Probably the most sparsely populated fan presence we’ve seen at Pittsburgh Steelers training camp this year, but that did nothing to temper the enthusiasm of the players on the field. With several players returning to action in full pads and James Harrison making his training camp debut, there was a much better barometer by which to measure each participant’s level of play than there was last week.
In addition to Harrison returning to action as a full participant in practice, Martavis Bryant, Cortez Allen, and Heath Miller were also not held back in their return to the lineup. Markus Wheaton and Mike Mitchell were in full pads, but limited, as neither participated in team drills. Matt Spaeth sat out for his typical maintenance day, while Ross Ventrone, Vince Williams, Daniel McCullers, and of course Robert Golden remained in street clothes. Shaun Suisham and Cameron Stingily will both have knee surgery tomorrow, Mike Tomlin told the media after practice.
Wide receiver Devin Gardner was waived/injured to make room for new kicker Garrett Hartley to be added to the 90-man roster. His injury is unknown at this time. Tyler Murphy ran with the receivers most of the day as a result.
Your daily stock report…
1. WR Martavis Bryant
First of all, nice to have a bigger pool of players to draw from for these categories. Bryant showed no ill-effects from his elbow surgery, looking smooth in positional drills and catching the ball cleanly outside his frame. The big wide receiver made one of the best plays of camp by skying above Will Allen and Cortez Allen to come down with a deep throw for a touchdown. It looked like a sure pick until Bryant out-jumped both defenders for the grab.
2. S Ian Wild
Another strong day for the young safety, who was flying around the field during team sessions making stops. Wild even tackled the ball carrier twice despite the fact it was technically a non-tackling drill, prompting Alden Darby to yell, “No tackling, Wild!” in jest. He’s a diverse player who can do a little bit of everything and plays assignment-sound football while displaying sure tackling.
3. LB Ryan Shazier
Shazier followed up his strong performance during Sunday’s game with another brilliant showing in practice, flying all over the field to make stops. His athleticism to the perimeter is impressive, especially when he gets his first step heading in that direction before blockers can get on him at the second level. If he can stay healthy…
1. TE Jesse James
Not trying to rain on this kid after a tough Sunday, but he’s struggling catching the football all-of-a-sudden. Two drops in team period, one on the goal line. A double-catch that he pinned to his back hip in positional drills. James did destroy Howard Jones in run-blocking drills however, and held his own against Arthur Moats, so he’s progressing in that area.
2. TE Cameron Clear
Rough practice for Clear, who got beat up pretty good during the run-blocking session (more on that in a minute). Also dropped a pass during positional drills, and got an earful from Tomlin, the details of which I couldn’t quite make out.
3. LB Howard Jones
Tough session for Jones, who got worked by Jesse James in one-on-ones, then lined up incorrectly and had to be told by Darby to step out to cover the slot and move off the LOS. Continues to visibly struggle with football IQ stuff and playing with consistently sound technique. He makes a couple nice plays every practice, but the drop-off to his bad plays is pretty steep.
1. Moats wins by shedding James’ block after a decent battle.
2. James shows a much better punch to knock Moats backward off the LOS.
3. Tough battle, but James eventually seals the edge on Moats. Didn’t look like the OLB was going full speed on the second and third reps, as tight ends coach James Daniel may have slowed things down for the rookie to talk him through technique.
4. Jarvis Jones and Ray Hamilton engage, the outside linebacker slowly walks him back but can’t shed.
5. Hamilton buries Jarvis, as the defender got over-extended trying to engage and fell forward.
6. Bud Dupree springs free late, but Clear does a decent job to seal him inside initially. Spaeth in street clothes is simulating the running back by the way, and he’s just trotting to the hole. Makes it a little tough to judge just how long the tight ends need to hold their blocks.
7. Dupree shows a nice shoulder dip and rip move to duck under Clear’s punch and win inside.
8. Clear gets overextended right off the snap and misses his punch on Dupree, going to all fours on the ground while the linebacker easily dances around him.
9. Shayon Green and Heath Miller battle to a stalemate, but the tight end holds his ground.
10. Green engages Miller in a good battle, forcing the tight end down the LOS, but cannot shed the block.
11. Miller gets his head across Green’s outside shoulder to seal the linebacker inside.
12. Anthony Chickillo never disengages from Will Johnson, but does turn the fullback all the way around. Not sure what the objective of the block was, so tough to tell who won.
13. Chickillo rips under Johnson’s inside arm to get into the backfield cleanly.
14. James gets his head around Howard Jones outside shoulder but gets driven back by the linebacker. Jones won the leverage battle and took James for a ride, but didn’t shed the block.
15. James responds by pancaking Jones, who got too high off the snap and was bent over backwards by the rookie tight end. The inconsistencies continue with Jones.
16. Jones jumps before the snaps, tries to get back but James catches him off balance and drives him to the ground again.
17. Hamilton lunges and Moats dances around him easily, knocking his punch down in the process.
18. Hamilton seals Moats inside.
19. Moats shows great hand usage to ferociously chop down Hamilton’s punch and get into the backfield clean.
20. Clear lunges at Jarvis, lands the blow, but doesn’t bring his feet under him and face-plants as Jones moves around him into the backfield. Have to bring your lower half as a blocker in the NFL.
21. Clear latches on to Jones, but again is overextending, allowing the linebacker to dip inside and draw a clear hold.
22. Exact same scenario, maybe even more of a hold by Clear. Spaeth talks to him in earnest as the two make their way over to the near field for team drills.
-Darby is a vocal leader when he is on the field, constantly yelling encouragement to teammates, correcting young players, and pumping the defense up for big stops. “3rd-and-3, let’s get off the field!” Darby yelled at one point. Every third down he reminds the defense how big a stop would be. Love the heart and passion he puts into practice.
-Will Johnson made a great one-handed catch in positional drills.
-Moats had another strong session, setting a fantastic edge to stymie an Antonio Brown end-around that actually turned into a throwback pass during goal line work. Alex will have more on that potential future two-point play. The linebacker also barely missed tipping away Ben Roethlisberger’s touchdown pass to Miller a play later. Moats also had a sick counter on Marcus Gilbert during 11v11, punching the tackle’s chest plate to knock him out of his stance and flattening quickly inside to the quarterback for a would-be sack.
-Speaking of Gilbert, he needs to show up ready to play for tomorrow’s practice. Some lapses in technique for him during Sunday and today that shouldn’t be showing up in year five. Needs to get back to the nasty way he was playing early in camp.
–Terence Garvin offered the best coverage on Le’Veon Bell that I’ve seen from a linebacker during one-on-ones. Bell still got open and made the catch on an out route, but Garvin was right with him.
-Green blew up Hamilton at the LOS on one run play. Knocked him five yards back.
-Harrison did the same thing to Heath a little earlier in practice, bullying the veteran tight end into the backfield on the backside of a run play. Harrison looked good in his return. His first step isn’t gonna scare anyone, but his punch and physicality are tough to handle. Plays with such a low center of gravity and can still dip the edge if need be. Walked Alejandro Villanueva back on one snap, although the big lineman did hold his ground in the end.
-Chickillo beat Mitchell Van Dyk around the edge twice for would-be sacks during 11v11. Pretty sure Van Dyk was the blocker. Dipped the edge both times.
–Kelvin Palmer has had an up-and-down first few weeks in Pittsburgh, but did show some good feet to run Dupree up the arc during the team session.
-Alex and I had an interesting discussion near the end of practice. He asked me if I thought the Steelers would keep five safeties, which I do, and then he asked who I would keep as the fifth safety if Shamarko Thomas, Mitchell, Allen, and Golden are all locks to make the roster. Forced to choose on the spot between Ventrone, Wild, Darby, Gerod Holliman, or Jordan Dangerfield, I mulled over what each player brings to the table.
I think Ventrone is a hustler who will excel on special teams, work his butt off in practice, and sacrifice his body for the team every time. Ton of value to a guy like that, but athletically, and in coverage, he’s probably replaceable. Also, what you see is what you get with him at this point.
Wild and Darby are both hustlers, Darby seems more vocal and played really well as the up-back in place of Golden on Sunday. Wild is a more fluid athlete in a multi-directional sense, and shows great form and pursuit angles as a tackler. Darby a little less of an easy mover, but has a good first step and will play physical. Very close here.
Holliman has shown me nothing, while Dangerfield is a nutcase on the field who is out of control as a tackler and a limited athlete as well.
It is very close between Ventrone, Wild, and Darby, but I’ll go with Wild for now, at least until Ventrone can get back out here and show me something. Darby is definitely in the mix though, coaches seem to like him, so this should be a fun battle once Ventrone returns.
Sorry Holliman lovers, neither Alex nor I see how he makes the team at this point.