LATROBE - Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes hooked up for an unforgettable pass and catch six months ago in Super Bowl XLIII.
On Saturday morning, the two were back at it again, but under a much different setting and with much different results.
"First ball on the ground!'' Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians yelled out after Holmes dropped a sideline pass from Roethlisberger during drills on a sunny day at St. Vincent College.
Holmes nearly dropped the next pass thrown to him and then had one clang off his shoulder pads. A little later, he stumbled in a cut and failed to haul in the ball with one hand.
"I thought you were going down on that one,'' Roethlisberger yelled to him.
Not exactly Super Bowl MVP stuff.
The defending Super Bowl champion Steelers began their 2009 training camp on an artificial surface newly installed on one of the camp practice fields. The main natural grass fields had a swampy feel to them after recent heavy rains.
Holmes and veteran receiver Hines Ward stayed after the first practice to get in a little extra work before a massive crowd showed up for the afternoon session.
"It was a great day one,'' Ward said. "But we left a lot of balls on the field.''
The offense was not the only unit having first-day problems. Starting free safety Ryan Clark said he felt rusty but made up for it in other ways.
"I probably messed up a few things,'' Clark said, "but my trash talk game is all the way back. I mean it's on point. I'm very witty right now.''
The Steelers have more than one month to work out the kinks and get ready to defend their crown. With 20 out of 22 starters returning, the team should be a well-oiled machine - if everything goes as planned - by the time it faces the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 10.
They'll use this camp not only to get in football shape and build a 53-man roster, but they'll also use it as the beginning stages of building camaraderie and chemistry. Clark said he did his part by helping a rookie complete his run test on Friday.
"I did my good deed, and now I'm done for camp,'' Clark said. "No longer am I going to be nice to the offensive guys except for the guys that we really, really, really need. I'll have the wide receivers vote on who I get to knock out some day when I'm mad, hot and bothered.''
Those days may be coming, but Saturday was just a day to get started, to put away the memories of Super Bowl XLIII and begin another season.
"It all starts here,'' Ward said. "This is where we build the foundation.''
Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or email@example.com.