The loudest cheers of the night Sunday were for someone who wasn’t even in uniform for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ second annual Family Fest practice.
With an estimated 20,000 people attending the event at Heinz Field, the biggest ovation during player introductions was heaped upon Ryan Shazier.
Players were introduced by position prior to the two-hour practice. Shazier, who will spend the season on injured reserve as he recovers from spinal stabilization surgery, accompanied the other linebackers out of tunnel, and the cheers started as soon as he appeared on the video board.
Wearing black shorts and a black long-sleeve pullover, Shazier walked onto the field without the use of his cane and shook hands with police officers and Special Olympians who were part of the Parade of Champions.
The next biggest ovation was for offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, the former Army Ranger who did three tours in Afghanistan. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receivers Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster were among the other fan favorites.
With Roethlisberger behind center, the first-team offense looked crisp in the practice-opening “seven shots” drill.
Roethlisberger completed 3 of 4 passes, the lone mistake coming when Justin Hunter tipped a pass into the air, and Joe Haden intercepted.
Two of the touchdowns went to Smith-Schuster.
Mason Rudolph relieved Roethlisberger and was 0 for 3 with the second team. Two passes were incomplete, and he mishandled the snap on his other try.
• Landry Jones ran the two-minute offense drill and concluded it with a touchdown pass of about 25 yards to Jesse James, who leaped and caught the ball between Bud Dupree and Jordan Dangerfield.
• Rudolph ran the two-minute offense with the second team. His drive ended with a long incompletion intended for James Washington. On the previous snap, safety Malik Golden got his hands on Rudolph’s pass but landed out of bounds. Golden remained on the ground for a moment before getting back onto his feet with no apparent damage done.
A few veterans joined the list of bystanders at practice Sunday, although it was not clear if they were injured or getting a day off. Safety Morgan Burnett and nose tackle Dan McCullers did not participate. Brown was in uniform but was limited to individual work.
Also watching were slot cornerback Mike Hilton, tight end Xavier Grimble, center Patrick Morris and running backs Stevan Ridley and Fitz Toussaint in addition to the three players dealing with longer-term injuries: guard Ramon Foster (knee), tight end Vance McDonald (foot) and linebacker T.J. Watt (hamstring).
Rookie tackle Chuks Okorafor (shoulder) dressed and did some work in individual drills, but he didn’t participate in 11-on-11 activities. Rookie safety Marcus Allen (hamstring) also was in pads but didn’t do any team drills.
The Steelers welcomed back about a dozen former players, with many watching the practice from the field. Among those in attendance were Louis Lipps, Santonio Holmes, Mike Logan, Shaun Suisham and Charlie Batch.
Other former players who were part of a meet-and-greet with fans were Chris Hoke, Larry Brown and Jon Kolb. Franco Harris also was on hand to check out the menu at his Franco’s Pizzeria eatery inside the stadium.