One of the most memorable days of camp each year and this edition of “Friday Night Lights” was no exception. Jam packed, Jon Ledyard and I estimated 4,000-5,000 people packed into the Memorial Stadium. Not sure if there is another team in the league that annually brings this high school feel for its team and fans. It sure is special.
It’s late so we’ll jump right into the notes.
– Injury report, as I’m sure you know by now. Heath Miller was again rested. Almost feels like he and Matt Spaeth, who was back, are rotating days. Ross Ventrone is still in a boot, Cortez Allen and Mike Mitchell missed consecutive days, while James Harrison and Will Allen were held out again. Only notable new edition is Gerod Holliman, who was in a hoodie with what Mike Tomlin called a lower lag injury. You could see a slight limp with the rookie safety though at times, he jogged around to get from point A to point B. So it seems minor.
Obviously, nothing new on the PUP front. Maurkice Pouncey and Bruce Gradkowski ran sprints before practice and then worked on their snaps. For Pouncey and his foot injury, it’s a really positive sign and he should be back very soon. Looked completely healthy out there, working on his zone steps.
– Though B.J. Finney practiced today, he only saw time at third-team right guard. Reese Dismukes was second and third-team center while Miles Diffenbach was elevated to second-team RG.
– Light day for Ben Roethlisberger. With the condensed field, they had each unit working at once. Landry Jones with the 1’s, Tajh Boyd the 2’s, and Tyler Murphy the 3’s.
– In warmups on air, Ramon Foster pulled on the first play. Power concepts were common throughout team drills, which we’ll get to in a little bit.
– Funny moment, to me at least, in OL drills. Paired up with a fellow OL to work on their punch. Somehow, Alejandro Villanueva and Kelvin Beachum got paired up. Beachum had to reach reeeeal high to hit Villanueva in the chest.
– Ike Taylor, who I haven’t personally seen since the Steelers put on pads, was on the field coaching up the DBs. He and Carnell Lake showed the players what they wanted in drills. DBs started out with their punch/press. Technique here is critical. Hit your target with the hand opposite of the stem of his route.
So if the receiver releases to the defender’s right, you punch with your left hand. Left release, punch with right. This keeps your hips open so if/when the receiver breaks past, you can turn and run. If you punch with the same hand, your hips are closed and you’re going to get beaten badly.
– High school is the best chance to watch DBs because there is no far field for them to work. Everyone practices on the same field. It’s where I really took notice with Antwon Blake in 2014. Doran Grant impressed me – showed a better burst and quicker turn that I saw on college tape.
Safeties are never going to be as good as a corner but Isaiah Lewis looked stiff and Robert Golden had sloppy footwork. Too choppy and out of control. Kevin Fogg is a nice athlete with a quick turn and vertical to go up and get the football.
– In receiver drills, everyone but Shakim Phillips ran ahead of Sammie Coates.
– We’ll save team drills for the end. Lots of individual work that we’ll highlight. Team did run backs on ‘backers again, though it didn’t seem as intense as the other day, and Jon watched those. Check with him for the full report.
WRs and DBs went one-on-one at the same time so I watched that. The results from every rep. Keep in mind this is an offensive-friendly drill.
1. Antonio Brown wins inside against Antwon Blake.
2. Markus Wheaton gets separation at the top of his route vs B.W. Webb.
3. Doran Grant, who allowed a free release when he probably should be pressing, up against Martavis Bryant. The pass is thrown behind the receiver and out of bounds.
4. Darrius Heyward-Bey, who was a star of this drill, leaps over Kevin Fogg down the right side, showing strong hands to maintain possession as Fogg attempts to knock it away all the way to the ground. They tumble and the crowd cheers.
5. Pass is too high for Eli Rogers working against Jordan Sullen.
6. Shamarko Thomas attempts to undercut Devin Gardner’s dig and just misses. Gardner catches it though as Jon pointed out, it wasn’t a crisp route from the rookie receiver.
7. Isaiah Lewis shows nice recovery, breaking up a nine route intended for C.J. Goodwin.
8. Robert Golden gets really physical and ends up throwing Phillips to the ground. This ain’t the WWE, Robert.
9. Sammie Coates beats Alden Darby but the throw misses.
10. Somehow, whatever quarterback it was overthrew a diving Dri Archer, pitted against Sullen.
11. Antwon Blake has no chance against AB. Brown so smooth at the top of his route, running an out, and makes the catch along the sideline.
12. B.W. Webb is physical with Markus Wheaton. Wheaton runs a comeback but the ball bounces off his hands. Tough play.
13. Fogg’s punch off the line is too high and inefficient. Bryant gets off the line but the pass is thrown behind and off his hands, a failed one-handed attempt.
14. Heyward-Bey separates from Grant and makes the grab.
15. The quick-twitch Eli Rogers separates against the slower Ian Wild on an out, making the grab.
16. Thomas is all over Gardner, pressing and jamming the whole way. Gardner struggles to get off and only makes the catch because Thomas slowed up and didn’t really finish.
17. Coates tries a double-move that doesn’t fool Robert Golden. Think the pass was incomplete.
18. Shakim Phillips burns Darby on a straight nine route downfield.
19. Archer gets separation working against Fogg. No surprise but Archer got put with the WRs rather than partaking in the backs on ‘backers drill.
20. Lewis grabs Goodwin’s facemask at the top of the route. He lets go and Goodwin turns but drops the pass, adjusting his helmet after the play.
21. Bryant makes the catch on a skinny post vs Sullen.
22. AB with a fantastic grab. Blake is all over him deep down the left side but Brown somehow still finds the ball and makes the catch.
23. Wheaton breaks down at the top of his route, again separating against Webb.
24. Phillips does a great job showing technique within the route, something he spoke to me about when I interviewed him, and catches a sitting Robert Golden off-guard. Pass unfortunately is not on the mark.
25. Rogers dives for a pass but it’s too far in front. Fogg with the coverage.
26. Grant again doesn’t jam off the line and Coates easily wins inside.
27. Goodwin swaps hips and has a step on Sullen but the corner does a nice job of not looking back to the ball, getting back in-phase, and knocking the ball away at the catch point.
28. Wild is slow in his turn versus Bryant, the second-year receiver making the catch.
29. Corners start mixing in off coverage. Another fantastic catch, arguably the best of the drill. DHB runs a curl and makes the catch initially. Lewis plays the pocket and knocks it out and up into the air. Heyward-Bey stays with it and before falling to the ground, finds the football and brings it in for a second time. Very impressive.
30. Darby, rolled up this time, jams Phillips at the line. Pass is incomplete.
31. Coates has some physicality against Fogg, creating some space and making the catch.
32. Gardner runs a dig against Golden but the pass is incomplete.
33. Phillips again uses a double-move to shake Sullen and makes a diving catch deep downfield. These receivers sure are impressive.
34. Goodwin gets separation vs Fogg and makes the catch.
35. Against off coverage, Archer runs a speed out, an uncontested grab.
36. Grant has a nice play for the defense, breaking up a curl intended for Coates.
37. Thought Lewis was slow in his click/close. Can’t make a play on a Gardner slant.
38. Rogers gets his head around just before the ball arrives and it clangs off his mitts. Fogg with the coverage.
39. For the second time, Bryant runs a skinny post, getting inside position versus Sullen.
– Near the end of practice, Steelers went into OL vs DL/OLBs. So we’ll go through those here.
1. Beachum kicks things off by sealing Jarvis Jones.
2. Cam Heyward has a bull/swim combo to slip past Ramon Foster.
3. Cody Wallace gets upright and is walked back into the pocket by Steve McLendon.
4. Stephon Tuitt tries to swim over David DeCastro but the guard keeps sliding laterally and is able to seal him.
5. Arthur Moats tries to flash inside but Marcus Gilbert doesn’t overset, calmly mirroring and winning the battle.
6. They go at each other again. Speed bull rush from Moats that Gilbert anchors.
7. Tuitt really fights hard with DeCastro, giving him every move he can think of, but DeCastro sticks. “Good hands,” someone calls out presumably in 66’s direction.
8. As McLendon did, McCullers walks Wallace back. Tough tasks for these centers.
9. Foster keeps his legs pumping to win against big ‘ol Clifton Geathers.
10. Jarvis, trying to figure out someway to beat Beachum, attempts an inside spin. Beachum mirrors and the OLB loses his feet, ending up on the ground.
11. Villanueva squares off vs Jarvis Jones. Jones ducks under but Villanueva is able to use his strength to seal.
12. Joe Kruger has a strong initial punch on Chris Hubbard, knocking him back, but the guard is able to re-anchor before completely falling off. Thought it was a positive for both players.
13. Mike Thornton reverse pancakes Reese Dismukes. Sums up the camp Dismukes is having. Thornton looks like a JV play. Coaches holler out “Get up, get up” to the bruised-ego rookie center.
14. Cam Thomas with a forceful punch, you could hear the impact from the bleachers, against Dieffenbach. Guard is able to hang on, though. Want to see Dieffenbach sink a little bit more. Can get a little heavy up top. Reminds me of Will Simmons from last year though Dieffenbach is smaller and quicker laterally.
15. Anthony Chickillo’s punch is too high against the 6’7 Mitchell Van Dyk. Outside linebacker tries to spin inside the right tackle mirrors and the rookie OLB loses his balance, hitting the Memorial Stadium grass.
16. The two reset. Chickillo is rushing with his hand down this time. Van Dyk again gets the better of him.
17. Dieffenbach slides laterally vs L.T. Walton. Rookie DE falls to the ground.
18. Arthur Moats nearly dips Villanueva but the left tackle’s strength is able to hold him…though in a game, that may have literally been holding him. Very similar to how James Harrison always gets “held.”
19. Didn’t have the defender but Collin Rahrig gets good leverage vs his defender.
20. Geathers knocks Dismukes’ hands down, winning inside.
21. B.J. Finney shows active feet, keeping his legs moving as Matt Conrath’s spin fails. Conrath really needs to use his hands better.
22. Chickillo tries to punch and dip Kelvin Palmer but the right tackle gets his arms extended and seals him upfield.
23. The two reset and Chickillo again tries to run the arc. And again, Palmer does a pretty good job to keep moving laterally and seal.
24. Finney with good technique vs Conrath. Solid hand use, good knee bend, keeps his base.
25. Howard Jones fails to use his hands and can’t get past Kevin Whimpey.
26. Rahrig holds his own vs Kruger.
27. Finney gives a little ground, which is perfectly find and encouraged, and is able to stop Thornton in his tracks. Several second battle that ended in a tender embrace more than a battle.
28. Dupree with the move of the day. Nasty inside spin that burns Palmer. Dwight Freeney would be proud of that one.
29. Two reset and Dupree tries to run the arc. Palmer saves face, sealing him.
30. Ethan Hemer gets overextended off the ball vs Van Dyk, falling down.
31. Like against almost everyone he faces, McCullers gets Finney upright. But Finney is able to hold on. Overall, it’s not a bad showing.
32. Coaches put the two against each other again and McCullers wins more handedly, walking Finney straight back.
33. Jones shows a terrific get off to dip under Whimpey.
34. Jones beats Palmer, who is working on the left side now, with a rip.
35. Howard Jones tries to dip vs Whimpey but must have lost his footing trying to bend. Falls down but to his credit, immediately gets back to his feet, decides to change direction and rush inside, dips, and gets past. Bit of bad luck for Whimpey.
36. Dieffenbach wins vs Walton.
37. Pitted against each other again, Dieffenbach anchors vs the rookie DE.
38. Finney again gets upright, very similar to what I saw on his Kansas State tape, but holds his ground against Hemer. Bull rushes aren’t fun to take on, that’s for sure. Point is to stick and not completely give up the pocket, not look beautiful.
39. Geathers tries a late spin vs Van Dyk but it doesn’t work.
40. Dupree tries two spins against Whimpey, now on the right side, but neither work.
– Though some find the team practices it too much, completely inaccurate by the way, the special teams period was a lot of fun today. Steelers really starting to put some pieces together.
– Lot of work on the kick return unit today.
– Brought it together in pieces, starting with a couple pieces before incorporating all 11 in the return. Last year, the Steelers had a two man wedge lined up just ahead of the upback. May be going away from that this year. In the beginning, the team had a three man line with one of the outside players peeling off to link up with the lone edge player. Very crud picture I scribbled down and tweeted out is shown below.
When they put it all together, the Steelers showed something different. Instead of a two man wedge or three man line, the team put a player in between where the TEs line up and the front five. Essentially a 5-1-2-1-2 grouping. Compare that to last year’s 5-2-2-2 formation. Nothing wrong with the change, I embrace it after the team’s poor returns last year, but definitely interesting. Another crude picture I drew during practice. At the top is last year’s version with what I saw Friday below it.
The first grouping of the tight end blockers were Matt Spaeth (not surprising) and Michael Egnew (a little surprising). Expected to see Jesse James out there instead. He was paired on the second team with Rob Blanchflower.
– Lots of rotation so don’t put a ton of stock into it but the upback/return pairings I could note. Dri Archer was the starting kick returner with Josh Harris as the upback. They’re strong favorites to remain there for Week 1.
Others: Harris (upback)/Phillips (returner), Coates/Goodwin, Cameron Stingily/Scheuerman, Rogers/Phillips, Coates/Scheuerman, Gardner/Archer. Also know Rogers was the KR once, don’t have who he was paired with.
– Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and DeAngelo Williams ran sprints on the far end zone during STs. Up and down the width of the field.
First 11 on 11
1. As always, ball is placed on the two. Landry Jones got the first snap with Roethlisberger having a light day of work. Empty set. Fade in the right corner to AB was incomplete. Blake in coverage.
2. Jesse James “leap motion” (comes across the formation) from left to right. Jones finds him in the right flat for a score, or “two” as PA announcer Bill Hillgrove called it.
3. Brown wins inside on a slant vs Blake. Jones hits him for the score.
4. Tyler Murphy comes in at QB. Will Johnson is pulling, DeAngelo Williams on the carry. He corkscrews over the pile and into the end zone, first Gilbert, and then the far official racing in to signal it.
5. Archer is motioned out from the backfield to the right, outside the numbers. Murphy tries to throw to somebody over the middle – apparently it was Cameron Clear – but Sean Spence jumps up to knock it down.
6. Slip screen to Blanchflower that is complete but he’s tackled short of the end zone.
7. Fake the end around to Bryant. Harris on a dive up the middle but it stuffed.
– Offense scored on the first three plays. Defense held them the rest of the way.
Second 11 on 11
1. Golden first team safety with Mike Mitchell still out. Landry Jones still at QB. Williams on the carry and Golden cleans him up.
2. Williams shows a nice burst around the left edge. DeCastro and Johnson pulling from the backside.
3. Trips bunch to the offense’s right. Timmons blitzes up the A gap. Jones hits Bryant on an out route to the right, in front of Blake.
4. Heyward gets a good push on Foster. Really having his way with him the last two days. Harris is forced to cut back and Shamarko Thomas flies in to make the tackle.
5. Toss left to Harris. Timmons pops him in the hole.
6. Dieffenbach in with the second-team OL. Murphy comes in at QB. Dupree does a nice job to stay at home on the edge, didn’t overpursue. Stingily had the carry.
7. Howard Jones crashes in free to tackle Scheuerman.
8. Conrath gets some good penetration. Scheuerman again on the carry and Cam Thomas sheds to make the tackle.
9. Playaction. Bit of a mismatch but Clear can’t hold his block against Conrath. Murphy is forced to take off and runs with the ball before sliding. Wish he would have thrown it, think he had Jesse James open right in his line of vision. Dropped his eyes too early.
10. Inside zone to Harris. Jon said Howard Jones got off the block. Cam Thomas again in there, too. TFL.
11. Bit of a botched exchange between Boyd and Dismukes. Still gets the handoff off to Stingily. Chickillo made the tackle.
12. Pass. Chickillo dips Palmer around the edge. Boyd hits Clear on an out. Garvin and Sullen finish him off by sandwiching the tight end with a loud pop. One of the bigger hits of the day.
13. Dive to Scheuerman. Jordan Zumwalt makes the tackle. Ian Wild and Alden Darby working as the third team safeties, though I think Darby is with the 2’s as well. Somehow thin at safety all of a sudden with Mitchell, Ventrone, and Holliman out.
14. Second-team DL the usual suspects. Walton/McCullers/Geathers. Stingily gets the rock up the middle. Short 3-4 yard gain.
15. CB grouping. Sullen and Grant on the outside, Fogg in the slot. Garvin good run defense, spills this Archer draw inside. Zumwalt on the tackle, his second of the period.
Boyd was at QB in the pistol. Formation we’ve seen sprinkled in enough to talk about throughout camp.
Third 11 on 11
1. Jones complete to Bryant on a smoke screen to the right.
2. Jones hits Matt Spaeth over the middle, who double-catches the ball. Jarvis Jones came in free off the edge and I thought Jones was a little lethargic to get the ball out, knowing he couldn’t be hit.
3. Wheaton in the slot. Jones hits him coming across the middle.
4. Beachum does a great job vs Heyward. Sticks to him in pass pro. Always plays with a great base. Deep out to the left side from #3 to Heyward-Bey.
5. Halfback screen to the right from Jones to Williams. Interior blitz while the team dropped JJ.
6. New nickel pairing. Cam Thomas and McLendon. Blake and Webb outside corners with Gay in the slot. Stunt with McLendon and Jarvis. Landry again finds Spaeth over the middle.
7. Looked up just as the play was over but apparently Gay nearly picked off Boyd as he tried to hit someone on a post.
8. Howard Jones knocks down an attempted Boyd screen. Team speeding up the pace, not a full no huddle but close.
9. Ryan Shazier flies in free up the middle. Boyd goes full side-arm motion to hit Coates on a curl. Throw was really low and credit to Coates to reaching down and getting his hands under the ball.
10. Boyd’s throw is low to Will Johnson. Releasing the ball too late, causing these passes to skip.
11. Dupree wins off the edge. Boyd to Goodwin on an out towards the left sideline.
12. Murphy in at QB. Empty set. Pass complete to Gardner. Pinballed with back-to-back “thud” hits by Lewis and Grant.
13. Murphy complete to Egnew down the middle. Terence Garvin leads with his shoulder, knocking the tight end down.
14. Weird one to end it. It really felt like a direct snap to Scheuerman. Maybe a draw. Couldn’t tell.
Fourth 11 on 11
1. Ball on the offense’s own goal line. Line of scrimmage moves up with whatever is gained until the team reaches around the ten, then gets reset on their own two. Start with a handoff to Bell.
2. Wallace got a good push versus McLendon. Opened a lane for Bell.
3. Ramon Foster and Will Johnson pull but Lawrence Timmons gets there before Foster, filling the lane.
4. Defensive line grouping. Walton/Cam Thomas at the nose/Geathers. D-Will had the carry. Blanchflower had a really nice base block on Walton, setting his hips and keeping Walton outside on this inside run.
5. Boyd had a perfect throw to Bryant on a nine route deep downfield. A good 40 yards on Bryant’s outside shoulder against Fogg. Bryant tracks it but can’t make the grab, the ball slipping through his hands.
6. Must have been a blown assignment, Walton rushing in free. Meets Archer in the backfield.
7. D-line: Conrath/McCullers/Hemer. Williams has the tote. DeCastro buries Conrath on this zone block. Just like they drilled it on Thursday.
8. Bell on the carry, bends the run back to the outside. I think Chickillo had the tackle.
9. Out route complete from Jones to DHB, who dives to make the grab in front of Jordan Sullen.
10. Murphy checks in, curl complete to Goodwin.
11. Dismukes and Murphy botch the snap. Murphy falls, tries to get on it, but can’t. No one picks it up until I believe Golden gets a paw on it. Veteran realizing you finish the play. Don’t know why Dismukes gets to snap so much while Finney has stopped playing center. Why waste reps? Why give Dismukes such a seemingly long leash? Why?
Fifth 11 on 11
1. Jones climbs the pocket, finds DHB on a drag.
2. Bell carry up the middle.
3. Jarvis Jones has solid coverage on Spaeth but the big tight end boxes him out, catching the pass from Landry.
4. Williams inside zone. Vince Williams finishes him off with a big hit.
5. Smoke screen to the right from Boyd to Coates.
6. Archer motioned out wide, outside the numbers. Man coverage with Vince Williams following. Good eye by Landry, spotting the mismatch, completing it to Archer. The back stops on a dime, lets Williams run past, and keeps on going. Love the chase from L.T. Walton, who tried his darndest to give pursuit.
7. Bell with a nice run. Shayon Green wraps him up. Quiet day from #49, who needs to maximize reps before Harrison gets back and eliminates Green’s playing time.
8. Wild/Lewis now third team safety. Jones finds a wide open Will Johnson on the left side, right on the numbers.
9. Jones, who has a decent arm on short/intermediate throws, zips one into a tight window to Wheaton. Noticed Villanueva had come in as the left tackle. Beachum looked fine but hard to say for sure. Wouldn’t be surprised if they held Beach out tomorrow. Let Villanueva get a lot of reps with the 1’s.
10. Outside zone to Scheuerman. Jarvis set the edge vs Villanueva. Great run defense to spill that run to the alley defender and other inside help.
11. Ugly play. Immediate pressure on Murphy, who scrambles left and checks the ball out of bounds due to pressure from Niko Davis, who earns his first positive note of this report late on Day 5.
12. Draw. Finney pulls from his right guard spot. Stingily has the carry.
13. Draw to Harris. Slight issue on the handoff, Harris bumping into Murphy on the exchange.
14. Run between the tackles with Stingily.
15. Harris on a draw. Credit to him for finishing the run to round out practice.
– Again, wouldn’t read a ton into the reps Murphy has gotten the last day. Has been an uptick but I imagine there’s a rotation here. Boyd will get his due in a couple days. Remember, Boyd still ran with the second-team in warmups.
Murphy may also be getting the extra work knowing that when Bruce Gradkowski returns, it’ll be extremely difficult to get the Boston College rookie reps. So squeeze them in now while the reps are available.
– As I mentioned the other day, DeAngelo Williams has a nice burst. Dropping that weight helped. He looked good.
– Heyward-Bey was one of the stars of the day. If only he could catch the ball cleanly. I can dream…
– With these tight ends, the first thing they have to do is be able to block. That’s what we’ll be looking for the most in games.
– Finney plays with good technique and is keeping his legs moving. Don’t know why he’s starting to lose snaps. Miss a curfew or something? Who knows.
– Run defense as a whole was better Friday than it was Thursday. Getting penetration, blowing several plays up in the backfield.
– Time I finished this article: 2:25 AM
– Time I fell asleep: 2:26 AM
Mitch Hedberg Joke Of The Day
A personal favorite of mine.
“I don’t need a receipt for a doughnut. I’ll give you the money, you give me the doughnut. End of transaction. We don’t need to bring ink and paper into this.”
Let’s Talk About…
…automatic hand dryers. There’s one in McDonalds. Hate ’em. Bring back the paper towels. I’m not standing awkwardly next to the door for five minutes while my hands get sort-of-but-not-quite dry enough. You put pink slime in your meat, McDonalds. Stop pretending you care about sanitation.
Also, one of your workers chucked an ice cube in my direction Thursday. This means war. And like any war with a blogger, I’m going to angrily write about it and completely avoid any actual confrontation.
Twitter Fan Question
Long-time Twitter follower Ashley Bright asks,
“Is Chick way ahead of Howard Jones?”
Probably too early to classify anyone as “way ahead” of anybody. But I consider him ahead. Jones might have a better innate first step, though Chickillo’s isn’t shabby either, but Chickillo is a better run defender with a better arsenal and football IQ. Jones too often just tries to run the edge because he’s so often pitted against Villanueva and can duck under him. Too easily knocked off balance and to the ground. If he can’t dip that inside shoulder, you can get into his pads and push him without a fight.
SVC Latrobe High School Is Beautiful Picture