his junior year.
Williams concentrated on basketball in high school and must learn the nuances of playing in the defensive line.
Keisel on 'youth juice'
If veteran defensive end Brett Keisel is slowing down in his 12th NFL season, his teammates haven't noticed.
Linebacker Lawrence Timmons said Keisel is as feisty as ever in what might be his final season with the Steelers. Keisel is entering the final year of his contract.
"He hustles hard," Timmons said. "I always see him in the weight room. I don't feel like age is bothering him right now. He has some type of youth juice. He's doing real good for us right now."
Reserve guard Justin Cheadle, injured in practice Monday, has what coach Mike Tomlin referred to as a "significant" hamstring injury. He is week to week rather than day to day. ... After allowing a blocked punt, fumbling a punt return and other assorted mistakes against the New York Giants Saturday in the preseason opener, Tomlin continued to stress special-teams work in practice: "It's an emphasis," he said. "Special teams is one thing you don't practice out here full speed. You really don't get a litmus of where you are until you step into a stadium. Obviously, we're not where we need to be, so we work with a different mindset based on the knowledge we acquire from in-stadium work. We'll put guys in better position. Hopefully, guys will make better decisions and play smarter this week."Steelers - mobilehome
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.