Covering the tight end was not the forte of the Steelers' defense Saturday night.
The big reason the Washington Redskins were able to convert seven of their 10 third downs into first downs was Chris Cooley, their tight end. He caught five passes for 60 yards in the first half, converting four of those third downs.
The Steelers open against a good tight end when they see Kellen Winslow Jr. in Cleveland. They'll get Todd Heap twice with Baltimore. They can't let the tight end run as free as Cooley did through the defense in Washington.
"He's one of their main receivers," linebacker Clark Haggans said. "I know going into the game they're going to try to give him the ball anyway they can. That's part of the Redskins' success. We didn't game-plan around it. They were successful, give them credit."
Haggans does not think the Steelers' defense has any particular problems covering tight ends and said the game Saturday could be beneficial to them.
"It is good practice," Haggans said. "I think this game was probably the most realistic we're going to get with the ebb and flow."
Smith gets shot with first team
Anthony Smith was supposed to get his shot with the first team at free safety last week. Then, he missed practices and the game with an abdominal muscle injury.
Smith returned to practice yesterday, and Tomlin said his competition for the starting job with Ryan Clark is not over. Smith will get his chance with the first team this week.
"He is going to get an opportunity to play," Tomlin said. "We are just not willing to anoint anybody."
Haynes passes test
Verron Haynes is fighting for a roster spot he has held the past five seasons with the Steelers, and he is happy with what he has done.
Saturday night in Washington, he gained 30 yards on seven runs and caught two passes. He also blocked on third downs, a job he has done better than anybody else on the team the past several years.
"That's the nature of this beast," Haynes said. "Each year, you get to start off fresh and reprove yourself."
More so this year for Haynes because there is a new coaching staff and virtually every ligament in his knee was repaired in November.
"I feel really good," he said. He called the game "very important" for him as he tries to hold off a couple of young backs, Carey Davis and Gary Russell, who are trying to crack the Steelers' roster for the first time.
"I had a chance to go in there and show that I'm back and I'm healthy. I think starting it off with a long run definitely boosted my confidence."
Silence is golden
Haynes disclosed that the Steelers used something in Washington that they did not practice much in past seasons -- the silent count. They used it before a loud crowd in Washington.
"We went on the road and wanted to see how we'd transition with a little adversity and also try to put our silent count to the test, and we were successful."
Perhaps, new coordinator Bruce Arians remembers the game in Indianapolis in 2005 in which the Steelers admittedly were unprepared for the kind of noise they faced in a dome. They had numerous false starts, and the coaches acknowledged they did not practice a silent snap count. They did so the next time they played in a dome that season in Minnesota and again when they played the Colts in the playoffs on the road.
The Steelers play in two domes this season, at Arizona Sept. 30 and St. Louis Dec. 20.
Offensive left tackle Marvel Smith (back) and center Chukky Okobi (oblique muscle) returned to practice. Tight end Jerame Tuman (back) remained out. Tomlin said rookie center/guard Darnell Stapleton, who had surgery on his knee early in camp, might resume practicing today.
"I think we are becoming a healthy football team," Tomlin said.
Defensive end Brett Keisel did not practice yesterday, but Tomlin called it "just some lingering effects from the game."
Don't dismiss fullback
Tomlin is not ready to discard the role of the fullback in his offense.
"The fullback has been a dying breed in football, but the reality is situational football is big -- goal-line and short-yardage [situations] where games are won and lost, it's always been big."
The Steelers have hired Dan Ferens, their former business manager and chief contract negotiator in the 1990s. Ferens most recently served in the front office of the Houston Texans. His new role in the Steelers' front office is unspecified, but his involvement covers areas of their business other than the football team.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at email@example.com .