Essex showing flashes of brilliance
By Jim Wexell, For the Herald-Standard
Updated 08/12/2008 12:15

LATROBE - Trai Essex is playing so well these days, he's being mentioned as a leading contender for the Ed Block Courage Award.

Oh, wait, that's Pitt.

But the Steelers' fourth-year offensive lineman is being lauded for having his best camp with the team by far.

"I just came into this year with a different focus," said Essex. "I knew this was my year. I've got a one-year contract, so I've got to prove to the coaches I can handle whatever they can give me."

Essex is actually in the final year of his first contract after being drafted in the third round by the Steelers. It's that first-day draft status that has caused many to look at him as a disappointment, but he's improved drastically in what appears to be a salary drive.

"No, it's not the money," he said. "I want to play. It's my fourth year. I've been a spot guy for three years. I just want to play."

Monday morning, Essex moved back to left tackle where he replaced Marvel Smith on the first team to give the starter a rest. In the afternoon, he was the star of the only scuffle in camp this year. Here's the blow by blow:

Essex stoned pass-rusher Ryan McBean and a frustrated McBean began pushing and shoving.

McBean muttered to teammates and coaches on his way back to his side, but the coaches told him to step back up. One said, "You want to whip his (butt), whip it now."

Essex stoned McBean again, but this time threw him to the ground and gave him an extra slap on the chest while he was down. McBean hopped up and began throwing punches/slaps and the fight was quickly broken up.

You don't tug on Superman's cape, or mess with the leading Ed Block Award candidate.


After watching tape, one team official lauded the play of the offensive line Friday night, and one player in particular: "It was Sean Mahan's finest hour," he said.

But all it got Mahan was a place with the second team as Justin Hartwig, acquired in the offseason, began to prepare for his pre-planned start Thursday.

"We're going to start Justin and take a look at him," Coach Mike Tomlin said of the center competition. "It's running its course. I think we'll have more information after we play Thursday night."

The Steelers will also have a new nose tackle Thursday night. Casey Hampton, fresh off the PUP list, will resume his spot with the first team.

"It looks like he's knocking the rust off pretty quickly," Tomlin said.


Charlie Batch underwent surgery to repair his broken collarbone, but Tomlin couldn't provide any more specifics. Also missing practice were DE Kyle Clement (knee sprain), LB Mike Humpal (stinger), FS Ryan Mundy (ankle), CB Deshea Townsend (groin) and OLB James Harrison (shin).

Tomlin explained that Harrison was kicked in the shin and experienced some swelling, but is expected back Tuesday.

Tomlin was asked for a prognosis on whoever kicked Harrison.

"He's out," Tomlin said.