Of course the hottest day of a scorching week in Latrobe would coincide with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first full-pad practice, but the weather did nothing to deter the players enthusiasm for the return of contact.
While tackling was limited (which didn’t stop some players like Vince Williams), their were several epic collisions and a fantastic round of backs-on-backers that I’ll detail here in a moment.
First, let’s get to Wednesday’s player stock report, and see whose stock went up today, and who might have struggled.
1. OT Kelvin Beachum
Beachum continues to overcome his lack of length with a sound base and great technique. He manhandled Jarvis Jones and others at the point of attack, and has show good quickness to hit blocks down the field. He always keeps his feet moving to ward off edge rushers, pushing them past the play with a strong anchor and good lateral agility. I’ve had my doubts about Beachum’s ability for long-term success, but so far he looks quite dominant in practices.
2. LB Vince Williams
What a day for Williams. The Steelers 3rd year linebacker has had some bright moments in training camp, based mainly on his physical play and highly competitive demeanor. From 11-on-11 where he flowed quickly to the point of attack to make stops, to the backs-on-backers drill when he absolutely tattooed DeAngelo Williams on a bull rush, Vince looked fantastic in the first day with pads on.
3. DT Daniel McCullers
Granted he was subbed frequently as part of a solid rotation along the defensive front, but McCullers was a clear force at the point of attack during 11-on-11s. He blew up one running play in the backfield and successfully bull-rushed to flush Tajh Boyd on another occasion. If McCullers can channel his power and energy into a more consistent package, the Steelers could have a steal on their hands.
1. TE Cameron Clear
I don’t want to keep beating a dead horse with Clear, but his routes were upright and sloppy during tight end drills, and he dropped a couple of passes and double-caught several more. Clear also appears gassed constantly, always standing with his hands on his hips or taking a knee regardless of what the rest of his position group is engaged in. I think it is going to be a real struggle for Clear to make it through six full-contact practices, especially if this type of heat is present.
2. C Reese Dismukes
Alex and I counted SIX snaps by Dismukes that were so poor they resulted in fumbles, while several others were also off-target. For a guy who was a four-year starter at center in college, these struggles make no sense. But they’ve been consistent, as every day Dismukes has had issues with snaps. Much more of this and the Steelers may be forced to simply find someone competent to replace him.
3. FB Roosevelt Nix
Nix is a very stationary player, a fact which was made obvious in backs-on-backers, when the young fullback was beaten soundly on several occasions. He wasn’t beating out Will Johnson anyway, but his failures as a pass protector certainly didn’t help things.
1. QB Tajh Boyd
Hard to say that any quarterback really nailed it today after several sloppy offensive sessions, but Boyd continues to make a couple throws each practice that really impress. He dropped one over a zone-sinking Shayon Green and into the outstretched arms of C.J. Goodwin despite tight coverage. Perhaps Boyd’s best throw of the day was a fade to Darrius Heyward-Bey in the back right corner of the end zone that was perfectly placed high and away for the veteran receiver to snatch away from Kevin Fogg. Little flashes that could be enough to wrestle the third-string quarterback job from Landry Jones.
2. LB Ryan Shazier
I still think Shazier has his issues flowing to the football laterally, especially through traffic, but north-south he can really scoot. He looked great in the one-on-ones, making several blockers look foolish with nifty maneuverability. Shazier has looked a little shaken up at times the past few practices, getting up slowly and walking off a stinger or two perhaps. He got both wrists taped heavily today before practice. Worth keeping an eye on.
3. LB Anthony Chickillo
Chickillo looked like he is much quicker after dropping weight this offseason, and actually moved pretty well at outside linebacker. He crashed hard down the line of scrimmage for a big tackle-for-loss on DeAngelo Williams early in 11-on-11. Chickillo is very competitive at the point of attack, but he needs to learn how to disengage from blocks quicker, with explosive, powerful hand movements particularly. He’ll usually win eventually, but even on his college tape, it simply takes Chickillo too long to shed blockers, largely because he hasn’t developed his upper body movements much yet. A strong first step was on display today, so if he can continue to work on being creative and avoiding stalemates as a pass rusher, he’ll be more effective on a consistent basis.
1. Will Johnson is ready to take on all comers as the first back to block in the drill. Jarvis Jones flies in but Johnson shows a great punch and a strong base to stonewall the edge rusher and then ride Jones past the quarterback.
2. Vince Williams swims neatly over DeAngelo Williams, who gets nothing but air on his block.
3. Coaches call for a re-do to soothe DeAngelo’s ego, but Vince proceeds to absolutely pulverize DeAngelo on a straight bull rush that knocks the veteran running back flat to his back. Probably the biggest reaction from players and fans on the day follows.
4. Josh Harris picks up Howard Jones well, is knocked slightly off balance, but recovers to ride the linebacker out of play. Jones works hard, but sometimes exerts a lot of movement with little purpose. Has to get more refined in his attacks.
5. Shazier hits a stutter-step and rips under Nix’s block to slip inside for the sack.
6. They run it back for Nix’s sake, but to no avail. Shazier hits him with the same move and gets to the quarterback unscathed.
7. Rob Blanchflower gets a little overextended at first, but re-sets and does a nice job stymieing one of the linebackers, I can’t quite catch the number as they spill into the line of players.
8. Sean Spence bull-rushes the under-sized Ross Scheuerman and knocks him five yards back, then finishes him quickly by throwing the young running back to the ground. If it wasn’t noticeable before, Scheuerman’s size and lanky frame is clearly an issue.
9. Arthur Moats follows Spence with a bull-rush of his own, overwhelming Jesse James and eventually burying the tight end to get in for the sack. James just hung on for dear life. Needs to keep his pad level down, punch, don’t absorb contact. Initiate it.
10. Jarvis Jones (I think) swims Nix cleanly for a basically un-touched sack. Nix’s frustration is evident. None of his movements are quick enough and his instincts are non-existent.
11. Clear jumps into the mix only to have Terence Garvin blown past him for an easy sack. Clear creates contact with a long reach, but struggles to sustain his blocks.
12. Cameron Stingily and Shazier engage in one of the better back-and-forth battles of the day, as Stingily does a great job mirroring the linebacker’s counter and sticking with him despite a strong inside move by the Ohio State product. Nice rep.
13. Lawrence Timmons hits a spin move on Clear that leaves the big tight end clutching air. Pretty move, gets some ooohhhs from the sideline and the bleachers.
14. Good battle between DeAngelo Williams and Spence. No clear winner, but Williams looks way better on that rep.
15. Scheuerman gets tossed aside by Howard Jones. Shepherd product just too strong for Scheuerman.
16. Vince Williams blows through Michael Egnew’s half-hearted block for an easy sack. He is not messing around at all.
17. Nix lunges to try and initiate contact, but Garvin wisely recognizes his overzealousness and easily maneuvers around the block for a sack.
18. Jarvis Jones shoves Josh Harris out of the way for a sack. Strong hands from the 3rd year pro, don’t often see him display that kind of power.
19. Timmons eats Clear’s block and runs straight through him to the quarterback. Clear’s gotta get nastier in this drill.
20. Vince Williams and Matt Spaeth both fall to the ground as Williams tries to rip under the tight end’s outside shoulder and Spaeth carries him almost out of play. Williams’ jumps up and recovers in time to get to the quarterback.
21. Jordan Zumwalt hits a swim move over Scheuerman easily. Clean win. Somewhere I missed one of Zumwalt’s other rushes I think. Can’t recall who it was against, but he got stonewalled.
22. Scheuerman and Zumwalt lock up in a good battle, both go to the ground. Scheuerman is still trying to lunge as a blocker, probably overcompensating for his lack of an anchor.
23. Shazier shoulder dips around Blanchflower for a good win. Took a second to work free, but Shaizer shows off his bend and flexibility.
I may have missed one or two, but for the most part I got notes on all the rushes. It was a fantastic session, but without Heath Miller or Le’Veon Bell participating, the advantage was to the defense, who won handily.
–Cortez Allen’s burst is improving. He’s showing some excellent click-and-close in practice the past couple of days, this time going low to intercept a Ben Roethlisberger pass intended for Antonio Brown on the far sideline. He’s been competitive at catch points all week, a good starting point in his effort to return to legitimacy.
-DHB continues to body-catch and jump when he’s targeted. So hesitant going over the middle at times.
-Vince Williams doesn’t care about tackling rules. He popped Josh Harris to the ground, then stood Clear after the tight end pulled in a catch on a curl route. Clear turned to go upfield and ran smack into Williams, who introduced him to the grass.
–Sammie Coates looks hesitant out there, like things aren’t quite clicking yet. On one route he failed to go under the linebacker and cross his face, instead running behind him and eliminating a throwing window for Landry Jones (who, of course, threw it anyway). On another occasion Coates forgot about his motion and lined up on the wrong side of the field. His routes have looked uncertain, especially more vertical patterns down the field.
-I’m sure Alex will detail this too, but plenty of Double A-Gap blitzes today that made it feel like Dick Lebeau was still among us. Offensive line handled it well for the most part, but Timmons slipped free for a sack on one occasion.
–Bud Dupree struggled to get off blocks in the run game again today, but he timed up one snap perfectly and blew past Mitchell Van Dyk to the quarterback. Offensive tackle had absolutely no chance at all.
-Jesse James needs to get nastier at the point of attack. I know I’ve said this before, but he won’t become a good in-line blocker unless he starts taking it personally. Has the size and length and supposedly the power. Needs to get leverage and leg drive. No pop when he hits his blocks right now.
-At one point Shaun Suisham and Brad Wing were doing push-ups on the sideline during the final 11-on-11.
-Michael Egnew struggled today, with his routes and with catching the ball (two drops). A lot of drops today, as Markus Wheaton, Eli Rogers, Shakim Phillips, and Martavis Bryant all had at least one.
–Bruce Gradkowski worked with Landry Jones on his pocket movement after practice. When Jones feels any pressure in the pocket, his base falls apart. Gradkowski was trying to get him moving in different directions, then set a strong base quickly and throw. Anything to try and get Jones’ lower body mechanics more refined, especially when he doesn’t have a clean pocket.