We’ve reached the halfway point of the Pittsburgh Steelers 18 training camp practices that are open to the media and public, and I’m happy to report that the weather has remained picture perfect. Day nine featured some hurry-up offense and plenty of spirited drills between the offensive and defensive lines, along with some unfortunate injuries.
Returning to practice was DeAngelo Williams, Jarvis Jones, Josh Harris, and Ramon Foster, although all appeared to be limited (Jones and Harris didn’t do any team drills). Daniel McCullers, Heath Miller, Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas, Markus Wheaton, James Harrison, Ross Ventrone, and of course Martavis Bryant all did not practice for various reasons. Eli Rogers was waived/injured before practice today, and was replaced by Wisconsin return man and diminutive wide receiver Kenzel Doe. Chris Hubbard was carted off with a toe injury, and Robert Golden also left practice with what looked like a potentially serious knee injury. More on that later.
Your daily stock report…
1. OT Kelvin Palmer
Palmer’s strong work over the past couple practices earned him some reps with the second team today over Mitchell Van Dyk, lining up at right tackle across from Alejandro Villanueva. Palmer looked good in one-on-ones, showing good feet to keep Anthony Chickillo from winning the edge, than a strong inside hand to keep the linebacker’s counter at bay. He then ran Bud Dupree off the arc with good feet, continuing to show that he can mirror explosive pass rushers. He needs to be more sudden out of his stance, as Dupree did beat him around the edge in 11v11 with a strong burst off the LOS.
2. OLB Shayon Green
Green continues to stack strong practices on top of each other, as the man is taking advantage of first team reps with Jarvis Jones out. He and Howard Jones alternated series across from Arthur Moats, but it was Green who made the most noise, coming down the LOS to drop one back for a loss and chasing another down from behind in pursuit. He’s not the best athlete in the world and lacks length and creativity as a pass rusher, but he’s strong at the point of attack and can shed blocks in the run game. There seems to be no place on the team for Green, but he’s making the kind of impact that could warrant a practice squad spot.
3. WR C.J. Goodwin
With Rogers unfortunate departure, the door is wide open for Goodwin to work his way onto the practice squad. The playmaking wide receiver made some strong catches today, and has received first team reps on the outside and from the slot with all the injuries at wide receiver. Goodwin showed off a ridiculous vertical on an overthrown pass by Ben Roethlisberger, and while the receiver couldn’t quite reach the throwaway pass, it was ridiculous the hangtime and clearance he got off the ground. If Goodwin can put it all together with increased preseason reps, there’s a spot on this team for him.
1. OT Marcus Gilbert
Rough practice for Gilbert, who struggled with hand placement and leverage in blocking drills, struggling to seal edge defenders in the run game. Moats was all over him during the line sessions, and dipped him for a sack later in 11v11.
2. LB Jordan Zumwalt
Everything Zumwalt does is simply too slow or indecisive. He doesn’t look explosive or athletic on the same field as the rest of these guys, and while his main competitor Terence Garvin was making plays, Zumwalt was struggling to get off blocks. He dropped too deep in goal-line drills, allowing an easy touchdown pass to be completed right in front of him, then got stoned on an A-gap blitz later in practice. Even Reese Dismukes threw him to the ground on one play. Speaking of which…
3. C Reese Dismukes
What an ugly camp it has been for Dismukes, who was throttled by Mike Thornton again in blocking drills. He just has no power at the point of attack, and can’t move anyone in the run game. Every snap Thornton shoved him 2-3 yards deep in the backfield right off of the snap, and, let’s be honest, Thornton isn’t going to be playing on Sundays in the NFL, much as I love his effort.
1. RB Jawon Chisholm
After three practices, I’ve decided there is no question that Chisholm is better than Cameron Stingily. Better receiver, way better athlete (not saying much, I know), more explosive at LOS, better after contact, and more versatile in his ability (was even flexed out to the slot today in goal line drills). He looks so natural catching fade route passes in the back of the end zone, even extending to reel in a one-handed catch and tap both feet in bounds for a score on air. I like this kid, I’m excited to see what he does in preseason games.
2. S Ian Wild
I think Alex and I just decided today that Wild is a fine athlete, regardless of whatever narrative might have surrounded him out of Mercyhurst. He’s a hard worker with good instincts and awareness of what is developing around him. Wild brings a linebacker’s toughness to the safety position, and his movement skills are honestly pretty fluid. With injuries to about half the team’s safeties now, Wild will have a big opportunity to prove himself in preseason action.
3. TE Jesse James
It was a good day for the young tight end, whose routes are developing nicely, and whose blocking was even praised on occasion. James hands looked pretty good in team sessions today, and while he still isn’t the best athlete down the field, he’s learning separation techniques in his patterns. With Matt Spaeth and Heath Miller unlikely to play much on Sunday, expect to see plenty of James.
-Golden’s injury was one of the strangest things I’ve seen in all my years of going to Steelers training camp. There was a collision at the catch point on a fourth down throw to Antonio Brown, and Golden flew in late to try and break the pass up. The play looked innocent enough, but Golden immediately ripped off his helmet when he hit the ground, rolling around and grabbing his leg and yelling obscenities. Immediately the atmosphere became somber, with several teammates dropping to a knee around him, and others, including Brown, walking away from the scene verbally upset.
After only about a minute Golden hopped up however, and limped his way to the sideline with some minor assistance from Cameron Heyward. He rode the cart up to the locker room and practice, which had seemed like an afterthought just a minute earlier, resumed as if nothing had happened. Then Mike Tomlin said after practice that he thought the injury could be serious. Strange scene to say the least, and definitely hope Golden is ok, as he was having an excellent camp.
–Kenzel Doe was in camp donning #82, catching punts with the top return group of he and Dri Archer. He looked fluid enough in drills, but I did see him bobble a punt later in special teams period. Despite plenty of experience, Doe had at least 11 fumbles in his final three college seasons, including several in the return game. Definitely an area of concern with him.
-Archer has a lot of difficulty catching passes outside of his frame. He obviously has a small catch radius, but he clearly isn’t comfortable when he has to extend for a grab. It cost the team a touchdown during the goal line session, and was apparent in receiving drills as well, as Archer tried to one-hand a pass on a slant pattern rather than simply extending both mitts for the catch.
–Roosevelt Nix and Garvin met in the hole for what may have been the collision of camp. Nix dropped his pad level to try and run Garvin over with every bit of his 5-11, 260-pound frame, but the veteran linebacker got even lower, leveraging his lanky 220-pounds to drop the back in his tracks. A great battle and one that earned Garvin plenty of high-fives and helmet slaps from his defensive counterparts.
-Despite the fact that Green is showing out at outside linebacker, I still think Howard Jones is playing very well for the most part. He’s inconsistent, but his hand usage has really made strides. Jones showed an explosive first step to get Kelvin Beachum on his heels, then slapped the offensive tackle’s hands down to win the edge. Jones swat was so violent Beachum actually stumbled to his knees. You don’t see Beach on the ground too often, giving you a glimpse of the special athleticism Jones exhibits at times. If he can ever focus and put it all together consistently, including the football IQ department, he has a higher ceiling as an all-around player than Green.
-Villanueva looked good in run-blocking drills. Fired off the ball low, and used his length to control defenders at the line of scrimmage. Sometimes Villanueva lunges a bit, but he has such long arms that he can often latch on to his targets regardless, and typically has the strength to hang on until he can bring his legs under him. Great athletes will give him issues however.
-Good example of veteran leadership during those run-blocking drills, with Heyward showing Niko Davis about hand positioning and how to control a blocker’s frame to gain outside leverage. James Harrison also jumped in to give Green pointers about his footwork on the edge.
-Moats had another strong practice. No one taking his starting spot anytime soon.
–Alden Darby and Isaiah Lewis can hit, man. No doubting the physicality those two show. They love to mix it up.
–Gerod Holliman finally hit someone! Nix caught a pass on a quick out, and Holliman hit him with a heavy shoulder while the big back was still turned away from him. It wasn’t good form, and it certainly wasn’t the same as taking on a back coming downhill, but his teammates whooped it up for him like they knew the narrative.
Normal Holliman was back a few plays later, when a running back (forget who) burst into the second level and the safety veered away into Sammie Coates half-hearted block. Will be anxious to watch him get more reps in preseason games.
–Darrius Heyward-Bey dropped another pass from Roethlisberger that would have gone for a touchdown in the hurry-up period. Right in his bread-basket as he pulled away from coverage down the near sideline. Just ridiculous at this point. Almost comical to watch.
-Stingily caught a short pass from Landry Jones, then turned around and was deposited on his rear by Vince Williams. Fumble, defense scoop-and-score. Few plays later, Jones threw into triple coverage and was intercepted by Kevin Fogg. Atrocious hurry-up period from the second team offense.
-Shame about Rogers injury. He can play in this league, and I hope he gets the chance to.