There were plenty of firsts Monday as the Steelers pulled on the pads for their initial contact drills of training camp, and rookie halfback Le'Veon Bell found himself No. 1 quite a bit in the afternoon practice.
Bell went more often than any running back, 10 times, in the traditional Backs on 'Backers drill -- a pass-rushing, full-bore one-on-one confrontation pitting linebackers against blocking running backs.
Then when the first offense took the field to end practice with 11 on 11, Bell was the halfback for four of the five plays, running on three of them.
Mike Tomlin told the media after practice not to read anything into it, "but I'm sure you guys will run with it, so go ahead."
That is what they hope Bell will be doing for much of the season, running with it, helping to improve their No. 26 ground game from 2012.
As their second-round pick, they want to find out about him quickly since they know all about the other contenders for the starting job at halfback, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer.
"He just wanted me to compete," Bell said. "I'm a rookie, a running back, I have to pass-protect. That's something he wants me to see so he put me against some of his better players."
Bell went against LaMarr Woodley in his first two times in the blocking drill and was pitted against first-round pick Jarvis Jones four times. He held his own, although at 6 feet 1 he was bent backward more than the other halfbacks.
"He's a hard worker," said Jones, who mostly used a bull rush in the drill. "He's going to bring it every play. We're trying to tough him up."
Cortez Allen, slated to replace the departed Keenan Lewis as the starting left cornerback, missed his second consecutive practice with what Tomlin called knee "discomfort." Rookie Terry Hawthorne (knee) joined Allen and fellow cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke (hamstring) on the sideline.
Halfback Baron Batch and linebacker Marshall McFadden got into the first fight of training camp, pushing and shoving during the Backs on 'Backers drill. Neither would give way until running backs coach Kirby Wilson pulled Batch out.
"We don't fight out here," Wilson yelled at Batch.
Catching on, sort of
Pittsburgh native Danny Smith, a veteran special teams coach in his first season with the Steelers, has his punt return candidates try to hold as many footballs as they can as they continue to catch punts.
Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Justin Brown each caught five but could not hang onto the sixth.
Among the other punt return candidates are Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Reggie Dunn.
Dwyer slims down, way down
Jonathan Dwyer turned serious about his workouts this summer. He weighed as much as 265 pounds in the spring.
"I lost 25-30 pounds," Dwyer said. "I am about 230 right now and I'll hopefully get down to about 225 before this first preseason game. I'll continue to put in the work and be the best I can be."
Dwyer led the Steelers with 623 yards rushing last season. The media guide lists him at 220 and the updated roster at 229.
"It was dieting and just working hard," Dwyer said of his weight-loss routine this summer. "I worked out two to three times a day, sometimes on Saturdays and Sundays, too. I would run hills and do all types of stuff, not to just lose weight but to be conditioned. This is definitely the best shape I have ever been in since I have been in the league."
He said some teammates were surprised when they saw him at Saint Vincent College.
"Some people have given me double-takes because they don't know who I was.
"It's a good shock for everybody."
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published July 30, 2013 4:00 AM