Life is good, Steelers’ Nation. A little soggy but good. Football. Is. Back. After braving a near monsoon driving down to Latrobe that drove the Pittsburgh Steelers to Greater Latrobe High School a couple miles away from St. Vincent College, the team hit the turf field at 3:55 PM. Six yellow school buses brought the team over. Big kudos to the Steelers’ staff for the last second change.
Quick aside: want to thank our training camp sponsor, Touring Plans, who is supporting the meals throughout camp. Had to have my McChicken’s today. Thanks again to Touring Plans, who you should check out if you’re ever planning a trip to Disney, the second most magical place on Earth (SVC being the first, of course). You can hit up their website here.
Already had one delay today so let’s not waste any more time. Here’s what happened at Training Camp: Day One.
At 3:44 PM, the players and coaches all pretty much piled out at once. Antonio Brown was technically the first man out, beaming that pearly smile and the crowd (still sizable, despite the weather) went bonkers for him. I know it might not feel like much, and maybe I’m being over the top, hyped up on football’s return, but AB is showing some leadership traits. Calling out Le’Veon Bell, being the first guy out to practice. Remember, there was one day of practice where he showed up late, after the initial whistle at 2:55. I hope he continues this course and embraces the leadership role the way someone like Ben Roethlisberger has done.
Injury roundup: Lavon Hooks the only non-PUP player to be held out of practice today. Unknown injury unless Mike Tomlin said something I missed. JuJu Smith-Schuster briefly hurt something but was able to return and finish practice. Whew. James Harrison went through individual work, sporting his grey sweats and pants but didn’t participate in team drills.
Today and tomorrow are shorts and shells so it’s sorta like an OTA practice. Intensity isn’t there. So I am more concerned about where guys are lining up as opposed to individual performance, which is harder to measure. Just keep that in mind going forward.
– Wide receiver is obviously hurting without Sammie Coates (knee), Martavis Bryant (Goodell’s wrath), and though down on the depth chart, also Canaan Severin (conditioning). So Justin Hunter opened up opposite of Antonio Brown in two wide receiver sets. Not that often a new face opens up with the starters. Obviously, Hunter will be get shuttled back at the least when Bryant returns but that’s a positive sign.
JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darrius Heyward-Bey appeared to open up as the second string outside receivers. When Cobi Hamilton came in for 11 personnel, JuJu kicked to the slot. Using him in both spots, pretty uncommon for a rookie.
– First team offensive line contained no surprises. Villanueva-Foster-Pouncey-DeCastro-Gilbert. Duh.
– Second team offensive line: Jerald Hawkins-Mike Matthews-BJ Finney-Matt Feiler-Chris Hubbard
A little more interesting there. Matthews running over high-prized UDFA to start things off and Hubbard getting work at right tackle. Matthews, by the way, also got a little work at long snapper.
– And third team offensive line. Jake Rodgers-Ethan Cooper-Kyle Friend-Keavon Milton-Brian Mihalik
With Hubbard second team RT, no surprise to see Mihalik get pushed to the third unit.
– Quarterbacks ran with no surprises. Ben Roethlisberger first, Landry Jones second, Josh Dobbs third, and Bart Houston fourth.
– Running backs: Fitzgerald Toussaint first team without Bell (Fitz is the vet, don’t freak), Knile Davis second team, James Conner third team.
– Newly signed safety Malik Golden, replacing Daimion Stafford, will also take his number and wear #30.
– Ramon Foster, the leader in the stretch line, continued that role today. Calls out players and gets the rest of the team to shout back.
“Where’s Will Gay At??”
(rest of team) “Tuuuuuitt!”
Lot of fun.
– Spent most of the warmups/individuals looking at the offense but a couple notes on defense.
– L.J. Fort is a fluid, athletic Mack linebacker. Explosive out of his break. Don’t forget about him when you make your 53 man roster.
– Lot of the linebackers looked fluid in drills, though they were generally going half sped. Keion Adams did misstep once, knocking over a cone, and then got in Farrington Huguenin’s way as he tried to go through the drill next. Rookies…
– It’s just on air, so please take it with a grain of salt, but cornerback Mike Hilton has some hops. Attacks the football at its highest point every time.
– Special teams notes. Know they’re not for everyone but they’re the key to many of these guys making the roster or practice squad.
Most of what I have comes on the punt team. No real kickoff (or return line) work today. Probably a product of being on one field because of the move to the High School.
– First team punt coverage unit (no gunners). From left to right on the line: Arthur Moats-Steven Johnson-Colin Holba-Tyler Matakevich-Anthony Chickillo. Roosevelt Nix and Jordan Dangerfield the left/right wings respectively. Robert Golden, as he’s been for years now, the upback.
– Second team punt coverage unit. From left to right on the line: Keion Adams-TJ Watt-Kameron Canaday-Francis Kallon-LJ Fort. Xavier Grimble and Jacob Hagen the left/right wings respectively with Fitzgerald Toussaint the upback.
Don’t have any third team notes fleshed out fully but I know Phazahn Odom was working as a left wing.
– As you’d expect, Danny Smith spent a lot of time working with the long snappers, notably Colin Holba, replacing Greg Warren. Working on protecting/blocking off the snap. College rules make blocking a lot easier for a long snapper than in the NFL so it’s a large area of focus.
Holba, and Kameron Canaday, seemed to make a couple mistakes early but kept repping it and Smith seemed pleased by the end of the five minute session.
After one well executed block, Smith was beaming.
“Yes, yes!” he called out to Holba. Not 100% sure what he was referencing, think he said something about protecting the A gap.
Chris Boswell and assistant strength and conditoning coach Marcel Pastoor were the “rushers” for Holba. James Harrison wound up jumping in as a blocker to help out; Cam Heyward jumped into the group as well towards the end. Just don’t let Harrison actually snap the ball again and we’ll be fine.
Some minor coaching points from Smith were directed James Conner’s way too. Keeping his hands tight. Conner worked as a wing in an earlier punt team session. Kevin Colbert seemed excited about getting him on that unit after the draft.
– Let’s get into the 11 on 11 sessions. Play-by-play with info on where guys were lining up mixed in.
1. Seven shots. Ball on the two. You know the drill. Looked like a low-ish snap from Maurkice Pouncey to Roethlisberger. Ben looked for Jesse James on an out route in the end zone but Vince Williams was right there to knock it away. Incomplete. T.J. Watt ran first team ROLB – opposite Bud Dupree – with Harrison sitting out.
2. Roethlisberger looked for Brown on a fade to the left back corner but it was well covered. Went through his progression and hit Justin Hunter running a draft right to left along the goal line, Ross Cockrell in trail. Touchdown.
3. JuJu in the slot. Runs a slot fade to the right corner but the pass went incomplete. Believe Sean Davis was in coverage, the team staying in base and rolling Davis over slot. This is the play Smith-Schuster got nicked up on. Someone may have stepped on his toe or he just landed wrong.
4. 11 personnel, Eli in the slot with Xavier Grimble standing up between he and the right tackle. Knile Davis in the backfield. Swing/seam RPO (common for Todd Haley) and Ben immediately hit Rogers in the right flat. Couldn’t tell with certainty if Rogers got in or was shoved out short. Believe he was short.
5. James Conner comes in, lining up in the backfield before motioned out slot left. Landry Jones fires and hits Demarcus Ayers on a drag. Mike Hilton second team slot corner.
6. Well-covered initially. Landry Jones finally finds a wide open Scott Orndoff. Pass a touch high, clipping off Orndoff’s outstretched arms, looping up into the air, and back down into thee tight end’s body. Touchdown. Cue the wacky music.
7. Believe Jones hit Cobi Hamilton for the score. Touchdown. Hilton in the slot, Coty Sensabaugh right corner.
1. Roethlisberger zings a slant left side to Justin Hunter. Sean Davis anticipated and jumped the route but Ben was patient and waited for him to clear.
2. 21 personnel (2 RBs, 1 TE). Man coverage across the board. Every receiver blanketed. Do a cartwheel, Steelers’ Nation. Ben has to force the ball to Hamilton but Cockrell knocks it away.
3. Artie Burns lined up on Antonio Brown, press alignment, at right corner. Brown separates the top his route, working back downfield on a comeback. Roethlisberger hits him perfectly and Brown tapes his toes along the left sideline. Gorgeous.
By the way, Burns followed AB around all day. Wasn’t a left side/right side thing. They want Burns to be more comfortable at both spots, giving the defense more flexibility when they choose to shadow, and give Burns the chance to go up against the league’s best wide receiver every single rep.
4. Steelers 4-3 over front, TJ Watt off ball (DL shifted to the left). Cam Heyward gets some pressure and Roethlisberger checks down to Knile Davis. Heyward immediately hits the jets to chase after him. Nearly brought a tear to my eye.
5. Second team cornerback pecking order. Senquez Golson and Coty Sensabaugh at outside corner – how about that for Golson – and Hilton in the slot. Jones looks to hit Hamilton on a slant to the left. Pass is a step behind and Hamilton is unable to turn his body around to make the grab. Sensabaugh on the coverage. Jones’ biggest issues is his accuracy on timing, short to intermediate throws. Still struggles.
6. Steelers’ line stunts. Jones had Phazahn Odom open but the throw appears off-line and incomplete. Shaking off the rust.
7. Watched Jerald Hawkins seal Johnny Maxey upfield. Jones complete over the middle to Roosevelt Nix, who is quick to the tuck and gets upfield.
8. DHB and Hamilton as the outside receivers, Ayers (who at points, wore Chris Boswell’s #9 jersey) in the slot. Jones hits Ayers on a drag right to left. Fort bumps him immediately after the reception. Jordan Dangerfield/Robert Golden second team safety.
9. Good hand fight off the line but Brown creates separation at the top. Roethlisberger hits Brown in stride down the left sideline, AB only needing to stretch out his arms to haul it in. Winner winner, chicken dinner.
10. Ben hits Rogers in the right flat for a minimal gain. Burns keeps shadowing AB.
11. Alejandro Villanueva does well to wash down TJ Watt, crashing the B gap to the inside. Treat it like a run block, play physical. Roethlisberger complete to Xavier Grimble over the middle.
12. Josh Dobbs first snap. Playaction, promptly hits Nix in the right flat.
13. Third team corners are in. Greg Ducre left corner, Cam Sutton right corner, and Golson kicks to the slot. Jacob Hagen/Terrish Webb third team safeties, Keith Kelsey/Matt Galambos inside linebacker pairing. It’s Dobbs this time looking to hit someone on a slant, Marcus Tucker, but the timing is off and the ball is way too far in front.
14. Farrington Huguenin/Keion Adams working at outside linebacker. Dobbs checks down to running back Terrell Watson.
15. Dobbs heaves downfield the right sideline for Hamilton. Corner Brandon Dixon plays it smart, staying in-phase and keeping his eye on the man, not the ball. Pass clanged off the back of Dixon’s helmet and incomplete.
1. No surprises here but to type it out for anyone asking. First team defense: Tuitt-Hargrave-Heyward along the line. Dupree/Watt OLB, Shazier/Williams inside. Cockrell/Burns the corners, Mike Mitchell/Sean Davis at safety.
On offense, it’s still Hunter and Brown at WR. Jesse James the #1 TE. 21 personnel, Nix and Toussaint in the backfield. Inside zone to Toussaint, Vince Williams scrapes over the top to meet him in the hole.
2. Roethlisberger playaction. Looks for Brown on a slant but Sean Davis charges hard to get a piece of Brown – maybe pulling up at the end – knocking and sliding AB down to the ground. Incomplete.
3. Outside zone to the left for Davis. Not much doing, defense flowed to the ball well and Williams is the first man to greet Davis.
4. Another playaction pass from Ben. Tests Burns again down the right sideline. Burns has better coverage this time, the ball is a little underthrown, and Burns stretches a hang up and out to try and get in the way. He doesn’t get a piece of it but it’s enough to not allow AB to track the ball/work back to it and it falls incomplete between the two.
5. Conner carry up the middle. Shows some quick feet, though obviously he can’t get hit, and bursts upfield.
6. This is the play JuJu Smith-Schuster returned (he worked in the special teams session prior to this team drill). Second team defensive line: Tyson Alualu-Johnny Maxey-LT Walton. Conner carry off left side. Chickillo sheds the block to touch him up.
And yeah, you read that right. Maxey at nose tackle over Daniel McCullers. Baaaad sign for Shade Tree.
7. Playaction. Pass rushers can’t get after it that much in practice but Conner was technically sound, staying suquad to rebuff Alualu. Gives time for Jones to hit DHB in the right flat for a couple yard gain.
8. Inside zone to Trey Williams. Arthur Moats knifes inside to greet him. Williams gets ping-ponged around as he works his way upfield to finish the run.
9. 1st teams back in. Steelers in their 4-3 over front against 12 personnel. Roethlisberger wants Hunter up the right seam but Hunter is late getting his head around and doesn’t find the ball in time. Incomplete. Cockrell in coverage.
10. Gay in the slot over Rogers. Stephon Tuitt goes full out, dragging down Knile Davis in this non-contact practice.
11. Marcus Gilbert false starts. Ben wants to test out his arm and hit AB on a deep post to the right but Mitchell/Burns have him bracketed. Instead, Roethlisberger connects to Hunter over the middle on a medium-sized gain.
12. Third team DL in. May have been an over front, not sure. Nelson Adams-Roy Philon-Daniel McCullers. So that’s McCullers’ life right now. Running with a UDFA and a guy in Philon, who has bounced in and out of camp.
13. Dobbs comes in. Playaction. Good key read by Senquez Golson to take away the throw in the flat for Ayers. Dobbs makes the smart play and throws it over both of their heads to the right side. Ryan Shazier catches the ball on the sideline. Shazier to WR?
14. Brandon Brown-Dukes gets his first carry of camp up the right side.
15. And now…Dobbs makes his first camp mistake. Playaction again. Has Nix sorta open in the flat but he passes it up to try and hit a receiver over the middle, throwing across his body. A big no-no. Jacob Hagen nearly makes him pay, rallying downhill and coming close to picking it off.
1. Toussaint gets the carry on an inside zone run to the left. But someone left their backside contain and Toussaint cuts it back to the right for a big gain. Bad discipline on defense, good vision by Fitz.
2. Davis gets the carry off right guard behind David DeCastro.
3. Villanueva does a good job of sealing TJ Watt on this run to the left, Conner running off his inside hip. Good gainer. Tomlin yelled out something to Watt afterwards, couldn’t hear what it was.
4. Villanueva and Gilbert seal their rushers upfield, Gilbert working on Dupree, as Roethlisberger throws complete to Rogers. Gay gets there a tick too late.
5. Fort and Matakevich the inside linebackers for second team. Moats at LOLB, Chickillo opposite. Golson/Sensabaugh/Hilton in the slot. Walton and Hargrave in the nickel. And…I realize I was so busy writing all that down, I didn’t take note of the actual play. Sorry.
6. Finney climbs to the second level on Fort, Davis following behind.
For those still reading, or skimming at a happy spot, remember, this is Day One. We don’t learn everything right away. Teams are fluid, they’re still running around in shorts, and we’re not going to catch every single thing that happens. It’s all about patterns. Who keeps playing well? Playing poorly? Who starts poor but picks it up? Who regresses? Big picture matters more than one day.
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