Had some excellent interview sessions today with some of the Pittsburgh Steelers players, thought I would give fans an opportunity to step inside the facility and see what a couple key, developing players thoughts are on their training camp experience so far. These are just a couple highlights from the day, I’ll likely include other notable quotes in later articles.
OLB Anthony Chickillo
Talked to Chickillo about his present playing weight, down around 10-15 pounds from the 270 he was drafted at. Said he definitely feels best at his present weight, prefers to be lighter, and loves his new position at outside linebacker.
There was a lot of talk before the draft about what Chickillo’s best fit would be in the NFL, but most of it centered around whether he would bulk up and play 3-4 end, or simply be a traditional 4-3 end. I thought he could be successful at either, but I’m a little surprised to hear him talk about how easy the adaption to outside linebacker has been. Only time will tell if it is indeed the best fit for him, but the early returns have been quite positive.
Chickillo also mentioned that playing from a two-point stance is definitely a change, but one he embraces and is enjoying the transition to.
“Yeah it is very different. In college I played a four-technique mostly, and now I’m playing in space, but I’m enjoying it.”
FB Will Johnson
Johnson was visibly elated about having full-contact back in practice, saying he believed the Backs-on-Backers drill was a true “Welcome to Pittsburgh” moment for a lot of the younger players. He did add he thinks the drill is slanted in favor of the ‘Backers, which it obviously is when you think about a back or tight end being left on an island as a blocker, with unlimited space for the defender to work with.
“I thought we had some guys who showed some attitude, attacking and not just sitting there catching as a blocker,” Johnson added. “A lot of upside there with some physicality.”
I asked him about his observations of Le’Veon Bell’s knee recovery, and he said the injury is a non-factor for the running back at this point.
“I haven’t seen any issues in mini-camp or in OTAs with him.”
I questioned Johnson about becoming a leadership figure now in his fourth season with the team, but the fullback kind of shrugged that idea off, saying there are so many excellent leaders on this offense that he doesn’t envision a more vocal role for himself.
He is visibly excited about the direction of the offense and the continuity they continue to exhibit as a unit.
“The offense has most everyone back, so we can kind of pick up where we left off and kind of detail some things now.”
QB Landry Jones
It appears Alex and I were incorrect when detailing at least one of Sammie Coates mistakes yesterday, at least according to Landry Jones. When I asked him about one apparent error by the rookie wide receiver going behind the zone-dropping linebacker instead of underneath him on an in-breaking route, Jones took all the blame.
“Oh, no, no, no that was a bad read by me,” the Oklahoma product said. “I should have played the other side. I mean there’s nothing really Sammie could have done on that one.”
Admirable of Jones to put the mistake on himself, but it should be noted Coates did receive plenty of instruction from wide receivers coach Richard Mann after the play.
“I know from being a rookie to coming here, it’s just all new terminology, but he’s getting it for sure, he’s coming along.”
Jones also mentioned he’s been working on moving quickly in the pocket and getting to a check down after practice with Bruce Gradkowski. He said the biggest improvement he’s had over three years in Pittsburgh is becoming more comfortable in Todd Haley’s offense.
“Same offensive coordinator for three years, same plays, so now it is less thinking and more just going out there and doing what you can.”
TE Jesse James
James talked in-depth about building a relationship with Ben Roethlisberger and operating in an offense run by one of the best quarterbacks in the game.
“It’s great, he’s a great quarterback, he’s great at making sure you know what he wants out of the play,” James stated. “Whether it is the way you run the route or the way you protect, he’s a great guy to work with.”
He added that the way Heath Miller carries himself on and off the field is an example he wants to emulate.
OT Alejandro Villanueva
The hulking offensive tackle (he’s every bit of 6’9) was just as impressive an interview as he was
“It’s very, very different (than other camps) in terms of the physicality of it, the enthusiasm the coaches have with every practice, I think it inspires you to compete as hard as you can. There’s leadership on the o-line and obviously the coaching staff. It’s very enjoyable, obviously physically challenging, but a very good experience overall.”
Villanueva that, coming from the triple-option at Army, he thinks his running blocking is probably a little stronger than his pass protection, but he’s enjoying enhancing his performance in the latter department.