The energy and pep were absolutely palpable for the Pittsburgh Steelers during Monday’s practice, the second of training camp. Another gorgeous day of well over 80 degree temperatures, the heat mandated a slower practice pace for the players throughout most of the day.
Outside of the P.U.P. list and James Harrison and Will Allen getting another maintenance day, only Matt Spaeth appeared to be out of drills entirely. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t warm up at all, didn’t even join in on stretches or agility exercises, but threw in most of the drills throughout the rest of practice. He had his right knee wrapped with ice to conclude the day, but appeared fine as he stayed on the field to throw with Antonio Brown and Darrius Heyward-Bey well after practice.
One scary moment in practice, when Eli Rogers dove full-board for an overthrown Roethlisberger pass on a skinny post, clipping the right ankle of safety Ross Ventrone on the way down. Ventrone, who dropped an easy interception to clutch at his ankle while rolling across the grass, was helped off the field by trainers and eventually carted off the field. Could be a tough break for the special team ace, whose energy and physicality helped set the tone for the unit last year. We’ll keep you updated as we hear more.
Here’s my Stock Report from Day 2 of camp:
1. WR Eli Rogers
Rogers maintains this spot after another fantastic day of practice. Yesterday the diminutive wideout’s feet were the center of attention, but today his hands were on full display, as he made a great sideline catch on a ball over his head. Earlier in the practice he demonstrated excellent focus to reel in a near-sideline toss from Roethlisberger that was slightly behind him. It has been a very strong start to camp for Rogers.
2. CB Cortez Allen
The much-maligned corner made a great play in the end zone to out-battle Martavis Bryant for an interception of Ben early in practice. Bryant could have been tougher at the catch point, and Roethlisberger never should have thrown the pass with no window, but credit to Allen for making him pay.
3. OLB Howard Jones
You can still see the rawness in Jones, but he is starting to really come along. He showed off his athleticism to knock down and deep out pass to Will Johnson, although Mike Tomlin chided him playfully for not picking the pass off (“This ain’t volleyball!”). Later, Jones executed a perfect swim move on Alejandro Villanueva, knocking down the big lineman’s hands and getting into the backfield cleanly. If he can combine his movement skills with technique and an array of moves…
1. TE Michael Egnew
I’ve got a little bit of mixed feelings on Egnew, who clearly looks the part of a move tight end, but loses focus at times for inexplicable drops, and has very little precision in his route-running. He’s really upright most of the time in his patterns, but he does show the ability to snag passes cleanly outside his frame. Egnew also couldn’t move the blocking sled on his first rep, and didn’t do much with it the second time around. Inconsistency has marred him to this point in his career, so he needs to show marked improvement in his all-around game.
2. TE Cameron Clear
Clear’s routes continue to be an issue, but that is to be expected for a guy who is still very raw due to limited playing time in college. He’ll have to focus on the little things, like standing straight up in his release and failing to explode off the line and into his pattern. Being unable to finish practice due to issues with the heat will only add to the pre-draft questions about his conditioning and work ethic, whether those concerns are warranted or not.
3. QB Landry Jones
I promise I won’t have him here every day, but until the offensive linemen and the defense are in full pads, it is really tough to evaluate their level of play right now. Jones checked down all day, sailing several passes off target despite the receiver’s relatively close proximity to him. Jones is doing a little bit better job of recognizing blitzes and getting the ball out, but the throws are simply underwhelming.
1. WR C.J. Goodwin
Goodwin dropped a bit of a low throw from Tyler Murphy, and a few other times didn’t secure the ball quickly enough after the catch, but there is some athleticism to be had with this kid. Goodwin made an exceptional adjustment to a flighted ball down the near sideline, going up over Kevin Fogg to snatch the pass cleanly out of the air. He’s got a dynamite vertical that keeps showing up on the field.
2. TE Rob Blanchflower
Blanchflower missed a lot of camp last year due to injury, but he looks like he’s in outstanding shape this year, showing some quickness and burst in his routes. I know he’s a long shot to make the roster, but if he can display sure hands in preseason games and continue to develop as a blocker, he could find a home elsewhere in the NFL.
3. WR Martavis Bryant
The young receiver is still learning and growing, and several of his routes clearly need more polish, but there is no denying his special attributes down the field. Bryant swallowed up Antwon Blake’s considerable cushion before the cornerback could flip his hips and run. The result was an easy torching for a long touchdown from Ben. Bryant’s blazingly fast and showed off an extended catch radius by skying for a high toss in the middle of the field. If he can master the little things, his ceiling is frightening.
Other Notes and Observations
-Every single day we get to watch Antonio Brown play football is a privilege. He was magical at practice today, catching everything thrown his way. The best catch he made was on a deep out that he deftly snagged with one hand despite getting his head around late. Every practice he makes 3-4 jaw-droppers.
-Clear got coached up on making sure he gets his hands out in front of his body quicker as a blocker. Was going face first into the sled a little too often.
–Shakim Phillips has shown some excellent hands and explosive footwork over the first two days of practice, especially along the boundary
–Devin Gardner looks so natural catching the football, it is amazing that he spent so much of his life at quarterback. His ability to extend and pluck outside his frame is impressive. Still has to improve his routes and make sure he’s securing the ball after the catch.
-The whole Steelers receiving corps continues to show off. This franchise can just find and develop talent at the position.
–Jesse James got some pointers from Roethlisberger after he flattened his curl route out instead of coming back to the ball. That’s how interceptions happen.
–Doran Grant made an excellent read for a red zone interception of Landry Jones shortly after Allen’s interception. Sammie Coates rounded off his pattern on an out-route, and Grant jumped the throw with nothing but green grass in front of him.
-The defense has been impressive in goal-line situations so far during practice, with four combined interceptions on 15 plays, two during each session. They know how dominant they’ve been too, with tons of hooting and hollering after each turnover. It may be a young group, but their high-energy and very confident, which is exactly what you want from a developing unit.
-Alex will have personnel usages and changes for you in his piece, but worth noting that Coates was moved out of the main return group. Good decision in my opinion, let him focus on receiving. Plenty of return options.
–Bud Dupree continues to be explosive, and he’s even trying some counter moves. Attempted a spin move on Mitchell Van Dyk that was not pretty, but at least he’s thinking the right things. Caught Kelvin Palmer napping for a would-be sack during 11-on-11s.
-I should have more offensive line and defensive player commentary for you on Wednesday, when the players are in full pads. Just tough to gauge a whole lot right now, but when it is full contact, should be able to make some key observations.