By Alex Kozora
We’ll take you through day six of Pittsburgh Steelers’ training camp. What an absolutely wonderful day. Maybe my favorite so far. Under the lights in Latrobe. There’s not many things better than that. We’ll get into some of the positional work, give you a breakdown of the backs on ‘backers, the OL/DL matchups, the 11 on 11, and some final thoughts on who showed well and who did not.
– Your injury roundup. Returning were Matt Spaeth and Michael Palmer from their maintenance day. Le’Veon Bell practiced again and participated in 11 on 11 after sitting those out Thursday. Ditto for CJ Goodwin.
Jordan Zumwalt (groin), Dri Archer (left leg) LeGarrette Blount (unknown), Rob Blanchflower (left ankle), Eric Waters (lower back), Justin Brown (broken nose), Jarvis Jones (unknown) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (unknown, possible concussion) all sat out. Zumwalt did some light jogging on the side. He seems to be trending in the right direction but you have to hope he gets back soon. Archer’s left leg was wrapped. Blanchflower is out of the boot, replaced by a smaller sleeve on his left leg. Heyward-Bey didn’t even appear to be in uniform.
Brown was wearing a nose guard over his injury.
Jawan Jamison, signed for the waived/injured Alvester Alexander, was wearing #44.
– As is the tradition, the players signed autographs before practice. Joey Porter still draws a crowd as if he was in the prime of his career. Very cool to see.
– Bill Hillgrove served as the PA announcer for tonight’s practice. Just adds to the “Wow!” factor the night practice brings. A solid 20 minute fireworks show capped off the night. It’s truly an awesome experience and well worth the $5 admission. Highly recommend it.
– Second-team offensive line: Guy Whimper, Chris Hubbard, Cody Wallace, Bryant Browning, Mike Adams
– Third-team offensive line: Wesley Johnson, Bryant Browning, Chris Elkins, Will Simmons, Emmanuel McCray. So pretty much the status quo. Did not see Johnson get reps at center or syphoning away snaps from Adams as he did Thursday.
– Some of the jerseys I saw on the first team punt coverage during the first special team’s drill. Robert Golden your upback, as usual. Spotted David Paulson, Michael Palmer, Sean Spence, and Will Johnson. Really good sign for Spence, of course, to be running first team coverage unit. Shamarko Thomas and Antwon Blake served as the gunners and Brice McCain also got some reps there, too.
– Because only one field was available, it was a lot easier to see the defense in position drills and I took advantage, watching the DBs.
As I noted the other day, Shaq Richardson has a weak punch. It isn’t a huge concern because of the defense’s predominantly off coverage mentality, but it looks like he’s focusing on opening his hips to turn and run. Something that will need to be worked on.
Blake is explosive. Perhaps more than any other defensive back on this team. Extremely fluid and shows quick feet.
– The defensive line was working on anchoring against chips and double-teams. What we’re looking for? Arm extension, pad level, hand placement (inside the numbers), and leg drive. And if you do feel like you’re going to get washed? Turn your shoulder, collapse, and clog the lane.
– Stephon Tuitt and Brian Arnfelt got a lot of work as the two man wedge in return drills. Wes Johnson and Hebron Fangupo were next. Just tack up another position Johnson is seeing reps at on the refrigerator. The third pairing I saw consisted of Nick Williams and Chris Hubbard. Wallace also got one or two reps with Tuitt.
I would love to see Tuitt on the wedge, opening lanes for Archer. But color me biased. This is a guy that has a soft spot for special teams. My favorite Steeler of all-time is Chidi Iwuoma.
– I saw Missi Matthews on the sideline. Nearly fainted in excitement. Missed opportunities…
– To kick off the play-by-play’s, we’re going to start the highly anticipated backs on ‘backers. Missed it last time so I was really excited to watch it this go around.
1. Started things off with Le’Veon Bell against Lawrence Timmons. Timmons swims over top of the back, winning the matchup.
2. They got at it again and Timmons unveils a nasty swim move to the right that leaves Bell in the dust.
3. New foes. Jason Worilds vs Will Johnson. Johnson anchors well.
4. Worilds does a little better here but Johnson again is able to stick and seal.
5. Jordan Hall was late recognizing which linebacker was coming. Chris Carter dips past with relative ease.
6. Good battle between Jordan Hall and Sean Spence. Hall ends up on the ground at the end but it was a good showing.
7. Arthur Moats whips Heath Miller to the inside, winning without a problem.
8. But Miller gets his revenge, sticking and eventually putting 55 into the ground.
9. Terence Garvin may not be very good at supporting the run but he can get after the QB. Swims over top of Tauren Poole, causing the running back to fall.
10. Poole does get some redemption at Howard Jones’ expense, absorbing his bull rush.
11. One of the quickest “wins” of the drill. Ryan Shazier burns Bryce Davis to the inside in one fluid motion. Runs right at Joey Porter as the two chest bump.
12. But Davis doesn’t go down without a fight. Coaches want to see it again and Davis responds and ends up putting Shazier into the turf.
13. A Dan Molls sighting! He swims over Miguel Maysonet.
14. As is the pattern, Maysonet does fare a little bit better as the two go at it again.
15. David Paulson does manage to seal Vic So’oto up the edge
16. Jamison’s first attempt comes versus Howard Jones. Mirrored well and you could say the back won this matchup.
17. The first matchup that started the tempers. Bell vs Vince Williams. Bell sticks and runs Williams a couple yards down the line, near the group of coaches/players standing behind.
18. Coaches want to see it again. Bell anchors against Williams. They sticks, each one not wanting to relent. The two keep backing up and end up throwing each other to the ground. By this point, the skirmish breaks out. The schoolyard circle that universally indicates there’s a fight forms. It’s eventually broken up as cooler heads prevail.
19. Back to the action. Carter swims to the inside of Paulson, beating him.
20. One of the most convincing wins of the day. Sean Spence straight bull rushes David Paulson, flattening the tight end into the dirt. If there was one play that said Sean Spence is back, this is it.
21. Poole and Worilds have a tug of war. Stick for at least five seconds. Good battle.
22. Now we start turning some heads. UDFA rookie Howard Jones versus the veteran Heath Miller. Advantage Miller, right? Wrong. Jones flashes a swim over Miller, beating him.
23. Coaches want to see it again. And usually, the loser redeems himself. Not here. Jones dips that inside shoulder, gets skinny, and is able to turn upfield. Another win for the rookie. Impressive.
24. Davis and Shazier do battle again. Davis does win this one, sealing the first rounder.
25. But Shazier doesn’t shrink to the challenge either. They go at it again and the linebacker wins, planting Davis into the ground. Shazier is pumped. Even from the bleachers, you could see him jawing in Davis’ direction. He wasn’t offering good tidings, I can assure you.
26. Moats runs through Jordan Hall.
27. Maysonet does a nice job sticking to Garvin.
28. Vic So’oto does flash here against Will Johnson. Swims him and it’s a clean victory for the linebacker.
29. Garvin dips the edge working against 30.
30. Jordan Hall staves off a Chris Carter bull rush.
31. Jamison does initially stick to Dan Molls though the linebacker ends up using an inside spin to disengage.
32. Shazier shows strong, active hands, quickly disengaging from Poole. But as #50 went to run past, it appears Poole tripped him. By accident. I think. Maybe.
33. Poole does a nice job getting into Shazier’s pads this time around.
34. Back to where we started. Lawrence Timmons running over Le’Veon Bell. TKO.
35. Coaches want to match them up again. Bell fares better, holding his own.
36. Vince Williams swims Davis with ease.
37. The two go at it again. Davis gets overextended and Williams reaches the edge and is able to turn upfield.
38. Spence tries to bull Jamison but can’t run him over the way he did Paulson.
39. David Paulson does an ok job of sealing Jason Worilds though 93 is able to sneak past late.
40. Garvin with a clean win working against Jordan Hall.
41. Hall gets more aggressive here, putting his head down and getting into 57’s pads first. Risky, but he absorbs the rush and wins.
42. Howard Jones finishes the drill with two rushes. Shows a good punch, putting Miguel Maysonet on his heels.
43. The two square off again. Jones gets his long arms extended and gets into the back’s pads. Would call it a win for the linebacker.
– Thoughts on winners/losers.
Again, Howard Jones stole the show. He still might be raw and undersized but you see a guy who is a natural bender, has long arms that he knows how to use, and a potent “go to” move, his swim. When you make Heath Miller look bad twice, you’re going to garner some attention.
As we’ve talked about, Shazier is as advertised. See the quick get off, the active hands. He’s trending in a positive direction with each practice.
All the running backs got beat up at one point or another but that’s to be expected with so many chances to lose. Bell probably did the best today. I really wonder why Josh Harris wasn’t a part of this drill. He was standing there. Never entered. And he practiced in 11 on 11. Weird.
Vince Williams and Sean Spence also showed well.
David Paulson and Bryce Davis were rough. Paulson may have been worse. Getting tossed to the ground was an absolute ugly moment. Perhaps he makes the roster due to all the injuries but man, I just don’t see it.
– Play-by-play from what I observed in the OL/DL pass blocking/rushing drill.
1. Cam Heyward kicks things off, dipping past Bryant Browning.
2. David DeCastro anchors versus Steve McLendon.
3. Cam Thomas dips past a lineman. Can’t quite, uh, read my notes. Awkward. Looks to be either Emmanuel McCray or Chris Elkins. Feel like it’s McCray. Thomas isn’t going to dip past many lineman. McCray is having a bad camp. One of the few guys that simply doesn’t look like he belongs.
4. Marcus Gilbert kickslides and handles a Vic So’oto swim move. Then he mirrors and stiffs So’oto on an attempted inside swim.
5. Guy Whimper doubles over a bit but he does handle an Arthur Moats bull rush. Side note: Moats was rushing from the ROLB spot. First time all camp he’s gotten reps at that position. Good to see.
6. Chris Hubbard absorbs and anchors verus Brian Arnfelt. Arnfelt is a hard worker though and gives it his all, sprinting to the back of the line. Guy has one speed. Go hard. Have to respect that.
7. Hebron Fangupo tries to dip Chris Elkins. Does saw it but it takes a few seconds to turn upfield. Fangupo does have that squatty, six foot frame working for him. It’s like if James Harrison got addicted to, let’s say, McDonald’s.
8. Stephon Tuitt swims over Whimper with ease. Dirty.
9. Adams is bull rushed, walked back by So’oto. It might look bad on the surface but it’s hard for me to criticize. Lineman never look good handling a bull rush. I’d rather Adams give a little ground than try to hold firm, get uprighted, and letting the linebacker shed.
10. Wes Johnson does a nice job sliding laterally, sealing Howard Jones.
11. Hubbard stuffs Nick Williams.
12. Daniel McCullers vs Elkins, part two. McCullers again is just too big, too strong, too long, for Elkins, and the big NT blows right through.
13. Will Simmons does double over and Josh Mauro is able to slip past.
14. Emmanuel McCray does end the drill on a high note for himself, sealing Chris Carter.
– And some quick thoughts.
Stephon Tuitt is a grown man playing with boys. Continuing to come on strong. I can’t wait to see him in game action.
Marcus Gilbert is quietly having a nice camp. Healthy and showing the level he’s capable of playing. I have to respectfully disagree with Craig Wolfley’s notion that Gilbert needs to show “toughness” this year. He showed plenty of it last year, playing hurt for virtually the entire season. He’s now healthy and showing that he could become a quality starting tackle.
If the team keeps eight lineman, you can start building a good case for Wesley Johnson being kept over Guy Whimper. Not sure how I feel about that one yet, though. Want to see a game. But the team loves the rookie out of Vanderbilt.
– Let’s hop into the 11 on 11, yes?
1. Tauren Poole opens up as the running back. Inside zone. Ryan Shazier sticks him at the line. Chris Carter opened up at ROLB for the inactive Jones. Will Allen at FS for Mike Mitchell.
2. The team pulls Will Johnson on a power run. Poole with the carry for about five yards. Didn’t see it clearly but Hillgrove said Timmons made the tackle. Gotta trust the man.
3. Team goes into its nickel. Miguel Maysonet totes the rock left side. Ike Taylor cuts him, flips him over, and Maysonet fumbles. Looked like the offense jumped back on it.
4. Power O, DeCastro pulling right to left. Maysonet with another carry.
5. Ramon Foster moves early, eager to pull. No whistle. It’s a decoy though as Ben Roethlisberger fakes the hand off. Fires right side to Markus Wheaton. Pass is a little high but he gets his arms extended and makes the catch. Well done.
6. Smoke screen from Big Ben to Antonio Brown. AB makes William Gay miss and runs down the left sideline before getting pushed out of bounds. The pile tumbles into Danny Smith and knocks him over. He was ok.
I’m convinced Danny Smith could get run over by a B-52 Bomber and bounce right back up, immediately yelling at a gunner to get off his block.
7. Josh Harris receives the carry. Nearly slips but stays on his feet. Nice running lane opened up by the line.
8. Landry Jones comes on with the second team. Mike Adams false starts. Josh Harris gets the handoff and has a nice run to the right. Showed some acceleration.
9. Jawan Jamison’s first carry as a Steeler. Comes off right end for a short gain. Watched Cody Wallace versus Daniel McCullers. Wallace able to hold the POA, and then buries 74 as the nose tackle starts to turn and follow Jamison. Just a matter of low man winning.
10. Jamison with another short run. Not sure if this was the first play or if it happened a play before but Arthur Moats is in as the 1st team ROLB.
11. Again, the Steelers fake Power O. Jones shows good velocity, firing to Martavis Bryant on a curl. Ike Taylor with the coverage.
12. False start. Then the defense jumps offsides. Masyonet rips off a big run. Probably went for 15 yards.
13. Josh Harris with a short run before getting tackled by Terence Garvin. But showed good vision, making one cut upfield to get what he could.
14. Jamison popped by Ross Ventrone for a minimal gain.
15. One of the backs, screwed up the number in my notes, is dropped in the backfield by Vince Williams to end the first installment.
– The 50/50 winner got a haul of $2900. Factoring in the six cent sales tax, that’s 2735 McChicken’s off the dollar menu. At 15 practices per training camp, that could last me 182 years.
1. Le’Veon Bell getting his first reps in team drills since his hamstring injury. And that’s who Roethlisberger finds in the left flat for a short completion. Carter starts off the period as the 1st team ROLB.
2. In the face of pressure, Ben hits Will Johnson on a short completion.
3. Roethlisberger throws high and incomplete to Lance Moore. Ike Taylor had the coverage. Ryan Shazier was sent on a blitz that David DeCastro picked up without an issue.
4. Big Ben with a big (sad trombone sounds for the pun) completion to Heath Miller over the middle. Lawrence Timmons has to chase the veteran from behind. Watched the line on this play. Marcus Gilbert does well to seal Jason Worilds.
5. Roethlisberger complete to Tauren Poole in the right flat. But that’s not the interesting part. It was the defensive scheme. Slant LDE Cam Thomas and LOLB Arthur Moats to bring Ryan Shazier free off the edge. This defense has been super aggressive and showing a lot of complicated looks. Expect Dick LeBeau to go full boar in the regular season.
6. Roethlisberger overthrows Will Johnson and Troy Polamalu dives to make his second interception of camp. Another roar from the packed crowd.
7. Landry Jones finds Lance Moore. “Thud” tackling with players not going to the ground.
8. Screen from Jones to Maysonet. Call it a medium sized pickup.
9. Offsides but Jones makes a heady play by throwing a quick fade, though it falls incomplete. Saw Sean Spence lined up off the edge on this play. Linebackers are going to move around a lot. Their speed will be properly utilized. No one is going to be “stuck” and I love it.
10. Another aggressive look from the defense, bringing Brice McCain and Antwon Blake on a blitz off the left side. Landry Jones holds onto the ball for way too long versus the blitz. Finally gets it away and although Lance Moore is in the vicinity, it really was a throw away.
11. Jones’ internal clock is broken. Holds onto the ball for so long that the coaches are forced to show mercy and whistle the play dead. The second time that’s happened to #3 in camp. Ugly. Was some penalty on the defense during the play. Something in the secondary, likely a hold.
12. Jones tries to find Jordan Hall and the pass is on the mark but dropped by the back. Again, McCain and Blake blitz. Off course, I was trying to watch Blake in coverage. Bad break.
13. Brendon Kay checks down to Josh Harris.
14. Kay with a screen to Jordan Hall. Again, that’s pretty boring. What is interesting was the amoeba defense from the Steelers. Ethan Hemer is the only DL out there.
15. Kay finishes it off with a completion to Danny Coale who makes a nice grab. Michael Palmer had nice blitz pickup of Robert Golden. And yup, that’s another safety blitz. The third in six plays. Uber aggressive.
– A gentleman sitting to my right, who I’m sure is a nice fellow, was sporting a half-skull, half-smiley face tattoo on his left leg. I really wanted to ask him what compelled him to get such a tattoo, but I didn’t. My guess? Alcohol.
This period ha the offensive line backed up inside its own five. So while I’ll keep tabs of the plays, they’re not particularly exciting. Unless two yard dives are you’re kind of thing. Did get a chance to get a better look at the trenches, though.
1. Bell starts things off with a carry that goes for little, if any, gain.
2. Nice side step in the backfield from 26, avoiding penetration and generating a short gain.
3. Team working out of shotgun. Antonio Brown makes a nice catch along the left sideline. Thomas has worked his way in as the first team safety.
4. Bell with another carry. Moats makes the tackle at the line.
5. Tauren Poole records a short gain.
6. Steelers out of the gun again. Nothing available downfield so Big Ben scrambles up the middle. The crowd eggs him on to continue running and he jogs all the way into the end zone. The crowd erupts. Roethlisberger high fives a little kid as he walks back to the sideline.
Also of note here wa the defensive line. Stephon Tuitt at left end, Roy Philon again seeing time at the nose, and Brian Arnfelt the right end.
7. Another false start on the offense. Maysonet with the carry. Was paying close attention to Cody Wallace against Daniel McCullers. Again, low man wins, and although McCullers holds the POA, he isn’t able to work off the block.
8. Jordan Hall racks up a 3-4 yard gain. McCullers is chipped and then sealed to help open the running lane.
9. Bruce Gradkowski completes this pass to Derek Moye on a deep out to the far sideline.
10. Big pile at the end of this one. Harris has a short run.
11. Josh Harris with another carry. Was really impressed with Ryan Shazier here. Zone run and he reads the flow of it. Takes a good angle, steers clear of any trash and meets the back in the hole, forcing Harris to cut it inside. A veteran play from a rookie. I’ve raved about his football IQ as much as his athleticism, and this play showed it.
12. Landry Jones completes to Moye to end this slightly shorter installment.
– Figured since we were at a different practice location today I should eat somewhere else. My choice? Sheetz, a bonafide Mecca for college students. Bacon sandwich and fries. Delicious.
Team ran no huddle. Scrapped the idea of timing from whistle to snap. Just didn’t think it worked well or that I learned much from it.
1. Defense opens up in the nickel. Bell the running back and he finds a nice crease on the left side.
2. Bell with another carry. Thought he had an opportunity to cut upfield to the inside of the wide receiver stalk blocking the corner but he bounces it all the way to the sideline. Troy Polamalu pushes him out of bounds.
3. Pocket is collapsing so Roethlisberger checks it down to 26.
4. Screen pass to Markus Wheaton from Big Ben.
5. Same play, different target. Screen to Lance Moore. Can’t remember if Moore was in the slot or not. He probably was, which would make this an interesting wrinkle. Want to keep it in the back of my head.
6. Ben hits Tauren Poole. Nickel package. Tuitt is playing with his hand up.
7. Bruce Gradkowski rifles a post to Martavis Bryant. He’s falling to the ground and the ball goes through his hands.
8. Gradkowski screen to Maysonet. Vince Williams ends it with a loud thud.
9. Gradkowski finds Harris who leaks out on his route. Will Allen blitzed.
10. Landry Jones does the same, checking to Harris.
11. Draw to Jordan Hall. It was a nice run.
12. Landry finds Bryce Davis. Sean Spence on the “tackle.”
13. Another draw to Hall.
14. Jones hits David Paulson on the left side. Flag was thrown away from the ball. But the refs take a very, “Whose Line Is It Anyway” approach to it. The flags don’t really matter.
15. Brendon Kay mops up with the final snap of the night. His pass short hops, intended for Danny Coale.
– I’ll rave about Tuitt once more. Top notch athlete with a good pass rushing arsenal. Capabale of dipping that shoulder and he has the length and strength to bull.
– Vince Williams dished out some big hits. No surprise though, knowing his game.
– I just don’t see it with Landry Jones. War and Peace is shorter than Jones’ internal clock. He’s either locking onto his reads or not processing information fast enough and is hesitant to pull the trigger. Either one is bad news for a QB. Why keep this guy on the 53 again?
– Tauren Poole has really gone quiet the last three days after a quality first practice in pads. Maysonet and Harris have looked better. But the situation is very much up in the air.
– I am not certain but I do not believe Matt Spaeth participated in team drills. Do not remember seeing him out there. Know for a fact he did not participate in the backs on ‘backers drill. We’ll see where he’s at tomorrow.
– As I mentioned, Emmanuel McCray is just one guy who doesn’t look like he belongs out there. Not seen much good out of him.
– Will Johnson has received a ton of targets in camp. Most of them of the short to intermediate variety, sans the one deeper route than resulted in Troy Polamalu’s interception, but targets are targets. I really don’t know what his snap count could be like in 2014, but he could be a sneaky candidate for say, 25-30 receptions this season. The Steelers are making a big effort to move him around and get him involved.
– No McDonald’s so obviously we can’t have a McDonald’s Syfy movie of the night. I did see Sharknado 2 was viewed by 4 million people which makes me very concern about the status of America.
– Couple of shoutouts I want to give to wrap things up. Spent the last two days sitting with a family from New York. Dad and two kids. Totally blown away by the scope of their knowledge and appreciation of the game. The dad took notes, which makes me feel better to not be *that* guy scribbling down notes. Had a great time talking Steelers and discussing practice with them. They made the drive in from New York so you know that’s some serious dedication to make the trek out to Latrobe. Tons of respect for them.
– The building next to my car had a sign for old football cards, it reading you could buy cards for the first professional football team in history. It was late, getting close to 11, but the older gentleman was still standing in the open doorway.
He walked out and offered the chance to buy the cards with all proceeds going towards the Latrobe Historical Society. He said the cards were of the mid 1890’s Latrobe club, supposedly the first all-paid squad in football history.
I bought the pack for $5, and for 30 cards, it was a bargain. The cards were made in 1983 and declared John Brallier, a doctor who was paid for a game in 1896, to be the first paid player. Ostensibly, this was before it was discovered Pudge Hefflefinger was paid $500 in 1892.
We chatted for a bit as he talked about his day, working from 11 to 11 without earning a “single cent.” He had given helpful advice to visitors desperately trying to find a parking spot.
I find out his name was Paul Volkmann, a writer for The Latrobe Bulletin, where he writes bi-weekly columns. He spoke humbly but you could get the sense of pride he had in working for the community. Just the type of person that’s rare to find anymore. If you’re in the area, swing by the place. Didn’t even catch the name of the store but it’s across the street from a funeral home a couple blocks up from the stadium.
Picture below is of one of the cards, the 1896 Latrobe A.A. (Athletic Association) squad. We talked for a solid 15 minutes before parting ways. An awesome guy with amazing stories to end an incredible day.
– Time this article was completed: 3:22 AM
– Time I fell asleep: 3:23 AM