Welcome back! One practice down, 17 to go. It was a terrific day, as always, and though we can only learn so much, it was cathartic just to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers again.
Many thanks to our own Jon Ledyard, Tony DelSignore Jr, and Tim Rice for hanging out with me and also providing you some excellent training camp coverage.
Don’t want to delay much longer but want to remind you that this is only the first day. It was in shells and a generally non-contact day. It is difficult to learn much and dangerous to draw anything even remotely close to a conclusion. For today and tomorrow, I am more interested in where players are lining up and who is running in what group than I am how a player is looking. It’s still shorts and far away from an NFL environment.
But let’s dive in!
– Players, mostly the backups, warmed up around 1:15 to work around the 50th anniversary ceremony for St. Vincent College. It was a great ceremony. The drumline did a fantastic job, much respect to those individuals, while Bill Hillgrove “hosted” the 10 minute ceremony. Jon Kolb, J.T. Thomas, Louis Lipps, Merril Hoge, and Charlie Batch represented each decade the team has attended.
The Rooneys gave the Fathers at St. Vincent black and gold footballs. In return, the monks gave them stained glass from the Basilica in the shape of a cross. Great gestures all around.
– New wrinkle the team showed during that period that I saw during the practice a few times. Line the receiver up right off the hip of the tackle, like a tight end, but in a two point stance. The team would usually zone run away from that side. Todd Haley was giving Martavis Bryant some pointers on shooting his hands.
– As I tweeted out, they’re baaaaack. Brad Wing and Dri Archer walked down together.
– Cody Wallace started at center in place of Maurkice Pouncey, as expected.
– Le’Veon Bell warmed up without a jersey on, donning a black shirt with the logo in the middle. That’s what you can do when you’re the star running back.
– Injury round-up. Of the non-PUP players, James Harrison and Will Allen sat out today. Harrison did some light work in positional drills, in his typical grey sweatshirt and sweatpants, then sat out the rest of the day. Poor James. You know he was itching to get onto the field but was banished away from the group. Probably so he couldn’t jump in and run somebody over.
– Bryant was used on two end arounds in practice and once during 11 on 11s. Hat tip to Tony and Jon for pointing it out. My head was in my phone because I’m 22 and an idiot. Somewhere, an old man is yelling at a cloud.
– The return line, in order: Eli Rogers, Archer, Sammie Coates, Bryant, Devin Gardner, Markus Wheaton.
– Coates and Bryant struggled here. Coates had a bobble, caught one two inches off the ground, and let another hit the ground a foot in front of him. Danny Smith got after him, no surprise there. Bryant didn’t look comfortable either. But it’s early so you just look for improvement there.
On the other hand, Archer looked very comfortable and as you’d expect from a little guy, shows a quick first step. Makes the catch and gets upfield.
– Greg Warren, Ian Wild, and a little bit of Reese Dismukes were long snapping. Saw Jordan Berry and Tajh Boyd getting work as the holders. Matt Spaeth did it, too, and I imagine if Warren ever went down, Spaeth would be the “break glass in case of emergency” player.
One other minor note on the #2 tight end. No brace on his elbow after suffering the injury late last year. So that’s a good sign.
– Tons of energy in the stretch line. Very vocal, lot of hooting and hollering. Loved all the energy.
– Though his role was unclear to me, Ike Taylor was in attendance. Hopefully he’ll be there the entire camp.
– Cameron Stingily walked down with the tight ends but wound up playing running back, including working with that group in individuals.
– Order the wide receivers ran in drills: Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Eli Rogers, Sammie Coates, C.J. Goodwin, Devin Gardner, and Shakim Phillips.
– Again, very early to read much into it, but Jesse James needs to work at exploding at the top of his route. Getting out of his break, turning to the quarterback, and showing his numbers.
Michael Egnew, the bust that he’s been, does look like a good athlete. Fluid and catches the ball cleanly.
– Order the tight ends ran in: Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Jesse James, Michael Egnew, Rob Blanchflower, Cameron Clear.
– Though Gardner was sloppy when asked to change directions as the receivers had to run around cones. Coates wasn’t great either but they’re tall rookies. It’s not unexpected. Eli Rogers is going to look tremendous in any drill on air. Small but a quick-twitch guy with great feet.
– The “top group” of receivers contained: Brown, Wheaton, Bryant, Heyward-Bey. The rest ran in the “bottom group.”
– First drill the offensive lineman did under Mike Munchak. Stunt pickup as a unit. Repped that every day in practice last year. Might see the same this year. I love it. With how creative defenses are, you have to train these guys to never assume who is/isn’t coming. Also stresses the importance of verbalization and communication.
– Phillips and Coates had nice plays on corner routes to end individuals before 11 on 11 began. Phillips had a finger tip catch, Coates got praise from Randy Fitchner for his route.
First 11 on 11
The team, as they did in OTAs, started at the two. Ran eight plays.
1. Spot route, a three man combination of a curl/flat/corner resulted in a touchdown from Ben Roethlisberger to Heath Miller in the corner.
2. Fade to Antonio Brown at the back right pylon. Overthrown and incomplete, Cortez Allen on the coverage. But if you’re going to miss, away and out of bounds is where you want it.
3. Steelers break out their 11 personnel, forcing the defense to go into nickel. As we all anticipated, Antwon Blake played left corner, Allen on the right, and William Gay in the slot. In case you were nervous, Shamarko Thomas was the first team strong safety. And honestly, I don’t think I have written down what happened on the play. One team drill in and I’m already slipping.
4. Curl from Ben to Miller but Lawrence Timmons breaks it up. Whole defense goes crazy. Where’s the confetti!?
5. Landry Jones zips a touchdown to Heyward-Bey, running a speed out to the front right pylon. Second-team offensive line: Alejandro Villanueva, Chris Hubbard, Reese Dismukes, B.J. Finney, Mitchell Van Dyk.
6. Steelers go empty set. A slant/corner combination with the #1 on a slant and the #2 – Archer split out – on the corner. Jones misses, the pass too far in front, and it’s incomplete.
7. Some sparse notes on the third-team defense. Anthony Chickillo at LOLB. Doran Grant LCB with Kevin Fogg at RCB. Good pocket for Jones but his pass to Coates in the end zone clangs off the receiver’s hands, into the air, and picked off by Alden Darby.
8. Back-to-back picks for Jones (runs away from the comments section). Fade to the left corner of the end zone that isn’t placed well and Fogg picks it off. More celebration from the defense. Rightfully so.
Second 11 on 11
Ball was placed at the 40 this time.
1. First-team defense housekeeping. Arthur Moats opened up at LOLB, Jarvis Jones at ROLB. No surprises there. Roethlisberger finds Miller in the left flat. Jones lept and may have even caught a piece of it but not enough to disrupt the ball’s path.
2. Slant/flat combination between Brown and Bell. Very common concept from the Steelers last year. Complete to AB in front of Cortez Allen. Brown finishes the run into the end zone, earning a big roar from the crowd.
3. Ben again finds Miller on a skinny post vs Moats in coverage. Another concept you’ll see a million times last year. Stem outside, get the defender to open up, then cross his face and work back inside.
4. Some notables on the second-team defense. Bud Dupree at left outside linebacker, Howard Jones opposite. Ross Ventrone (my man!) and Robert Golden the safeties. The Steelers were in nickel – Ethan Hemer, and Joe Kruger at left and right end, respectively. B.W. Webb was in the slot with Blake at LCB and Fogg at RCB. Sean Spence/Vince Williams your two inside linebackers.
Ben’s pass to Heyward-Bey is incomplete on an out to the left.
5. Jones complete on an in cut to Heyward-Bey but DHB body-caught. Still struggles with that so much. Villanueva did a nice job of running Howard Jones up the arc.
6. Jones finds Coates on a curl. Webb on the coverage. Spence with good hustle, running hard to chase the receiver down and trying to punch the ball out at the end.
7. Isolated on the backside, Ben tries to hit AB deep down the right sideline. Allen is on the coverage but is grabbing a good bit of jersey. Pass is incomplete but if there were refs, it probably would’ve been a penalty.
8. Shazier with strong hands, breaking up a pass from Big Ben to Matt Spaeth over the middle.
9. Ben complete to Bryant on a curl. Heyward, the A+ effort guy he is, chases him down. Love #97.
10. Third-team defense. Doran Grant and B.W. Webb on the outside. Anthony Chickillo and Shayon Green at OLB. Jordan Zumwalt and Terence Garvin at ILB, Ian Wild and Gerod Holliman at safety, and L.T. Walton/Clifton Geathers at DE. Pass is complete from Jones to Egnew.
11. Jones checks down to Josh Harris. Villanueva didn’t look good here, unable to fight his 6’9 frame. Doubles over trying to block Green on the edge.
12. Pass incomplete from Jones to Cameron Clear. Little low but it was a tight window. Garvin provided good coverage.
13. Tajh Boyd finally getting his first reps. Hits Goodwin on a curl. Dupree showed a nice get off
14. Boyd’s second attempt is tipped at the line by Cam Thomas.
15. One of the prettiest throws of the day. Boyd in the bucket to Gardner, throwing over a defender sinking in a hook zone. Deep out to the left side. That was an NFL throw.
– Special teams period. Danny Smith…man (Jon Gruden voice) I love that guy. So vocal. Yelling to his guys after a mock punt. “Now we gotta hunt!” There was the occasional expletive, too.
Third 11 on 11
1. Split zone, Heath Miller pulling across the formation. Run on this play, don’t have the runner. Probably Bell. Tomlin repeated the word “finish!” to everyone throughout this session, reminding his players to not gear down just because they couldn’t hit.
2. Roethlisberger rolls out and hits Brown on a deep out to the right side. Throw was on the money.
3. Inside zone to DeAngelo Williams. Moats on the “tackle.”
4. Second-team defensive line in this instance. Walton, Daniel McCullers, Geathers. Outside zone to Williams.
5. Rob Blanchflower is lined up in the backfield as the fullback. Josh Harris gets the carry.
6. Jones fires incomplete to Heyward-Bey. Saw Villanueva push Jones into the ground as the linebacker tried to dip the edge.
7. Harris with another carry. Moats does a good job of swimming over Marcus Gilbert, forcing the back to bounce the run.
8. Playaction. Roethlisberger heaves it deep to Wheaton on a nine right down the right sideline. Wasn’t his best throw, lameduck-ish, but Allen had nice coverage. Pinned the receiver to the sideline and stayed in-phase while getting his head around to find the football.
9. Split zone look with Will Johnson moving left to right to block the backside defender. Williams runs it off left tackle.
10. Alden Darby and Isaiah Lewis get their first reps, coming in on the 3rd team defense. Like I’ve said, snaps will be scarce at safety for some of these guys. Throw to Heyward-Bey is off his hands but Jon made a good comment, saying the throw was late and by the time it got there, DHB had nearly run out of room.
Cam Thomas and Mike Thornton appeared to be the DL on the play.
11. Boot. Chickillo sniffed it out, forcing Jones to drift back. Rogers, lined up in that two-point stance I talked about Bryant being in earlier, releases into the flat and catches the pass.
12. Jones seemed slow getting away from center here. Throws across his body to Ross Scheuerman.
13. Tyler Murphy gets his first reps at QB. Handoff to Cameron Stingily. Defensive line from left to right. Matt Conrath, Thornton, Joe Kruger.
14. Murphy completes his first pass to Shakim Phillips on a curl. Two Boston College guys playing catch.
15. Gardner and Phillips are the two WRs. Scheuerman receives the handoff.
Another ST session. One wrinkle. Josh Harris, lined up in a three-point stance on the end of the punt return unit, would be peeled off to attack the gunner. Danny Smith was coaching him up pretty good.
– Some seven on seven notes.
– Bruce Gradkowski was running across the middle field. Nothing on his arm, no wrap/sling/compression, whatever. Really think it’s minor. Hope it is.
– Murphy did a nice job going through his progressions. In one instance, he wanted C.J. Goodwin on a curl. Howard Jones dropped and acted as the overhang defender, taking the route away. So the quarterback calmly checked down.
– On the other hand, I thought Boyd took too long to finally his his checkdown to Harris. Garvin wound up breaking it up. Have to play fast, even when it isn’t a full-team drill.
– Blanchflower came back to the ball when all the other young receivers didn’t. Have to learn scramble drill rules.
– And I’m pretty sure that’s why Roethlisberger wound up intentionally running a scramble drill the next rep he got. Turned around and sprinted to his left off the snap, eventually finding Bryant open in the middle of the field (Zumwalt may have vacated his zone). Excellent tape to show the young guys.
– Last play of 7 on 7. Tomlin didn’t seem particularly happy with Doran Grant, yelling at him to “Get there!” or close on the ball quicker.
Fourth 11 on 11
1. Starts with an outside zone run to Le’Veon Bell. Again, Wheaton was motioned across the formation into that two-point stance tight to the line. Zone away from the WR.
2. Roethlisberger rolls out, completes the comeback to Wheaton in front of Allen along the right sideline.
3. End around to Bryant. Fans enjoyed that.
4. Jones complete to DHB but the WR makes some very basic, egregious mistakes. Body catches and leaves his feet to make the grab. Ugh.
5. Run off left guard to Harris. Saw Villanueva move Spence out of the way.
6. Inside zone to Harris. DL held well at the POA. Ball came out at some point and Robert Golden scooped it up, instinctively running immediately. It was fun watching Landry Jones and B.J. Finney try and chase him down.
7. Defensive line. Cam Thomas at left end, Thornton at the nose, Hemer at right end. Inside zone to the right. Though to Jarvis could’ve done a better job of closing from the backside but then again, he was to protect vs a cutback. Bell got the carry.
8. Something happened to Kelvin Beachum on the next play. Jarvis Jones came in scot free. Blown assignment or something. Checkdown by Ben to Willliams.
9. On a zone block, Foster moves Cam Heyward down the line. Inside zone, big hole for Bell.
10. Don’t know if this is the defense one-gapping or not, but Tuitt explodes through the line and would’ve had a TFL on Archer if they could hit/tackle. Webb was in the slot on this play.
11. Defensive line. Conrath, Thornton, and a Niko Davis sighting. He rarely played today. Boyd slow with his checkdown but finds Scheuerman.
12. Boyd fires to C.J. Goodwin who makes a strong hands catch. Good coverage from Fogg but Goodwin got his hands extended and made the grab going to the ground.
13. Stingily had a carry.
14. Murphy comes in at QB. Looks at the right flat and the tight end on a curl. Nothing there. So he ducks and runs with a quick whistle from the coaches.
15. Outside zone by Scheuerman to end the day.
– No offensive line/defensive line or anything like that today. Maybe they have to be in pads to do that. I don’t know but can’t wait to see it. Lets you get a better look at the trench guys.
– The true professional that he is, after practice, AB was the first man on the jugs machine, making one-handed catches seem routine.
– Several players stayed after to work a little longer. Landry Jones threw to some receivers who had taken their pads off so I couldn’t see their numbers. The BC kids, Murphy and Phillips, in full pads, worked for at least 15 minutes after.
– Want to caution that though Dupree looked like he had a good first step, and his college tape shows that, he was going against Kelvin Palmer a couple times. The new OT was probably slow, barely knowing the snap count, and that is going to make an OLB look quicker.
– Speaking of the offensive line, the teams.
First Team: Beachum-Foster-Wallace-DeCastro-Gilbert
Second Team: Villanueva-Hubbard-Dismukes-Finney-Van Dyk
Third Team: Whimpey-Rahrig-Finney-Dieffenbach-Palmer
Don’t want to be *that guy* but think I pretty much nailed that in my prediction.
Your Mitch Hedberg Joke Of The Day
He’s one of my favorite comedians of all-time. Something about that deadpan, one-line humor that gets me. So each day, one of his jokes that made me laugh the hardest.
“When you’re a comedian in Hollywood everyone wants you to do things besides comedy. They say, ‘alright you’re a standup comedian. Can you act? Can you write? Write us a script.’ They want me to do things related to comedy but not comedy. That’s not fair. It’s as though as I was a cook and I worked to become a good cook and they said, ‘Alright, you’re a cook. Can you farm?’”
Let’s Talk About…
…Adam Sandler. Does he owe someone money? Gamble it all away at the track? I used to love his movies. We all did. The Waterboy. Mr. Deeds. Billy Madison. Even The Longest Yard was pretty good.
But either of Grown Ups. Jack and Jill. And now this new, video-game based movie, Pixels? I genuinely still believe he’s a funny guy. But Hollywood, you can’t just put “funny people” in a room and expect to hit oil. The script for Grown Ups had to have been “tell jokes” and nothing else.
I guess like sports icons, even actors are prone to washing up. Sandler may have officially hit his “Franco Harris in Seattle” stage.
I promise I won’t do this every day. My heart will explode. But you know I had to get one of these mystery meat sandwiches to kick off camp. Far too much mayo but overall, a decent sandwich. 7/10 McChickens
Your Pretty SVC Photo Of The Day
Man, what a gorgeous place. Picture doesn’t do it justice. Came out grainer than I thought. Will post a better one when I get home. But here it is, from the opening ceremony.