I’ve decided I love night practices, not just because the heat has subsided some by that point, but also because the players’ energy seems to skyrocket when they don’t have to suit up until the evening. Wednesday night was definitely an enthusiastic practice with plenty of highlight (and lowlight) moments for several players, but great pace and action overall.
Not participating in practice once again was Daniel McCullers, Ross Ventrone, Robert Golden, and Vince Williams, while Cortez Allenand Lawrence Timmons appeared to just be receiving maintenance days as they watched practice in street clothes. Timmons never misses even a rep in practice, so likely a sign of the coaches being careful his body doesn’t undergo too much wear-and-tear as he reaches his ninth season.
Jordan Zumwalt missed practice with a groin injury (I actually didn’t see him anywhere on the sideline either), and Mike Mitchell once again did not participate in team sessions. With today’s knee surgeries effectively ending Cameron Stingily and Shaun Suisham’s seasons, the Steelers signed Kentucky rookie RB Braylon Heard (#40) and veteran wide receiver David Nelson (#15) to fill out the 90-man roster.
Your daily stock report…
1. WR Markus Wheaton
Like Bryant the day before, Wheaton’s return to 11v11 sessions was eventful, as the third-year receiver raced past Gerod Holliman to snag a deep throw down the far sideline for a touchdown early in practice. Wheaton made another fantastic catch later during the team session, laying out for a low Roethlisberger throw on the near sideline to corral the pass before sliding out of bounds. Fantastic catch, which drew the praise of Mike Tomlin as Wheaton landed near his feet.
2. OLB Bud Dupree
Strong day for Dupree, who started off quietly, but was consistently in the thick of things during run period, showing better awareness to track and move toward the ball with increased urgency. The rookie closed practice with a bang, slipping past Will Johnson for what would have been close to a sack on the first play of the second team’s two-minute drill. Dupree then showed off his athleticism, dropping into coverage before jumping a curl route in front of him that would have resulted in an interception, had Landry Jones not thrown the ball directly intoJames Harrison’s arms a few yards in front of Dupree (Harrison dropped the INT). Dupree then capped off his excellent drive by running right around tight end Ray Hamilton for a sack of Jones, as Mitchell Van Dyk also attempted in vain to seal the edge.
3. QB Ben Roethlisberger
Ben was dropping dimes all over the field today, including a gorgeous throw to Antonio Brown on a corner route and the aforementioned deep toss to Wheaton for the touchdown. Showed great pocket presence to escape, extend the play, and find receivers all day, including on a touchdown to Brown early in the goal line period. Made one of his best throws to gun a 20+ yard completion to AB from the pocket despite pressure in his face keeping him from stepping all the way into the throw. Just a fantastic day from the Steelers ace.
1. DE Matt Conrath
Out-matched in one-on-ones, scarcely getting reps in team period, Conrath’s days in Pittsburgh appear very numbered. Simply has not made an impact and doesn’t have the ability or strength at the point of attack to even give his teammates a good look.
2. QB Landry Jones
Atrocious day for Jones, throwing two interceptions (at least) and consistently struggling to run the offense. Saw some exotic looks from the defense when lining up and brought the offense back into the huddle three times during practice, prompting a couple coaches and players to yell out, “Let’s go!”. Was a total mess during the two-minute drill, never seeing Harrison drop into coverage on one should-be interception, and basically just throwing the ball up late in the drive, which B.W. Webb elevated to pick off easily. The other interception was a terribly underthrown nine route to Darrius Heyward-Bey that Kevin Fogg easily grabbed despite the fact that he had lost a few steps on the receiver. Ugly performance from Jones.
3. OT Alejandro Villanueva
It wasn’t that Villanueva was struggling mightily or anything, but he got beat up a bit in one-on-ones pretty good. Jarvis Jones worked him a couple of times for would-be sacks, then Ethan Hemer ripped past him as the looper on a well-timed stunt, tossing the big lineman off balance.
-Thought Sammie Coates had a nice day, making his best catch as a Steeler by elevating for a sweet grab between two defenders despite the pass being behind him. Coates got up gimpy, but stayed in for the remainder of practice. I do want to see him tuck the ball away consistently in positional drills and run hard after the catch. Practice good habits.
-No idea why, but Ryan Shazier wore Vince Williams’ #98 today in practice. And he was just as dominant as usual, flying all over the field for stops.
-A couple notes, more for their randomness than anything, but Brandon Boykin dropped a punt and Le’Veon Bell dropped a pass today. Two things I haven’t seen happen at all during camp.
–Jordan Dangerfield had a good goal line session, blanketing Matt Spaeth to force a throw-away in the back of the end zone, before closing quickly to swat down a Landry Jones pass at the goal line a play later.
–DeAngelo Williams showed great vision for his best run in practice so far, opting for the cutback lane when Shamarko Thomas flew up the field to blow up Roosevelt Nix and keep the run from bouncing outside.
–Garrett Hartley had a strong field goal session during special teams, making all of his kicks (from what we could see) until he got out to about 56 yards, where he missed two consecutive attempts. Inside of 50, I don’t believe he missed.
–Stephon Tuitt is going to be a handful for any lineman this season. Unblockable at times in practice.
-For as bad as Landry Jones’ day was, he also had perhaps his best throw as a Steeler, dropping a dime over James Harrison’s head toShakim Phillips on a corner route. Phillips again showed off his typically fantastic body control to toe-tap for the catch along the boundary.
–Heath Miller may have made the catch of the day by contorting for a Roethlisberger pass thrown well behind him, in order to make a gorgeous one-handed grab down the seam.
–Antwon Blake is consistently a step too late in coverage, but I’m not really blaming him, as the vast majority of the time Antonio Brown has been the one victimizing him. Working against the best receiver in the league has to be making Blake better each day however, as the young cornerback has a lot of confidence and physicality to his game already.
–Alden Darby was running around prior to practice, yelling encouragement to teammates and getting guys psyched for drills. Chirping during team sessions, running around in run support, making sure teammates are lined up correctly. Gonna be difficult to cut this guy if it comes to that.
-That said, Ian Wild was all over the place making stops, one time knifing through the offensive interior to wrestle down Josh Harris after a short gain. He’s just fearless in all portions of the field. For example, most of the time when guys blitz and get in free for a would-be sack, they simply slow up and trot past the quarterback out of the play. Not Wild. He sprints to the quarterback, and as soon as his would-be sack is apparent, he turns and sprints back into coverage to try and make a play there. Never seen that before. Motor is incredible.
-Tons of post-practice work for players, as Villanueva ran sprints on one end of the field while Niko Davis worked on his punch on the goal post before running his own set of sprints on the other. Ian Wild ran sprints on the far field. A couple of players did plank exercises after practice as well, one was Jarvis Jones.
-David Nelson worked on his routes after practice with Landry Jones throwing to him. He dropped the first pass on a slant, but secured the rest. Coates and Kenzel Doe jumped in to get some reps as well. Nelson didn’t come down until about halfway through practice, but made sure to meet with Todd Haley after the session had concluded.
–Cody Wallace’s son Ryder is the best part of every post-practice session. Plays catch with his dad while donning a #72 jersey, then runs out on the field to interact with other players and coaches. Can tell he just loves the atmosphere. Adorable kid.