First day of pads and in a way, that signifies the first day of a true practice. Hot, spirited day so let’s hop into the notes.
***Just a heads up. If you want the TL;DR version where I highlight some of the good/bad players from the day, check near the bottom of the post***
– Ben Roethlisberger got a scheduled day off. It seemed at first as if Jarvis Jones and Vince Williams might be limited, Jones got a little banged up yesterday, but both participated fully. As Mike Tomlin noted, Roosevelt Nix and Steven Johnson left with undisclosed injuries. Nix had nothing visibly wrong with him – he wasn’t limping or holding an arm, nor were the trainers looking at any part of his body. So there could be some head-related issue. Tomlin also noted Xavier Grimble bowed out early due to the heat.
Shamarko Thomas returned to practice and participated fully today. Good news there.
Big injury of the day was Quinton Schooley, who failed to participate in any capacity. Had some sort of brace on his left leg. Not a good sign for the UDFA center.
– Practice was delayed for unknown reasons, pushed back to 3:15. Sammie Coates and Demarcus Ayers walked out first (BFFs) and Levi Norwood third-wheeled it with them, making their way down the stairs at 2:53 PM. They all walked to the far end zone to catch on the JUGS machine for a bit. Coates got in some work making one-handed grabs.
– Alejandro Villaneuva was back as the first team left tackle today and will probably flip daily with Ryan Harris. The second team line was the same as Friday with Harris at left tackle, Chris Hubbard at left guard, and B.J. Finney at right guard.
– Cody Wallace and Finney saw time at third team center with Schooley out. Three days in and Finney has already played all three interior spots.
– Return line is the status quo. Eli Rogers, Ayers, Norwood, Markus Wheaton.
Returners played their game of trying to catch as many footballs at once. Rogers was able to grab four in a row before failing to catch the 5th, trying to tuck a football between his legs to no avail. It’s a fan favorite.
– Cam Heyward is a highlight of the stretch line. Yells out, “Happy Birthday D-Will! I’m proud of you!” Then the fans sing Williams Happy Birthday.
DeAngelo Williams’ birthday is April 25th, by the way. Crazy kids.
– Grimble had another drop in individual work, perhaps distracting by Roethlisberger acting as a mock defensive back. Need to see consistency from the young tight end.
– Ray Vinopal and Jordan Dangerfield looked pretty quick through cone work in the DB drills. Jacob Hagen needed to keep his eyes up, not at his feet.
– Levi Norwood getting some quick coaching from Big Ben, failing to roll into his speed out properly. Broke it off too much. Not a big issue and it’s great to have a QB like Ben to help teach. Benefit of him having the day off, he can really watch these guys.
– Right before seven shots, all the linebackers get into a circle and start getting amped up. Chanting, “We Ride, We Ride, Let’s Ride!” before breaking it down.
– We have one-on-ones today! Always a treat. Couldn’t see everything, backs on backers were away from me, so I looked at the WR vs DBs one-on-ones. Here is every single rep.
1. Antonio Brown stems his route outside, working against Ross Cockrell, and Landry Jones drops his throw into the bucket, complete down the left sideline. Pretty play to kick things off.
2. Markus Wheaton separates at the top of his comeback against Artie Burns, who can’t recover and loses his footing. Pass is complete.
3. Darrius Heyward-Bey runs a simple curl and with the ball thrown to his outside half, Doran Grant has no chance to make a play on the ball. He had some loose coverage too, really giving him no chance to make this rep even interesting.
4. Sammie Coates easily separates on a curl versus Thomas, making the catch without issue.
5. Eli Rogers fakes inside, cuts outside versus Donald Washington. It’s a nice route that deserves a reception but the ball is short.
6. Levi Norwood has inside leverage off the snap and makes an easy catch versus Robert Golden, who basically lets him have it.
7. Montell Garner does a nice job jamming Canaan Severin at the LOS and breaks up the pivot route, Severin unable to establish any separation.
8. Al-Hajj Shabazz has a poor punch and Issac Blakeney wins easily on a dig.
9. Demarcus Ayers shows some really impressive explosion to jet away from Sean Davis downfield, making a catch down the sideline.
10. Marcus Tucker swaps hips with Jordan Dangerfield off the LOS and despite good effort, Dangerfield can never get back in phase. Tucker runs a corner route and makes the grab.
11. Artie Burns punches with the wrong hand, doesn’t open his hips, and AB winds up separating at the top of his route, again sending Burns into the ground as he tries to recover.
12. Doran Grant in off coverage versus Wheaton, who runs a simple speed out for the easiest of catches.
13. Montell Garner is in-phase with Norwood the whole way but can’t play the pocket, Norwood leaping over him down the left side for the grab.
14. Maybe miscommunication as DHB never gets his head around for a back shoulder throw. Working versus Cockrell.
15. Coates gives Shark a shove at the top of his route, getting separation on a curl for another catch.
16. In one fluid motion, Eli Rogers fakes an out route and darts inside, crossing Golden’s face for a reception.
17. Donald Washington seems to lunge at Severin at the LOS but Jones’ pass sails over everyone’s head.
18. Blakeney has a really nice push/pull (swipe hands away, push DBs outside shoulder as you separate off the line) and easily beats Ross Ventrone vertically.
19. Demarcus Ayers breaks down in a hurry, shaking loss Shabazz, and makes the grab. Shabazz took a long time to gather himself.
20. 10 yards downfield, Garner bumps into Tucker, sending the receiver tumbling to the ground. Incomplete.
21. Grant has really good coverage but the quarterback pushes the ball a bit more downfield, over Grant’s head and into Norwood’s arms.
22. Burns’ punch on Coates looks to be too high. Coates wins inside and makes the catch.
23. Blakeney again shows good hand use, this time at the top of his route, nudging Washington off course, and quickly puts the ball away before Washington can come in and swipe it out.
24. Garner is off balance in press coverage versus Rogers, who again shows quickness and separation ability at the top of his route. Pass is complete.
25. Dangerfield does a nice job to pin Tucker to the sideline and the receiver simply runs out of room.
26. Nine route is too far for Sammie Coates who is covered by Burns.
27. Severin makes a nice snag, getting away from Golden vertically. Golden looks back for the ball, getting out of phase, and the rookie makes him pay with a diving catch.
28. Norwood complete on a speed out. Came against Sean Davis.
29. Blakeney runs a dig on Shabazz. Shabazz tries to drive downhill but can’t get his overhand swipe completed in time, Blakeney putting the ball away and turning upfield.
30. Burns has inside leverage against Coates, who tries to run away but the rookie corner plays to his hip. Pass incomplete.
31. Washington is all over Norwood on a dig and the pass is too high for either. Good coverage.
32. Tucker pivots away from Davis for a short grab.
33. Rogers runs on Garner’s toes, breaking away onto his corner route and making the grab. Another impressive play, even if this situation is tailored to the receivers.
34. Severin catches a fade over Dangerfield.
35. Coates pivots versus Grant and does win inside, though I think Ben was telling Coates to be able to win on the first move, not the second. NFL doesn’t afford that kind of time.
36. Blakeney breaks down in front of Cockrell and snares the ball in over his head.
37. Burns has excellent coverage on Ayers, rookie on rookie, but Ayers makes a great diving play as he works back on his comeback. Impressive rep all around.
38. Norwood hauls in the pass against Washington.
39. Shabazz shows a better punch this time and blankets Severin. Ball hits Shabazz in the back of the head.
40. Quick out from Tucker with Burns playing off. Complete.
41. Coates able to sink his hips and sell a double-move. Cockrell is beat and grabs him around the waist, lets him go, and Coates makes the grab to finish things up.
– We also were treated to OL/DL today, which you’ll see below. Will say these guys had no timing today. Guys jumping early, jumping late, a little anxious, a little sloppy.
1. Anthony Chickillo starts things off with a bull rush of Alejandro Villanueva, who hops back and rebuffs it.
2. Cam Heyward rips under Ramon Foster.
3. Daniel McCullers is a little late off the ball (or Cody Wallace was early) but still bull rushes Wallace with little issue. Wallace does stick though, to his credit.
4. Stephon Tuitt tries to spin inside but David DeCastro is all over it, mirroring and keeping himself square.
5. Marcus Gilbert has a strong punch on Bud Dupree, knocking him off balance, though Dupree keeps working hard and is able to dip him at the end of the rep.
6. Chickillo dips and does a nice job cornering against Villanueva, using his height against him.
7. Foster is able to absorb Heyward’s bull rush.
8. Another bull rush from Shade Tree, working against Wallace. Predictably moves the center back but doesn’t run him over.
9. Late in the rep, Tuitt rips through DeCastro.
10. Dupree tries to set Gilbert up outside and then spin back in but Gilbert is a strong enough athlete that, even though he’s lunging a bit, is able to seal Dupree down.
11. Travis Feeney whips Ryan Harris pretty bad on an inside swim.
12. Ricardo Mathews’ tries to rip through Chris Hubbard and when that doesn’t work well, he counters with a spin. Edge to Hubbard.
13. In a flash, Javon Hargrave arm-overs and then dips past B.J. Finney, beating him clean.
14. Matt Feiler is able to stick to L.T. Walton, who tries a big-man spin.
15. Chickillo sets up Jerald Hawkins well, beginning outside with his initial steps before slashing inside. Hawkins can’t mirror it and gets dusted.
16. Feeney tries to win the edge versus Harris but the tackle gets some revenge. Nowhere for Feeney to go.
17. Hubbard absorbs Mathews’ bull rush.
18. Finney gets some revenge himself, offering a strong punch and stone-walling Hargrave.
19. Feiler seals Lavon Hooks upfield.
20. Hawkins appeared to have moved early but the coaches let things play out. Chickillo tries to spin but Hawkins catches him.
21. Dupree with a nice speed bull through Brian Mihalik, taking advantage of all that surface area the 6’9 tackle has.
22. Caushaud Lyons and Cole Manhart have a nice battle. Lyons sheds him late.
23. Hargrave gets under Hubbard’s pads, knocking him off his base and moving him into the pocket.
24. Coaches want them to go again and Hargrave makes quick work of Hubbard, a quick swim that I wrote “NASTY” next to in my notes. So it was pretty good.
25. Either Finney was early or Johnny Maxey was late but Finney wins this rep easily. Poor Maxey. Just the one chance.
26. Hawkins does better this time and is able to stay with a Feeney spin.
27. Feeney simply doesn’t have the strength to overpower Mihalik, who stands him up with little effort needed.
28. Manhart keeps his feet moving and is able to seal Lyons.
29. Feiler uses a “hop step” to gain control on Hooks’ bull and it works. Doesn’t have to look pretty. Just be effective.
30. Finney mirrors Roy Philon without much problem. Good job to keep your feet moving and stay square to the DL.
31. Arthur Moats jumps into things and tries to bullrush Hawkins but the rookie tackle puts him into the ground.
– Onto our 11 on 11 notes, the first contact practice of camp. Hooray!
– You know how this works. Seven shots.
1. Landry Jones working as the first team QB. Xavier Grimble in at tight end. Empty set and Jones looks for Bell but I think Bud Dupree got his hands on it. Pass incomplete.
2. Golson in the slot, Cockrell/Gay outside. Markus Wheaton in the slot. Angle route by David Johnson and Jones hits him, a step ahead of Ryan Shazier.
3. Hargrave and Mathew in nickel. Jones looks to hit Brown on a curl in the end zone but Ross Cockrell makes a nice play to break it up.
4. Grant/Burns your second team corners. Williams/Fort inside linebackers. DeAngelo Williams motioned out of the backfield to an empty set. Pass is to him but he drops it. James Harrison ripped through Villanueva on his way to Jones.
5. D-line of Maxey/Hooks/Newberry. Jones fires a rocket into a sea of hands and I think, somehow, the pass was complete to Roosevelt Nix.
6. Coates and Norwood outside, Rogers in the slot. Dustin Vaughan in at QB. Nickel blitz, draw to Williams, who I am pretty sure is stuffed before he can cross the goal line.
7. D-line of Walton/Hargrave/Mathews. Bell in empty, covered by Garner. Vaughan throws that way and the pass is incomplete.
1. Jesse James running first team tight end. Full contact so Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams bow out, meaning Fiztgerald Toussaint is the first man up. LOS is blown up and a linebacker – not sure who – makes the tackle.
2. Good penetration by Tuitt. Toussaint cuts away and is smacked by Robert Golden and someone else. First big hit of practice.
3. Cameron Stingily does a nice job in blitz pickup on Robert Golden, screaming in off the defense’s right side. Jones hits Antonio Brown on a dig, who jukes William Gay pretty good before being tripped up a moment later by another defender.
4. Left side to Daryl Richardson but Ryan Shazier reads it the whole way, flying into the backfield for a five yard loss.
5. Split zone and either Davis or Shark – I thought it was Davis, someone else said Shark – makes a nice tackle at the LOS. Richardson again had the carry.
6. Coates and DHB outside with Rogers inside. This time, I’m positive of it, and Shamarko Thomas lights up Richardson near the LOS. Jerry Olsavsky runs over and gives him a big ‘ol bear hug.
7. Run play. There’s a lane but Brandon Brown-Dukes stumbles initially. He’s able to keep his balance and get upfield for roughly a five yard gain.
8. 12 personnel with Severin and Norwood the receivers. Sean Davis flies in and clocks BBD behind the line of scrimmage. Physical day for some big-hitting safeties who must have been chomping at the bit.
9. Johnny Maxey encroaches and B.J. Finney fires off to block him, the two getting in a bit of a kerfuffle. Players reset and Brandon Johnson gets his first handoff. Hard cut up the right side and meets a sea of gold jerseys, who bring him to the ground.
10. Jordan Zumwalt gets some pressure off the defense’s left edge. Bruce Gradkowski fires to Norwood down the left sideline but it’s incomplete. Washington with the coverage.
11. Severin and Blakeney the WRs. Jordan Dangerfield knifes his way into the backfield. Toussaint is able to juke left and get away initially but a host of other Steelers’ are closing in. Dangerfield keeps working and tackles him from behind.
12. Brown-Dukes slips as he looks to avoid Dangerfield. Able to stay on his feet, get away from #37 and jet upfield. Maxey makes an ankle tackle.
13. Third-team line. Mihalik-Manhart-Wallace-Feiler-Hawkins. Cameron Stingily dives up the middle. Tyler Matakevich goes low and takes out his knees, Stingily falling forward into the mess of bodies and finally, to the ground.
14. Richardson carry off the right side. Golson misses the tackle. Not sure if someone else got Richardson or if he ducked out of bounds.
15. David Johnson in at FB with Nix injured. First case of “Can’t read my handwriting.” Something about Walton and I think it was a run play. We’ll pretend this is a “Choose Your Own Adventure” segment. You tell me what happened!
1. Bruce Gradkowski starting this session off working with the #1’s. Shazier blitzes and sheds Bell. Gradkowski fires over the middle but the ball hits off Markus Wheaton’s hands. Incomplete.
2. Initial reads aren’t there and eventually, Wheaton works back to the football and Gradkowski finds him. Tomlin was apparently impressed by the job the OL did, calling out, “Good pocket!”
3. Dupree beats Gilbert inside and splits he and DeCastro. Gradkowski checks it down to Bell but Lawrence Timmons breaks it up.
4. Short flip to DHB on a curl, Cockrell offering the coverage. Walton and Mathews were in the nickel.
5. Vaughan complete to James on the right side. Steelers showed a late blitz, rotating Sean Davis to centerfield and Shark rushing (late WR motion I think initiated that) off the offense’s left side.
6. Toussaint gets just enough on L.J. Fort’s blitz, shoving him upfield and keeping the pocket clean. Deep out from Vaughan to Norwood who makes a sliding catch against Garner.
7. DL of Maxey/Philon/Lyons. Vaughan complete on a speed out to Tucker. Doran Grant closes quickly and gives the receiver a hard shove into the ground, at the feet of the fans.
8. Lang and Grimble the two tight ends. AB and Wheaton the receivers. Jones complete to Grimble over the middle. Sean Davis collides into the tight end and knocks him down.
Best part of the play was Shark absolutely smacking Richardson on a blitz. Knocked Richardson back quite a bit though the running back did stay on his feet.
9. Jones forces a throw over the deep middle to DHB. Fort gets good depth and tips it away. Come very close to his second INT of camp.
10. Jones looks for D-Will on an angle route but it’s off his hands and incomplete.
11. Stingily uses his study frame to pick up a blitzing Garner and Vaughan does a nice job of hitching into the pocket. But the throw is behind Sammie Coates and falls incomplete.
12. Blakeney and Coates outside with Ayers in the slot. Vaughan looks for Coates again. The throw is on target but goes into Coates’ chest and dropped. Maybe he heard Jordan Dangerfield’s footsteps, hot in pursuit. That’d make me want to drop a football.
13. Matakevich and Johnson the ILBs. Ray Vinopal gets some pressure and Vaughan is flushed to his right. He’s late in looking for his checkdown but finally hits Daryl Richardson. L.T. Walton chases him downfield and collides with a teammate, coming up a little gimpy. He would partake in the next rep and finish practice so no worries there.
14. The law-firm of Wallace, Finney, and Hubbard do a nice job of giving Vaughan a clean pocket to work from. The QB looks for Tucker on the right side but he’s unable to catch the football cleanly, bobbling around as the receiver goes to the ground. By the NFL’s rules, definitely not a catch.
15. Rogers catches a slant from Vaughan and jets upfield.
1. My notes look like Jones hits Brown deep down the right sideline. Not 100% positive, to be honest.
2. AB getting work in the slot with Wheaton and Hey-Bey outside. Looks like an RPO, with AB flaring out to his left and the QB ultimately handing the ball off on a draw to Brown-Dukes. Robert Golden greets him with a nice thud – the tackling had ramped down at this point – after about a five yard gain.
3. Rogers lined up in the slot. Heyward spins away from Foster. Jones checks to Bell underneath.
4. Heyward and Walton in nickel. End around to Heyward-Bey. Jarvis Jones contains the play well so DHB reverses course and decides to show off his speed, running two inches in front of the wall of teammates not in the rep. Big ups to Walton who, despite starting in his RDT spot, chases the ball across the field and nearly meets Heyward-Bey along the right sideline.
5. Landry Jones throw is batted down at the LOS. Not sure by who. Maybe Moats.
6. Harrison with an effective bull rush versus Villanueva. Jones, sensing pressure, steps to his right and fires underneath to Williams. Burns was first in position for the “tackle.”
7. Rogers and Coates outside with Norwood in the slot. Garner as the slot corner. Nothing available for Vaughan and we have our first dead whistle of camp. Saw Burns slipped trying to cover the elusive Rogers on the near side.
8. Pitch and catch underneath from Vaughan to Richardson. Garner is the first man home.
9. Draw to Toussaint. Looks like Chickillo makes the ankle tackle.
10. Defensive line of: Maxey/Hooks/Newberry. Chickillo at LOLB, Feeney at ROLB. Vaughan throws behind Paul Lang. A coach called out, “Way to go Chick!” but I didn’t see what Chickillo did to earn such praise.
11. Norwood in the slot with Tucker and Coates outside. Draw to Richardson. Timmons drags him down by the helmet/dreadlocks.
12. Blakeney and Coates outside with Rogers in the slot. Overload blitz to the defense’s left. Cameron Stingily is in a lose-lose, though I’m not sure if he even picked anyone up. Would-be sack. Gradkowski hits Blakeney on a curl to the left side.
13. Finney in at center with the third team OL. Stingily on the carry. Hargrave did a nice job to leverage and shed the center.
14. Not sure how it happened but the 5’8 Brown-Dukes wound up on the ground in blitz pickup. Gradkowski lofts a throw over Norwood’s head and out of bounds.
15. TE screen to Jesse James. Johnson and Vinopal are the first to get into his grill.
1. McCullers and Walton a new pairing in the nickel front. Draw to Bell. Jarvis Jones gets good penetration on Gilbert, pushing him into the backfield.
2. As I implied above, Jarvis and Dupree have flipped sides. Jarvis at LOLB, Dupree at ROLB. Dupree drops into coverage to serve as the overhang defender against Brown. Screen right to Bell.
3. Hargrave/Mathews back in as the usual suspects in the nickel. Golden with a nice alley fill on this D-Will carry.
4. Jarvis Jones gets pressure. Vaughan misses Wheaton down the right sideline. Cockrell on the coverage.
5. Toussaint shows some acceleration through the lane. Appreciate the effort by Maxey, who chases after him.
6. Looks like Lyons and Philon are now the nickel pairing? Vaughan to Coates on a dig who outstretches his hands and makes a nice snag away from his body.
7. Jones complete to Jesse James, who carried out his assignment perfectly. Found grass in zone coverage, got square, showed his QB his numbers.
8. Power run with Finney pulling right to left. Got a good seal on someone. Toussaint carries off the left side, following to his and David Johnson’s outside hip.
9. Jones fires a bomb down to Tucker the right sideline but Montell Garner leaps and bats it away. Ventrone bumps into Tucker and knocks the rookie receiver down.
10. Run. Tuitt bear hugs Brown-Dukes. Sight to see.
11. Shazier again knifes through the line of scrimmage to greet Stingily with an audible pop. Stingily is halfway onto the ground, catches himself, and I think turns upfield for a brief moment before finally stumbling down. Man Shazier is fast.
12. Gradkowski complete to Coates backshoulder. Coates with a nice adjustment and catching it away from his body.
13. Tucker and Coates the two WRs. Gradkowski checks down to Brown-Dukes. L.J. Fort is the first man there. Someone stripped the ball out of BBD’s hand late in the play. Didn’t see who. David Johnson recovers.
14. Mathews does a nice job to shed Manhart’s block. Gradkowski flushes to his right and dumps it off to Richardson. Vince Williams eases up and only offers a shoulder into him.
15. Jarvis Jones leverages Brian Mihalik, blowing this draw to Brown-Dukes up. Stopped right behind the line of scrimmage.
1. The Steelers do seem to be giving Dustin Vaughan quite a bit of reps to see what he’s made of. Always helps when one of the QBs isn’t in the lineup but they definitely want to see what they have in him.
2. Stingily’s frame makes him an asset in pass protection, even though I don’t think he did it much in college. Looks better than Richardson or Brown-Dukes. I did not, however, see backs on backers so maybe that told a different story. I am just referencing what I saw in team sessions.
3. Eli Rogers is smooth. Whiskey smooth. Kenny G smooth. Your friend who gets all the girls smooth. No wasted motion in his breaks, accelerates at the top of his route, and sells fakes with his upper and lower half. Nice hands, too.
Demarcus Ayers also showed some impressive traits in one-on-ones. So it’ll be a good battle.
4. Issac Blakeney may be labeled as raw but I like his hand use off the line and creating separation at the top of his route. And with his frame, he only needs a little bit of space to be open.
4. Xavier Grimble may be flashy but questionable hands and conditioning won’t endear him to the coaching staff. A puzzle wrapped inside an enigma.
5. I did like to see Jerald Hawkins bounce back after a rough start to the one-on-ones.
6. Javon Hargrave was pretty dominant in one-on-ones. What you’d expect. He’s fun to watch and though it’s very early, coming along nicely.
7. Anthony Chickillo had a nice day in one-on-one and team drills. Moving all around, he’s a versatile piece.
8. Jarvis Jones continues to show what he does well. He’s smart, plays the run with strength and leverage, and rarely looks bad. The issue of course, is a lack of dominance as a pass rusher.
9. I really hope Bud Dupree is working on his speed bull rush he showed once today. Would be a great weapon a la James Harrison.
10. Artie Burns clearly did not have the best day. Little stiff, trouble getting out of his pedal and covering shifty WRs. But that’s ok – bad days will happen. Let’s just see how he responds.
11. Montell Garner may not be the fastest and he’ll give up his share of his grabs but for the back end corners, he’s shown the best ball skills three days in.
11. Shamarko Thomas did what Shamarko Thomas does best – hit people.
Coach McGuirk’s Best Quotes
“Why do you want to be a lifeguard, coach?”
“For the money, Brendan.”
Twitter Question Of The Day
In reference to Eli Rogers.
For this season, it’s the #5 WR and possible punt returner. Long-term who knows, I don’t rule out this guy being a trusty, shifty slot receiver someday. And with Coates so far seeing very little time in the slot, if Wheaton were to ever get hurt, could Rogers see snaps inside? I don’t think it’s impossible.
2015 Steelers’ Highlight To Get You Amped For 2016
James Harrison doing James Harrison-like things.
St. Vincent College Is Beautiful Photo Of The Day
My shoddy cell phone doesn’t do the place justice sometimes.