It’s only eight practices and we’re still several days away from our first game, but with the off day, it’s a nice chance to review the progress of each Pittsburgh Steeler. Take it with a grain of salt, there’s still so far to go, but it’s a nice bow on each player. We’ll break it down by position.
Ben Roethlisberger: You didn’t come here to learn about what Big Ben has done in camp. But training camp always present a nice moment to really exhibit how far head and shoulders he is above the other quarterbacks. Ability to make throws no one else on the team can make. How he can throw a dart while rolling out. A leader of this team. And a guy who stays after to throw to receivers. Going to be another elite year for Roethlisberger.
Landry Jones: I’ve repeated this on the training camp podcasts but I wrote before camp I needed to see him consistently make the gimmie throws every QB should make. And I don’t think he’s quite done that yet. There have been two or three instances of him being woefully inaccurate on throws within five yards. Makes it hard to trust a guy like that. The positives have been that Jones spins a good ball, has made the occasional difficult throw, and does seem more comfortable with an improved internal clock.
Tajh Boyd: Where did he go? Maybe he still is being considered the #3 – with Bruce Gradkowski out – but his reps have seemed to really diminish the last few days. When he got consistent reps, I didn’t see anything overly special with him. He did show the ability to make a couple NFL-caliber throws, which was a nice sign, but they were relatively far and few between.
He needs to string together a few good practices to get his snap count at a good place.
Tyler Murphy: Guy that’s been picking it up the last few days and has gotten a bulk of the snaps ahead of Boyd. It’s easy to think quarterback is “new” to the position with the thought he was going to become a receiver, but he’s been a QB all his life.
Overall, I’m happy with Murphy. He doesn’t look totally lost out there for a UDFA rookie. He’s getting away from center quick, keeping his eye level up, and working hard after practice.
Still plagued by some rookie woes. Locking onto his target instead of reading the defense and getting off his first read and he hasn’t had many spectacular throws.
Le’Veon Bell: Dude. Is. Ripped. Always has his jersey rolled up in warmups. Six pack abs like nobody’s business. You’re getting the Bell you expect. The most notable news is the suspension reduction.
DeAngelo Williams: It isn’t to the degree of change Bell went through coming into last year but you can Williams has lost some weight and gained some much needed quickness. Like his burst around the edge. He’s a professional and a great guide for Bell and really is going to give the Steelers comfort at the position. Not just for the duration of Bell’s suspension but the entire season.
Josh Harris: He’s in remarkable shape. You know that already. I didn’t learn a lot about him as a runner, but I thought he’s done a fine job. Shoulder injury has kept him out the last two days, slightly unfortunate considering all the injuries at the position.
Dri Archer: I don’t have anything crazy to say about him good or bad. Used much of the same from last year but he looks more comfortable, which you’d obviously expect from a second-year guy. The odds on favorite to be the starting kick returner and he’ll make Mike Tomlin think about placing him on punts.
Cameron Stingily: Written about him quite a bit and nothing in this blurb will be regarded as new. Hard worker, sure he’s a great guy, living the dream, all that nice stuff. But he’s not an NFL player. There has to be some level of speed and explosion, even for a big back like him. It isn’t there with Stingily. And he’s terribly awkward out of the backfield and doesn’t seem particularly apt in protection, his lack of lateral movement hindering him. He could hang around as a body but if everyone is healthy by the first cut down date, that’s in less than a month, who could be one of the first 15 turning in their playbooks.
Jawon Chisholm: New guy, just getting to learn about the player he is, but I generally like what I’ve seen. Hard-nosed guy who gets downhill and can churn out some yards after contact. Pittsburgh is where he wanted to be and he’s getting an opportunity. He says versatility in his calling card, we’ll see if the team uses him in that way. If they do, it’ll be a nice boost to his value.
Will Johnson: I get asked about Johnson occasionally, fans sometimes worried because I don’t mention him much. But Johnson has looked just fine and his roster spot is certainly secure. Wears so many hats. Line up in the backfield, on the line, off the line, out wide or in the slot. Multi-phase special teamer and according to Jon Ledyard when he met him, a laid-back guy with a likable personality. Johnson is the type of player every team should have at least one of.
Roosevelt Nix: Nix has gotten some chatter for his play over the last few practices. It’s been well-deserved, and I think going that extra mile to work with James Saxon prior to practice is paying off. He’s a former defensive lineman, a big body who looks every bit of the 260 he’s listed, and generates a big pop when he meets a linebacker in the hole. Still, he’s a very limited athlete and a one-dimensional player.
Antonio Brown: Brown has the time of his life at camp. Always smiling on the field, pumping up the crowd, wearing a funny hat. All complete with a wide smile on his face. I think Jon put it best, simply saying his play has been ridiculous. I won’t add much more. He makes plays no one else on that field can do.
Markus Wheaton: I haven’t seen anything objectively bad from him. The occasional hiccup in being on the same page as everyone else, natural for a player with a heavier burden of playing in the slot. There’s been some good though nothing spectacular. In every three receiver set, Wheaton has lined up in the slot. Really interested in watching this guy in a game.
Martavis Bryant: Perhaps a slightly quiet camp though that could be in part to the lofty expectations he had coming in. Still, there’s been a handful of big play, including full extension to reach back for a ball thrown behind him. Elbow infection has obviously knocked him out the last couple practices as well as the next several.
Sammie Coates: He’s been much better the last couple days than where he started. It was a rough beginning, not a surprise for an objectively raw, rookie receiver, learning where to line up and how to run proper routes. He’s still running behind most of the receivers, Eli Rogers and C.J. Goodwin are ahead of him, but he’s shown a quickness after the catch that’s caught my attention. Hands need to be more consistent. Will still drop some easy ones in drills.
Eli Rogers: An early star of camp, we have to first hope his foot injury isn’t severe. Sure, Tomlin called it a foot sprain after practice but sprains can easily become fractures under closer examination. Prior to that, he was having a stellar start. A smooth, natural return man who can separate as a receiver and made some heady NFL plays, including my favorite of diving out for the ball, making the catch, and immediately getting upfield to run.
He’s consistently run in the first group with the likes of AB and Wheaton, getting a lot of valuable work in catching passes from Roethlisberger. He’s mostly lined in the slot but has occasionally gotten reps on the outside. His size limits his catch radius and he’s had a couple drops, like any receiver, but he gets his hands away from his body and has shown the ability to adjust to the ball in mid-air.
Darrius Heyward-Bey: There’s no denying DHB is a good athlete who can make some of the lower talented or inexperienced corners look bad. And he’s strung together good practices in camp. But a day like Monday reminded all of us that he’s a special teamer first and an (emergency) wide receiver second. So many bad habits catching the ball. Leaving his feet, letting the ball into his chest, and countless inexcusable drops. It’ll haunt him wherever he goes.
C.J. Goodwin: We were hoping to see the skills that showed up on paper translate onto the field. So far, it has. Goodwin has an impressive vertical and I love how physical and competitive he is to fight for the ball at its highest point. After Rogers left on Monday, Goodwin was the next man up, playing in the slot and on the outside. He’s still well down on the depth chart, you can probably peg him as the #6 right now (and that’s in front of Coates, who is definitely making the roster) on the outside looking in on the Steelers roster. That’s not really any fault of his own. The team is just so loaded at the position.
Shakim Phillips: Phillips hasn’t been talked about much the past several days, but he stuck out to me early in camp with his ability to find and adjust to the football. Shows nice body control. I am hoping he can make another play or two in team drills to remind us of the talent he has. Making plays is the name of the game.
Devin Gardner: He’s the most raw of all the receivers and it certainly shows. His big frame lends itself to being able to box out cornerbacks but he’s a sloppy route runner that has trouble naturally separating. Gets by on that size more than anything else. Again, with how talented this group is, it’s difficult envisioning how he’ll make even the practice squad.
Heath Miller: Another one of those players barely worth reporting on. He’s rotating off days with Matt Spaeth. He may only have two years left but he’s going to be one of the offenses quiet leaders.
Matt Spaeth: He routes require maximum effort, he’s just a stiff player, and as Jon pointed out, looks like he skipped leg day. I told him that if the Steelers hadn’t drafted him, he would’ve been out of the league seven years ago. But he’s a quality blocker, which is all the team asks for out of their #2 tight end.
Jesse James: Tight ends are just tough for me to evaluate during practices. James has made some rookie mistakes, Ben once talked to him after running the wrong route, and he isn’t a particularly gifted athlete. He’s shown some ability to block in space, an area I thought he struggled on his college tape. He’s supposed to be a senior in college and that makes him a project in itself but I still see him as the frontrunner for the #3 spot.
Rob Blanchflower: Have had a couple spirited debates with Jon about him. He likes him more than I do, but we both agree he’ll never do any particular thing well. And that’s what really makes me wonder if it’s worth keeping him. He’s a decent athlete and looks fluid in drills but seems a dime-a-dozen player. Maybe he’ll show something in games.
Cameron Clear: He got off to a particularly tough start, looking out of shape to the point where the heat caused him to leave early before one practice. He’s been a little better, making a couple of tough catches down the seam and being a decent blocker. He’s a poor athlete, and always will be, but I’m not giving up my pre-training camp hope of him carving out a role on the practice squad.
Kelvin Beachum: Written about it before, Beachum rarely looks bad. Guy is just so technically sound, maintains a perfect base, with a great punch and hand use. He’s having another good camp and will hopefully be rewarded with a long-term deal before Week One.
Ramon Foster: Foster got dinged with a left shoulder injury but it doesn’t appear to be anything serious. There’s nothing new to learn or report about him but by no means is that a bad thing.
Maurkice Pouncey: He returned on Monday and immediately jumped in with the first team. He’s looked healthy for the last week and his injury was never serious. He’ll continue to be the athletic pivot man few teams can boast.
David DeCastro: DeCastro has to often face Stephon Tuitt in drills. That lends itself to getting beat sometimes but DeCastro more than holds his own. Plays with great hand placement and is an athletic guy that can pull. They’ve used him on regular trap blocks and some short pulls, probably fold blocks, to diversify their power running game.
Marcus Gilbert: Thought it’s been another nice camp for Gilbert. Hard to really identify technique when watching it live but Gilbert plays with a wide base that allows him to anchor against bull rushes. And he’s got a unique body type, a lean player with a great physique.
Alejandro Villanueva: One of the most hyped players of camp hasn’t disappointed. Don’t go locking him into the 53 man roster but overall, it’s been an encouraging start. Absolute huge dude with incredible length that creates a lot of separation between him and the defender as a run blocker. Doesn’t get moved against bull rushes, his size and strength combination lets him absorb rushes with easy. He moves better laterally than you’d expect but is constantly fighting his size. Punch can be too high and when he tries to get low, he has a tendency to double over. Dying to see this guy in a game.
Chris Hubbard: Hubbard isn’t a big dude, and he routinely goes against players that have several inches and pounds on him, but he’s a technically sound player who does a nice job getting low and playing with proper leverage. The majority of his work has come at left guard though there was a few instances he worked as center, something Tomlin noted he’s done in the past. Want to see how athletic he is in game.
Cody Wallace: Served as the first team center in Pouncey’s absence. Not a lot to learn about him at this point. Hopefully he can get a couple reps at guard with Pouncey back. Should be the first backup at all three interior spots.
B.J. Finney: Player I was really high on before camp and my optimisim hasn’t been tempered very much. He’s gotten time at center and right guard. Strong upper body with a little better knee bend than I saw on his college tape. Has looked silly at times, particularly against more athletic defenders, but he’s the closest player to knock Hubbard off the roster.
Mitchell Van Dyk: Huge 6’7 330 frame that can get a push in the run game. Slightly more athletic than I thought. Bud Dupree and him have had some great battles. Do want to see him show more active eyes in pass protection but that’s a minor quibble. He’s mostly been at right tackle but told me he even got some work at right guard. Will definitely be looking out for other players moving around the rest of the week.
Kevin Whimpey: He’s been…just ok. Decent upper body strength, which is what we expected given his Utah State tape. But he’s just an adequate athlete laterally and isn’t quick enough to be a left tackle. His best hope is for Villanueva to make the 53, opening up the door for Whimpey on the practice squad. But even then, there’s no guarantee.
Collin Rahrig: Rahrig sure does look tiny out there at 6’2 295. He works hard to get full arm extension, using his size to get lower and play with impressive leverage. Nice football IQ who plays with active eyes. Worry is that he just isn’t good enough laterally and his size will always work against him. Hope he gets some work at center; versatility was a plus out of Indiana but from what I’ve seen, his work has only come at left guard.
Reese Dismukes: Didn’t like him out of camp. Still not a fan. The snaps were one thing and sure, they probably weren’t all his fault. But he’s undersized and very limited athletically. Not a good recipe for success. He may have seen a couple snaps at right guard the other day but has primarily been a center. Lack of versatility annihilates his already slim chances.
Miles Dieffenbach: There was some intrigue with him prior to camp. He probably would’ve been drafted had he not missed part of his senior year with a torn ACL. There have been a couple bright moments but he’s really struggling with sitting in his stance. Heavy waist-bender and generally has trouble staying on his feet. Needs to clean that up. Still going to be a candidate for the practice squad.
Kelvin Palmer: He certainly doesn’t look like a guy that was signed the day before camp. Good size and some more athleticism than I expected. Still can look silly against linebackers with a great first step and he’s not much more than a practice squad candidate but he’s certainly not Emmanuel McCray from last year.
Cam Heyward: Missed the last few days with rest. Nothing to be concerned about. Gets a great push at the LOS and a potent pass rusher. Goal is to see him hit double-digit sacks in 2015. Tall task but if there’s anyone who can do it, it’s Heyward.
Steve McLendon: Not much to report out of him. With so much subpackage football, it’s not like nose tackles are playing a ton and with them always in the middle of the pile, it can be difficult to watch them. Could be dealing with a minor shoulder issue, probably mostly preventative, that has almost made him a limited participant the past few days.
Stephon Tuitt: Man, I’m excited for this kid this year. Has really flashed at camp, getting penetration against the run and in one-on-ones, has shown quick, violent hands that can make even DeCastro double-over. Going to be a breakout year for Tuitt in a similar – though probably a little less impactful – way to Heyward in 2014.
Daniel McCullers: Shade Tree missed Monday’s practice with a hamstring. Looked like it came in goal line drills on Sunday. We saw him getting stretched out after practice. One of my favorite moments in camp came in his scuffle with Dismukes. Love seeing the guy get angry and straight dominate a dude. Has also occasionally shown quick hands and some moves other than his bull rush. Playing time is naturally limited by his potion and place on the depth chart but he’ll be able to provide some impact plays in ’15.
Cam Thomas: Thomas, if you can believe it, has had a nice camp. It’ll be awfully difficult to forget about the terrible 2014 campaign but he’s showing strength at the POA and is two-gapping well, getting off blocks and making plays in the backfield. Has recently gotten snaps at nose tackle and third-team left end.
Clifton Geathers: Running as the second team right end. Big body with an ungodly amount of length. But I think it gets in the way sometimes. Heavy-handed and doesn’t show a variety of moves. He’s Thomas’ best competition.
L.T. Walton: Was a surprise to see him open up as the second-team left end. Decent hand fighter and is showing off that motor that helped get him drafted but he needs to do a better job getting off blocks against the run and the pass.
Ethan Hemer: Third team right end. Shows well in one-on-one and occasionally flashes in team drills. Nice motor and some pleasantly surprising hand use, but think he’s destined for the practice squad in a best-case scenario. A guy who should be rooting for Walton to make the 53.
Joe Kruger: Talking about the guys who are getting rotated in and out, severely curtailing their playing time. Has a nice first punch and gets his arms extended but has struggled to stand out in team periods.
Matt Conrath: A disappointment for me in the first eight practices. Has been fighting to get snaps at left end and the occasional nickel package but hasn’t looked as good as I thought or hoped. Physically imposing frame that’s been able to knock down passes but wish he would use his hands better. He tries to rip in every rep and his 6’7 frame doesn’t let him get under lineman.
Niko Davis: Guy that had me interested in how he’d look at camp. Compared him to former 7th rounder Nick Williams, a small school kid with some athleticism. But we’re probably looking at someone whose Steelers’ career is going to end up more like Roy Philon. Done better the last two days, probably a product of him being more comfortable in the system, but the snap count is so low he’s easy to forget about. Really going to have to make splash plays in these first two games to get him past the first cuts on September 1st.
Mike Thornton: Extremely undersized player without much raw strength. But he knows how to use his leverage and is a little mosquito – quick hands who can penetrate and blow plays up. Still, a longshot to even make the practice squad. Probably will last the entire preseason since the team will need a body at nose tackle for the fourth preseason game.
James Harrison: Has yet to officially practice but is out there every day in a grey sweatshirt and sweatpants, sweating through it by practice’s end. He’s fine and will hopefully be given the green light sometime soon.
Arthur Moats: A nice camp for the second-year Steeler. Nothing new to say that I haven’t already said. Flies to the ball, a hard worker, no-nonsense pass rusher, and a high character person. Excited to see him work in 2015.
Jarvis Jones: Not sure what is up with the latest batch of injuries. Hopefully they shut him down for the next day or two to get him fully back to health so he can finish practices, something he’s been unable to do the last three days. Run defense has been really encouraging. Sets a physical edge and flies to the football. As a pass rusher? Eh, still leaving something to be desired. The saga continues.
Bud Dupree: Progressing nicely. Hasn’t always been dominate, and that’s perfectly ok, but I really like how he’s developed his counters over a short time. Started off camp always trying to dip the edge. Now we’re seeing more violent hand use, outside/inside moves, and he’s loving that inside spin. Guy works really hard in one-on-ones, a persistent pass rusher.
Anthony Chickillo: One of the fast risers and camp and certainly one of the most impressive rookies. I know we haven’t even hit a game yet but there’s a lot to like about this guy. Came in at 254 and is a strong athlete. Would have never guessed that he was playing as a four technique nine months ago. Shows terrific bend around the edge, a guy who is developing counters, and has good football IQ. Good chase to the ball and makes the most out of the chances where he’s been left unblocked. Who knows how things will look in a month but a really positive start for Chickillo.
Howard Jones: Jones can flash. At his best, his first step rivals Dupree. He does a nice job being able to create the threat of winning the edge only to counter back inside. Occasional hand use also makes him a threat. But he’s terribly inconsistent, gets shoved up the arc too much, and takes himself out of plays. Feel like his arsenal is on the same page as Chickillo, not a growing compliment for a guy who is a year ahead. As Jon has pointed out, he seems a little more unfocused, too, a special teams gaffe where he forgot to run out as a “returner” to be tackled.
Shayon Green: He’s strung together two impressive practices. I don’t know if it’s giving a guy a bone for his positive play but he jumped over Howard Jones at ROLB on Monday, getting a run with the first team. He’s still a longshot but is holding his own against the run better than I thought and is a decent pass rusher. I want to see more out of him. See if he can keep his play up.
Lawrence Timmons: It’s Law Dog. What else is there to say? Guy has been fine and like usual, don’t think he’s missed a rep. One of the few veterans who doesn’t take rest days.
Ryan Shazier: No surprise here. One of the best athletes on the field. Guy closes on the ball in a hurry and flies around out there. Games will do a better job of letting us know how he’s doing versus the run. Ideally, he’ll be a full participant today after dealing with a nagging back injury.
Sean Spence: Best thing I’ve seen out of him is his physicality. Really embracing that this year. His first step, in that he doesn’t take false steps, is the main thing I’ll be watching for on tape.
Vince Williams: Vince…dude just loves to hit. He could never play in a flag football game. That’s not a surprising takeaway but the most notable one from #98. He’s having a solid camp.
Terence Garvin: I don’t talk about the inside linebackers a lot because I feel the position is pretty much locked up. Garvin is going to be the 5th inside linebacker. A real tone setter on special teams. Nothing he’s doing in camp is dissuading me from that line of thinking.
Jordan Zumwalt: The Friday Night Lights practice was probably his best. Otherwise, he’s been quiet running on the third team alongside Garvin. Jon summed him up the best – smart, hard worker, sure he’s a great guy, but a marginal athlete that isn’t going to do enough to vault him over Garvin. Still could hit the practice squad.
William Gay: Another super low-maintenance dude who I don’t pay a lot of attention to because I know what kind of player he is. Number one corner and fits the ideal Steelers’ corner. Smart, physical, supports the run. Kind of guy that can play a lot longer than most corners. Not a 4.4 guy out of college who loses his speed and falls out of the league because he can’t do anything else.
Cortez Allen: We have a long ways to go with evaluating Cortez but it’s been a nice start. Three interceptions tells you he’s a guy making splash plays. Gets pitted against Antonio Brown quite a bit, so he’s obviously going to allow catches. It was comical to see people say he had a “bad” day one. I like the start Allen has had.
Antwon Blake: Poor guy is probably going to get shuffled back to the #4 spot when he’s certainly serviceable as being the nickel corner. Love watching him in drills. Quickest feet and turn of any cornerback on the team. Physical guy who isn’t afraid to mix it up with guys bigger than him – planting Ross Scheuerman on the ground was a highlight for me.
Brandon Boykin: He’s been in Latrobe for two practices and I really only got to learn something about him from the second but he is a smooth corner that really had a quality practice Monday. An open field tackle against the run and a breakup on a slant in team drills. Should get a good look in the return game, too. Likely will open the year as the slot corner, allowing Gay to remain on the outside.
B.W Webb: Thought he’s been impressive. Versatile guy that’s played inside and outside. Fluid cornerback who is capable of clicking and closing. He was the slot corner when Cortez Allen missed a couple practices. If Senquez Golson isn’t on the Week One roster, and that seems likely, Webb should definitely sew up a roster spot. Versatilty as the end of the roster cornerback has its perks.
Doran Grant: Another rookie that has impressed. Pick six and an end zone breakup in the same practice a few days ago. Nice bulk to his frame who has shown willingness to support the run, something that was evident on his Ohio State tape. More explosive player than I anticipated. A nice start.
Kevin Fogg: Was a nice start for this athlete from Liberty. But he’s gone quiet the last several practices and the addition of Boykin is a big blow to Fogg’s chances of cracking the 53. Well-spoken guy and could still make the practice squad. Has received a little bit of slot work in addition to his work at RCB.
Jordan Sullen: For the record, he’s a corner, not a safety like the team website lists him at. Too tall in his pedal and otherwise quiet. Highly doubt he makes it past the first wave of cuts. And if there are other injuries that force the Steelers to make more roster moves, Sullen could get the heave-ho.
Shamarko Thomas: Non-breaking news: dude still loves to hit. That’s how he injured his shoulder, slamming into Cameron Clear. Hopefully the injury isn’t a long-term thing. Tough to gauge his coverage skills in the fast moving practices so his grade is sort of an incomplete from me.
Mike Mitchell: Very little to note. Hamstring injury has dogged him for several practices. Has been running on the side so that’s a positive sign. Sure the team is just being cautious with him. Hamstrings are notoriously fickle.
Will Allen: Missed a large chunk of camp, the team electing to hold him out, and then put the pads on him once the safety position became depleted. He should be the top backup at both safety spots in 2015.
Ross Ventrone: My man! Is hurt. Could come back sooner than later considering he’s graduated to running on the side. Not a guy that needs reps, so his roster chances haven’t been dinged much, and with Gerod Holliman not showing a ton, the special teams demon could sneak onto the Week One roster. But with him being a vested veteran and a full season salary guaranteed if he’s on the initial roster, he may lose his spot.
Robert Golden: As I recently mentioned, we forget what kind of defender he is. He’s shown a penchant to be physical and play in the box. But he’s still a strict special teamer in the grand scheme of things. First team upback on special teams and no one is really threatening his spot.
Isaiah Lewis: Definitely an in-the-box corner. Lacks straight-line speed and looks stiff. But a guy who can hit. Think he’ll struggle to land anywhere on this team, however.
Alden Darby: He had the team’s first interception of training camp. But that’s probably been the lone highlight for Darby, who has been otherwise quiet. Did get some first team reps when the safeties started dropping like flies.
Gerod Holliman: Very quiet camp. Guy isn’t around the ball much. Had a breakup in the end zone during Monday’s practice but also played freeze tag with Chisholm late in practice, reminding me of the effort/physicality issues that turned a guy who had 14 interceptions into a 7th round pick. Trying not to be biased but I don’t see a lack of urgency in his body language.
Ian Wild: Been impressed with this former linebacker. Moves a heck of a lot better than I thought. Physical and runs to the ball. Chasing down Dri Archer was one of his best plays. Serious practice squad candidate, even if he’s still with the third team. Long snapper and second-team upback experience.
Shaun Suisham: You think I’m really writing a report on him?
Greg Warren: See Suisham, Shaun.
Brad Wing: Only watched punters twice in camp, but the ball really explodes off Wing’s leg. Hangtimes and distances have been overall good.
Jordan Berry: Really had a rough day earlier in the week. Shanked a couple of punts. There were a couple that he hit the mark on, and they definitely looked better, but he definitely had a worse day than Wing.