Training Camp Report: Bowling Night Breaks Up Camp Schedule

The two-minute drill toward the end of Monday’s practice ended in a draw, with the No. 1 defense stopping the No. 1 offense with a turnover, but the No. 2 offense putting together a successful drive for a field goal against the No. 2 defense. - More Training Camp Photos | Audio | Video


Head Coach Mike McCarthy surprised the players on Monday night, telling them they wouldn't have their regular evening meetings.

They were going bowling instead.

The announcement in the meeting room after dinner elicited some hoots and hollers, and shortly afterward the team piled into three buses and was off to the new Pro Bowl lanes in Howard, Wis., for what turned into a very competitive couple of hours of team-building.

"They were very physical at practice today, so I thought it was a good time to get away and build group dynamics," McCarthy said, as the trash-talking began before the actual bowling did. "These guys will compete for a buck, let alone a championship."

All the players and coaches were divided into 35 teams of three players each, and everyone bowled two games to determine two finalist squads. The trio of strength and conditioning assistant Mark Lovat, rookie tight end Clark Harris and linebacker A.J. Hawk finished their two games with an 851 total, or an average of 142 per man per game. The other top squad was cornerbacks coach Lionel Washington, tight end Bubba Franks and rookie quarterback Paul Thompson, who totaled 888, or a 148 average.

The championship match was bowled using the "Baker format," in which the three players on each team bowl one collective game – rotating one frame at a time through the first nine and then selecting which teammate should bowl the 10th.

With the rest of the squad gathered around and watching intently, Thompson and Washington gave their squad the early lead with strikes in the first two frames. But a similar double by Lovat and Harris in the seventh and eighth, combined with a spare-strike by Harris in the 10th, lifted their team to victory. The final score was 165-144 in favor of Lovat, Harris and Hawk.

The highest individual game of the evening was rolled by cornerback Jarrett Bush, with a 212.

No. 1 Defense, No. 2 Offense Win Two-Minute Drill

The two-minute drill toward the end of Monday's practice ended in a draw, with the No. 1 defense stopping the No. 1 offense with a turnover, but the No. 2 offense putting together a successful drive for a field goal against the No. 2 defense.

With the No. 1 units on the field, the offense trailed 14-10 with 1:48 on the clock and needed to drive 70 yards for a touchdown. The defense was in a dime alignment, with six defensive backs.

A 5-yard run by Brandon Jackson and a 14-yard pass from Brett Favre to Donald Lee produced a first down near midfield, but then Favre's pass over the middle was intercepted by a leaping Atari Bigby.

The No. 2 offense's possession went much better. Trailing 9-7 with 1:58 left from his own 30, Aaron Rodgers directed the offense 44 yards in eight plays. He completed passes of 9 yards to Robert Ferguson and 8 yards to Zac Alcorn to get the ball across midfield.

Running back Noah Herron converted a fourth-and-1 with a 2-yard run, prompting a timeout with 26 seconds left. Rodgers then hit Carlyle Holiday for a 19-yard gain to the 26-yard line on the eighth play of the drive.

After a spike to stop the clock with 3 seconds left, rookie Mason Crosby came on to nail a 44-yard field goal as time expired. Dave Rayner also took a crack at the winning field goal, and was good from 43 yards out.

Bigby moving up?

It was a big day for Bigby, who not only intercepted Favre with a nice leaping grab in the two-minute drill, but in the previous team period he took a series of snaps with the No. 1 base defense in place of Marquand Manuel.

"We're trying to give Atari an opportunity to step up and it's something we'll continue to do as we move forward," McCarthy said.

"I think Atari Bigby is a very talented safety. I think his range is as good as anyone we have in that younger group. He needs to clean up some things. He's young. He needs to play and needs opportunities."

Bigby was involved in Pittsburgh's two big pass plays, a 41-yard touchdown and a 49-yard gain, on Saturday night, though he was far from the only player at fault on either play. That was confirmed with his brief promotion on Monday, though Bigby was careful not to read too much into that.

"I think it's not fair to judge me off that one game I had, the couple quarters that I've played," said Bigby, who has spent parts of each of the last two seasons on the practice squad before being elevated to the active roster. "I think I've been doing good since I've been here, and I think they've been judging me overall since I've been here.

"I have goals on being a starter, just like everybody else. (I have to) gain the coaches' trust. That's it, basically."

Defense staying active

Throughout much of the team periods in the latter half of practice, the defense was getting the best of the offense, with a few interceptions and several near-picks.

"I saw a number of guys (on offense) thinking instead of playing today," McCarthy said. "That just shows a lack of confidence, or inexperience in what we're doing. I think the defense is definitely in a very good rhythm and playing with a lot of confidence right now."

Charles Woodson came within an eyelash of two interceptions. On the first, he stepped in front of Greg Jennings on a comeback route and got both hands on Favre's pass. Moments later, he was seen doing push-ups on the sidelines, perhaps a personal punishment for not finishing the play.

On the other, Woodson slid in front of Donald Lee on the first play of the No. 1 offense's two-minute drill and nearly made a diving interception.

Against Rodgers, safety Marviel Underwood broke in front of Harris on a deep crossing route and got his hands on the ball for a break-up and near-interception. A few plays later, Rodgers was pressured by Johnny Jolly, scrambled to his left and got off a wobbly pass that was easily picked off by safety Alvin Nnabuife.

Then on the final play of practice, a last-play-of-the-game situation near the goal line, Bush jumped in front of Carlyle Holiday, intercepted Rodgers' throw and may have had a clear 100-yard path the other way.

{sportsad300}Kickers still going strong

In addition to the pair of two-minute drill kicks, Crosby and Rayner took one series of field goals and combined to go 13-of-14. Each kicker attempted two from 32 yards out, two from 39, and one each from 44, 46 and 53 yards. The only miss was Rayner from 53, wide right.

McCarthy called the competition "fun to watch," and General Manager Ted Thompson agreed.

"We think this is an excellent problem to have," said Thompson, noting that a decision at the kicker spot is still a long ways off. "I'm very impressed with both these young men.

"They are competing, they're doing their job, they're doing it professionally, and they know they're under the spotlight, which is specifically and exactly what we want to do is put them in the spotlight so they feel all the pressure that you can possibly put on them."

Injury, participation update

Cornerbacks Al Harris (back) and Woodson (hamstring), who sat out Saturday's preseason game, returned to practice for full duty.

Fullback Brandon Miree (neck/stinger) and offensive lineman Tony Moll (neck/stinger) returned to practice but with limited duty.

Running back DeShawn Wynn (quad) remained out, and offensive tackle Orrin Thompson was out with an unspecified injury.

Quick replay

Saturday night's preseason game against the Seahawks is scheduled to be re-broadcast on NFL Network beginning at 11 p.m. CT that evening. That could be less than an hour after the game actually concludes.

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