We’re getting into the home stretch now, that part of the final training camp week where crossbar challenges and trash can toss and stretch period banter become more frequent (if you don’t know what these are by now, you need to come experience one of the remaining days of camp). The Pittsburgh Steelers have spent almost a month enjoying the confines of St. Vincent College, and the result is a tight-knit crew who has a ton of fun on the field together, yet takes their work seriously. A little bit of both was on display today during practice.
First, your daily stock report…
1. S Ian Wild
It is becoming impossible for the coaching staff to ignore the impact of Wild, who has proven it doesn’t matter where you put him defensively, he’s going to lay the wood. Manning an inside linebacker with so many players down injured, Wild was flying all over the field today, making three huge stops for a loss or minimal gain during one team period. On one play he raced up to the line of scrimmage, sifted through trash, and whacked Braylon Heard in the backfield, earning congratulations from several coaches. Wild is so quick and instinctive with such a nose for the football, it makes it extremely hard for blockers to locate him on the second level. Just outstanding awareness and football IQ on display constantly. I think Alex Kozora and I may be fighting over Wild as our training camp crush.
2. OLB James Harrison
What a day for Harrison, who backed up his natural look by bullying blockers throughout practice. During the team period he fired off the edge to blow up Will Johnson and turn the run back inside to his help, knocking the fullback a good five yards off the ball. He also taught rookie Jesse James a lesson in one-on-ones, schooling the tight end on back-to-back reps. More on that later.
3. TE Matt Spaeth
Had to get him on here at least once during camp, just because the guy busts his tail for every rep and is such a technician in the run game. He’s not even close to the greatest athlete or the most naturally gifted player here, his routes are slow and methodical, and he might have the lankiest frame of anyone on the roster, but Spaeth has just mastered the art of hand placement, leverage, positioning, and timing as a blocker. Alex is right in saying that if he didn’t play for Pittsburgh so long he may have been out of the league years ago, but credit the Steelers for valuing his on-field contributions as well as the leadership he provides in the locker room and on the field. In fact, just yesterday he pulled Martavis Bryant aside for a quick chat to correct him on a route. And even though we don’t give Spaeth much credit as a playmaker, he made an unbelievable full-extension, acrobatic grab down the seam despite tight coverage from Sean Spence. Just a stud.
1. OT Kelvin Palmer
I feel for the right tackle being asked to switch sides and play some on the left side, but to say Palmer is struggling would be very kind. He got abused by Anthony Chickillo in one-on-ones, and was beaten twice by Shayon Green for sacks during 11v11. The end is drawing near for the Baylor product.
2. QB Tajh Boyd
It’s over kids. Put a bow on Boyd and let go of any remaining hope that he’ll knock Landry Jones off the team. It looked promising after the first few days, but he’s basically wasted his few recent reps with inaccurate throws and nervous feet in the pocket. A camp body, that is all Boyd ever was after all.
3. OLB Howard Jones
Rough day all around for Jones, who got his tail whipped by almost every tight end on the roster in one-on-ones. Wasn’t much more impressive in 11v11’s either, getting beat up at the point of attack and struggling to shed blocks. Not sure if it is an effort thing or a focus thing sometimes with Jones, but snap-to-snap he can really look like two different players. Unfortunately that won’t cut it in Pittsburgh, not entering your second season.
Linebacker/Tight Ends One-on-One Results
1. James Harrison catches Jesse James getting overextended and rips the tight end to the ground.
2. James doesn’t learn his lesson, lunging out at Harrison, who absorbs the punch, grasps the jersey of the young rookie, and plants him in the grass, chest first. Harrison quickly trotted to the side of the drill, whipped his helmet off, took a seat on it and leaned back to watch the other players reps. Business as usual.
3. Heath Miller gets under Arthur Moats and leverages the linebacker down the line of scrimmage.
4. Moats responds by ripping Heath to the ground on the next play. The edge defender one powerful upper body, and uses his hands pretty well.
5. Spaeth seals Jarvis Jones inside
6. Spaeth locks out Moats, but loses the edge late. Tough to tell who won.
7. Spaeth lunges off the ball and Moats swats him aside easily, the tight end falling to all fours as Moats takes a free release into the backfield.
8. Ray Hamilton and Bud Dupree engage in a physical tussle, but Hamilton sustains his block throughout the reps. Dupree needs to learn proper hand usage, he can’t disengage from anyone right now. Plagued by the issue in college too.
9. Hamilton gets too high in his release and Dupree rips inside underneath the tight end’s punch.
10. Hamilton doubles over and Dupree brushes him aside to win inside.
11. James seals Howard Jones inside, then tosses him to the ground after the play for good measure. Show some fight Ho-Jo!
12. James bullies Jones off the ball, as the linebacker attacked too upright and got leveraged easily.
13. James lunges, and Jones is able to discard the block easily this time.
14. Chickillo rips under Will Johnson after being initially sealed outside.
15. Johnson with a bit of a lunge at Chickillo off the ball, the fullback tries to bring his lower half to drive-block the linebacker, but Chickillo absorbs the blow and rips inside quickly for the win.
16. Miller seals Shayon Green but gets tossed to the ground late in the rep.
17. Miller lunged badly and Green threw him aside for an easy win.
18. Miller lunges again, latches on for a second, but then is tossed to the ground for the third straight rep by Green. Definitely unusual, but this is a tough drill for offensive players to dominate, because defensive players know the block is coming and they have unlimited space to work with at the point of attack.
19. Spaeth seals Howard Jones.
20. Spaeth blows Jones off the ball and drives him five yards back. That’s how you bring your lower half into a block.
21. James gets a little high and gives up his chest to Jones, but the linebacker still can’t get off the block.
22. Hamilton jumps in for a turn on Jones, bullying the linebacker several yards off the line of scrimmage.
23. Jones is able to turn Hamilton, but still can’t shed the block.
-Lot of discussion amongst Pittsburgh media about whether Chickillo makes the 53-man roster, the practice squad, or neither. Why, I’m not sure, as I consider him a lock for the 53-man roster at this point. There is no way on earth he’s getting cut, as he is already light-years beyond Howard Jones and Shayon Green. If we are talking preseason performances, Chickillo has easily been more impressive than Dupree, although he is typically in the game a little later than the 1st round rookie. He’s done more than enough to earn reps with the second team if Harrison or Moats are getting a rest day, and I’m excited to see what he can do against higher quality linemen. But this kid is a football player with a relentless motor and a team-first attitude. He just dropped 35 pounds to move to outside linebacker and has flashed in almost every practice. No way Mike Tomlin and co. are cutting this dude.
-Everyone needs to stop freaking out about Dupree. When the Steelers were drafting at #22, he admittedly wasn’t the player I wanted, but there is absolutely no denying his physical gifts and high ceiling as a player. Is there a risk involved? Yes, but the payoff with Dupree is either going to be long-term, or not happen at all. There is absolutely no point in getting worked up over a rookie struggling in two preseason games. Give him time and the opportunity to be coached up and develop first, then we’ll talk boom or bust.
–Landry Jones had some really nice throws into tight windows during one team period. That’s all I’m gonna say.
–Marcus Gilbert took what appeared to be an unfortunate nut-shot from Matt Conrath’s knee when the two players tumbled to the ground in 11v11. The offensive tackle looked to be in some pain for quite awhile. Know what you’re going through brother, stay strong.
-I continue to be very impressed with Doran Grant’s ability to read routes and instincts to break on the ball. I didn’t always see that in college, so I’ve been surprised by his savvy in coverage. He almost had another interception at the goal line today on an out route. I don’t think he looks like a rookie at all out there.
–Kevin Fogg and B.W. Webb working off to the side on jamming and forcing an inside release during warm-ups, obviously Cover 2 concepts. Two guys, likely fighting for one roster spot, putting in extra time to make each other better. Gotta love that.
–Kenzel Doe muffed another punt in warm-ups. Drink.
-Hope y’all are ready for Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown to just do unspeakable things to opposing defenses this year. They are absolutely unstoppable in practice, and I mean that quite literally.