Training camp practice #11 for the Pittsburgh Steelers was another lighter period, with a host of players sitting out and many others limited to positional drills on air only. Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison were absent from Friday’s practice, as they make their way to Canton for Jerome Bettis’ Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Saturday.
The ripple effect was a full day of Landry Jones, Tajh Boyd, and Tyler Murphy, and the results were less than flattering. Alex will have the full list of injuries and abstainers, but it should be noted that Clifton Geathers was placed on injured reserve by the team this morning, and defensive lineman Joe Okafor was signed in his place. In addition, tight end Ray Hamilton was participating in his first practice with the team in place of the departed Rob Blanchflower.
Your daily stock report…
1. LB Jordan Zumwalt
It hasn’t been a pretty camp for Zumwalt, but the aggressive linebacker finally put together a nice session today, smashing Matt Spaeth after a short catch (be careful with that old man!), and then sifting through serious congestion to drag Cameron Stingily down for a short gain. Earlier in the 11v11, Zumwalt chased down a screen pass to the sideline to help out on a would-be tackle.
2. RB Cameron Stingily
Another guy who hasn’t earned a whole lot of praise in this space, but credit where credit is due. Stingily still isn’t much of a threat with the ball in his hands, but he did recognize his gaps a little quicker today, getting upfield with more urgency. He had two great blitz pickups during team period, running Terence Garvin up the arc, before stepping in to stone Ian Wild.
3. DL Niko Davis
I thought this was the best practice yet from Davis, who got reps ahead of Matt Conrath during one team period and made the most of them. Davis shed Miles Dieffenbach’s block to stop Stingily in his tracks at the line of scrimmage. He flashed some good bend in one-on-ones as well. The Liberty product also stayed after practice to run sprints on the near field. He’s a hard worker who hustles on every play, but is clearly limited versus NFL offensive linemen.
1. CB Antwon Blake
Blake’s had a good camp, but he’s got to fix his overly-physical nature when the ball is in the air. He’s getting killed by receivers on vertical routes, and because he can’t find the football, he’s face-guarding and getting grabby early when trying to play the pocket. Today the victims were C.J. Goodwin and Shakim Phillips, the latter of whom got a couple steps on Blake on a nine route. Gotta be able to stick with the guys who are on the roster bubble if you want to play a big role on Sundays.
2. DE Matt Conrath
It had to be difficult for Conrath to see not only Davis, but Okafor get reps with the third defense over him. I mean, the guy had been with the team for all of a few hours, and he’s getting reps over Conrath. Hard to argue with it however, as Conrath has had 10 days to show the coaching staff something, and he’s been largely disappointing.
3. QB Tajh Boyd
Boyd got his reps back today, but didn’t impress despite ample opportunity. It wasn’t all bad, but Boyd made some key errors, including failing to see a dropping Bud Dupree and throwing a would-be interception right through the linebacker’s hands. With Landry Jones taking baby steps and Tyler Murphy pushing Boyd for reps in camp, it looks like the third string quarterback job is Jones’ to lose heading into the preseason.
–Shayon Green made a great play to fly upfield and set a hard edge to force Jawon Chisholm back inside to where Garvin was waiting for him. The outside linebacker also put together another impressive period in one-on-ones, continuing to play with great leverage and powerful hands.
-Matt Spaeth showed the youngin’ who was boss during one 11v11 however, drive blocking the linebacker out of the play and into the line of players about ten yards behind the line of scrimmage. Green tried to counter inside, but to no avail, as Spaeth hand placement and technique was exquisite. There’s a reason that dude has lasted so long in the league, and those kind of plays show you why.
-Wild is in the middle of every gang tackle. He’s fearless on blitzes, and really has a nice first step to close on the ball in coverage. I’m excited for you guys to get to see him in action extensively on Sunday.
–Sammie Coates had more ups-and-downs today, skying to snatch a pass over Doran Grant’s head for a big gain during one team period. He failed to sustain a key block on Kevin Fogg during one screen pass however, and the cornerback blew the play up for a loss. Have to get aggressive and nasty on the perimeter, especially when you’re as big as Coates.
-Really like the hustle in Alejandro Villanueva’s pass set from the left tackle spot. Gets there in a hurry, which maximizes his length against defenders trying to dip the edge. Has to be careful not to overset however, as he’ll be susceptible to inside counters from more athletic and aware edge rushers.
–Ethan Hemer is a hustler who has a surprising amount of tools in his repertoire. He’ll hand fight with good leverage, and shows improved power to shed blockers at the point of attack. Hemer’s punch sent Dieffenbach a step or two backwards during one-on-ones, and the guard couldn’t recover. With Geathers gone, I still see Hemer as the most likely candidate to nab a spot on the active roster ahead of L.T. Walton. That said…
-I said this when Pittsburgh draft him, and I still believe it is true: Walton could be a player in a couple years. Hard-working, athletic kid with good size who will hustle his butt off and tackle with ferocity. He struggles to get off blocks simply due to technical limitations, and he has no idea what to do with hands, but he does possess an active upper half when battling blockers. Right now he’s a lot of movement without always having a clear purpose, but I love his upside if the coaching staff can continue to craft his abilities. Excited to watch him on Sunday.
-Tight ends coach James Daniel had his group working on turning defenders with an outside shade and sealing them toward the sideline. Daniel had Hamilton run through it twice and was talking to him about his footwork to avoid excessive movement when trying to hit the block.
The unit also worked on reach blocks, which involve getting their head/shoulders across and inside shade to seal him off from the ball carrier. Definitely one of the tougher blocks they’ll be tasked with in a game, so good to see the group working on it.
-Obviously trivial, but Brad Wing made an awesome one-handed catch over his head on a pass from Josh Harris before practice.