Training Camp

2018 Steelers Training Camp Diary: Day One

Goooooooooood morning Latrobe. Incredible day to be back at St. Vincent College in, the best place on Earth for any Pittsburgh Steelers fan. Day One is in the books and I know there’s roughly three billion things you want to know. I won’t keep you any longer.

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– I don’t mean to wax away here but man, you really can’t beat the atmosphere SVC provides. Never know what you’re going to see. There was a nearby air show flying over our heads for the first half hour of practice, jets flying in formation right above the field. Bet you don’t get that at any other training camp.

As Tim Rice and I were walking into the campus, there was RBs coach James Saxon, walking among the crowd. I don’t think anyone else knew him but still, pretty cool. And when we were leaving and heading out to the parking lot, there was President Art Rooney II getting carted up the hillside and back to the facilities. As old school and humble as you can get. I even decided to take the back way to the college because of the gorgeous view, crossing over a bridge and the whole campus opening up to you. Pretty cool.

– Anyway, let’s get to the football.

As of this writing, I haven’t heard Mike Tomlin’s comments on an injury report. Backup center Parker Collins did go down sometime during team drills. Trainers seemed to be working on his right knee before they called for the cart and took him off. Tough break. He was running second-team center, a nice way to start things off. Hopefully he avoided something serious. If he’s going to be done, expect the Steelers to make a roster move ASAP. With the release of Bryce Harris, they’re down to 14 offensive linemen, and they’ll be even shorter on days where veterans like Maurkice Pouncey get the day off or don’t work in 11 v 11. I’ll have to comb over the tryout list; they like to circle back to that group.

Eli Rogers was out, placed yesterday on Active/PUP as he rehabs from his torn ACL suffered in January. Moved around fine, you’ve probably seen the videos of him running so no surprise there, and he tried to stay as active and involved as possible. During warmups, he poked his head into the huddle to hear the call before taking a step back to the side. Also caught a couple passes on the JUGS machine during practice.

Although his season is over, Jerald Hawkins is walking around without a crutch. Just a big wrap on his left leg. That’s a good sign, at least. And as Tim Rice tweeted out earlier, Ryan Shazier was at practice today, walking around with the assistance of a cane. Just great to see him out there.

– As I’m sure you saw, the Steelers already made one roster move. OT Bryce Harris was released after failing his conditioning test and the team signed CB Malik Reaves. Reaves, a teammate of Trey Johnson at Villanova, the corner they waived yesterday, also took Johnson’s number, wearing 38. I don’t believe he got work in team drills today, which is what you’d expect for a guy who just got here.

– Fans definitely are glad Todd Haley isn’t here. At least, the ones behind me were. “Thank God Haley’s gone,” multiple people said.

– My favorite thing to take note of. The UK player, tight end Christian Scotland-Williamson, was the first player out on the field, coming down the stairs at 2:27 PM, nearly a half hour before practice. He immediately jumped on the JUGS machine. James Conner came out next and Matthew Thomas was the first defender to trot down the stairs.

– Old habits die hard. Tight ends coach James Daniel used to always ride down with DL coach John Mitchell. Mitchell is no longer in that role (though still with the team). Instead, Daniel came down with new DL coach Karl Dunbar.

– Kinda weird not seeing Arthur Moats out there. Glanced up at a 55 during warmups and for a second, thought it was him. Nope. Keith Kelsey. That’s how football goes. And that sorta sucks.

– Rookie DBs coming out together. Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen – along with UDFA Jamar Summers – all spilled onto the field together.

Maurkice Pouncey and Ben Roethilsberger played their classic game of hit the crossbar. Roethlisberger got up to a big lead, standing at the 30 while Pouncey was still at the 20. Pouncey closed the gap before the horn sounded but I’m pretty sure Big Ben, as he usually does, still won. R.J. Prince and Chris Schleuger were the “ball boys” to lob the tries back. Life of a rookie.

– The offensive line groupings, first through third. Remember, these first two days, I care more about where guys are lining up than how they’re doing because they’re still in shorts and they aren’t tackling. Not that these depth charts remain forever but it’s important to know now so you know when they change later.

First Team: Sure you’ll be shocked by this. Villanueva-Foster-Pouncey-DeCastro-Gilbert

Second Team: Okorafor-Finney-Collins-Feiler-Rodgers

Third Team: Cheek-Schleuger-Morris-Graham-Prince

After Collins went down, Morris was elevated to second-team center.

No huge surprises there, though the team clearly wants Finney to get some extra work at guard. I’m sure he’ll see center reps at some point here, especially if Collins is going to miss time.

– One interesting aspect of today is the “newness” of practice. Not that it looked a whole lot different but you have a new offensive coordinator and WRs coach on the offensive side of things. Didn’t spend much time with the defense in individual. WRs coach Darryl Drake seemed to put an early emphasis on WR releases. The first drill was lining up under a bar/chute, working on staying low in your stance and not popping up on your release. The next had them defeat a tackling dummy off the line with a rip or a swipe.

– Tight ends drive blocking the sleds is something I like to pay attention to. Tomlin normally does too, though I didn’t see him there today. Thought Pharoah McKever and Scotland-Williamson were better than I expected given their rawness and height disadvantage in a drill like this. Scotland-Williamson does need to keep his eyes up but he showed power and lower body drive. Ryan Malleck seemed to struggle the most. Flatback, not uncoiling his hips and rising up through contact, and he had trouble generating a push.

However, Scotland-Williamson, as you’d expect, is too tall coming out of his stance as a route runner and isn’t quick out of his break or after the catch. Fought the ball a bit today with at least one drop in individual work and another on the JUGS. That’s going to happen, no need to kill the guy for it, but things you look to even out as camp goes on. Note it now to grade it later.

– First two drills Saxon put his RBs through? Ball security, holding it high and tight while a teammate tried to knock it out. Then they worked on their punch and hand placement in pass protection. Details, details, details. That’s how you stay on the field.

– Like they have in the past, the WRs are broken up into two groups. Call it the “A” and “B” team. The former get to catch passes from Ben Roethlisberger, the latter from the backups.

The “A” group: Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Justin Hunter, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Marcus Tucker. Everyone else in the other group.

– Roethlisberger praising or correcting everyone in QB/WR individual work. Yelled out “Way to adjust” when AB made a nice snag. Then he and others got on Smith-Schuster. Drill was to run a go route and not look for the ball until the QB yelled “Ball.” But Smith-Schuster looked back before the command and everyone said he cheated.

So Drake and Ben had him do it again. Roethlisberger seemed to pull a fast one, throwing a quick back shoulder throw instead of the expected go route. He yelled out “Ball!,” JuJu turned, and snagged the pass two inches from his facemask.

– Marcus Tucker is pretty detailed and technical in these drills but sometimes to a fault. In this rep, he ran way too slow, a morning jog, waiting for the Ball call. By the time he looked back, he was too far behind, and the pass fell a yard in front of his hand.

First Team Session (11 v 11)

1. Despite a new OC, seven shots returns. Seven plays with the ball on the two yard line. Tyler Matakevich ran first team Mack linebacker next to Vince Williams. James Conner first team RB, Vance McDonald at TE. Conner motioned out of the backfield and into the slot for an empty set. Roethlisberger fired to Conner on a slant, Conner making a strong-handed grab and not letting Tyler Matakevich swipe down over the top and knock it out. Touchdown.

2. Slot fade to JuJu from Ben to the back left corner of the end zone, Joe Haden in coverage. JuJu flipped his body around to try to haul the pass in but couldn’t quite get to the spot in time and it landed out of bounds, incomplete. Jesse James was the tight end on this snap.

3. Jaylen Samuels working out of the slot with the first team. Another empty set. Pump fake to JuJu at the goal line. Roethlisberger brought it back with Mike Hilton trying to jump it. Smith-Schuster changed his route, ran towards the back of the end zone near the right upright and Roethlisberger found him all alone, JuJu hopping into the air to claim the ball and the score.

4. Antonio Brown in the slot. Samuels split out far right. Slant to Samuels. Defender dove in front of the ball as Roethlisberger looked to hit the rookie. Don’t think the ball was tipped but perhaps Samuels view was obstructed, dropping the ball as it hit him between the numbers. Incomplete.

5. Landry Jones checking in 2nd string. Stevan Ridley at RB. Backshoulder fade to James Washington, his first target. Coty Sensabaugh made a nice play to break it up as Washington was just securing the catch and the pass fell incomplete.

6. Weird play. Jones looked for someone on a slant, didn’t see who. Ball got tipped and skied back up into the air. Became a “sea of hands” moment with seemingly all 22 players trying to grab the football. Somehow, someway, Tucker found it and scored. It’s like the Patriots game interception but with a much better ending.

7. DHB, Washington on the outside, Tucker in the slot. Fitzgerald Toussaint at RB. Jones still at QB. Nothing open for Jones in his initial read. Fired on a slant and complete for a TD. We’re playing the “can’t quite read my notes game.” I think James Summers caught it. Either him or Tevin Jones. The team site will probably have it for you later.

EDIT: Team site has James Washington with the catch. I remember the play now. Washington cut across the middle and held on despite Sensabaugh charging hard at him.

Offense wins the opening series, 4-3, with that score, though that Tucker score was an absolute fluke.

Second Team Session

1. Brown and JuJu as the two WRs. Conner at RB, Roosevelt Nix at FB. Roethlisberger playaction. Hits McDonald on a corner route, complete with Sean Davis trailing.

2. Still Williams/Matakevich at ILB. Watt at LOLB, Dupree at ROLB, as expected. Rare bad exchange between Pouncey and Ben. Ben grabs it out of the air and runs up the gut. But essentially a dead play.

3. Morgan Burnett/Sean Davis your starting safeties. Joe Haden LCB, Artie Burns opposite. Tuitt-Hargrave-Heyward your DL. 12 personnel with Jesse James on the LOS and McDonald split out wide to the same (right) side. Roethlisberger hits AB for a quick five yard curl.

4. Tyson Alualu checks in for Heyward, Bostic in for Matakevich. Mike Hilton at nickel. Williams blitzes off the left edge, occupying the right tackle, while Watt hit the B gap over right guard. Roethlisberger complete on a side arm throw to Xavier Grimble running a Hank route (five yard curl over center).

5. Keion Adams at LOLB, Anthony Chickillo ROLB for the second-team edge rushers. Terrell Edmunds and Nat Berhe your 2nd team safeties. Second-team corners: Sensabaugh left, Brian Allen right, Cam Sutton in the slot. Jones throws incomplete to James Washington, missing low on a comeback with Sensabaugh covering. Probably on the WR for not getting out of his break and coming back to the ball as hard as he could but hard to say.

6. Bostic and L.J. Fort at 2nd team ILB. L.T. Walton/Alualu nickel defensive linemen, Washington and DHB at WR. Jones takes a quick drop and throws complete to DHB. Sensabaugh can’t punch the ball out away from him.

7. Jones looks again for Washington on a speed out to the right side. Throw is low and incomplete. Senabaugh is covering again.

8. Pocket collapses on Jones. Nice sideline catch on the left side by Damoun Patterson, working over Brian Allen.

9. Stephon Tuitt with a good rep, blowing through David DeCastro and getting to Roethlisberger. Ben spins away, shows his wheels, and takes off up the middle.

10. Bostic back in with the 1’s sidecar to Williams. Watt/Dupree the OLBs. James and a DL jumped at the snap, don’t know who drew the other. Play continues. Roethlisberger has an open Rosie Nix over the middle, running away from Bostic. But Nix throws out just one arm and the pass clangs off his hands.

11. Matakevich jumps back in. Williams rushes off the left edge. Quick curl to Antonio Brown but in a rare moment, Brown lets the ball into his body and drops the pass. Incomplete.

12. Josh Dobbs checking in. James Washington makes a tough catch with Cam Sutton draped all over him.

13. Matthew Thomas and Darnell Leslie, who I thought was going to play OLB but was inside today, third team ILBs. Farrington Huguenin at LOLB, Ola Adeniyi at ROLB. Sutton switches out to third-team LCB along with Jamar Summers at RCB and Dashaun Phillips in the slot. Lavon Hooks provides pressure up the middle. Dobbs looks for Tucker but he drops the pass.

14. Dobbs under siege again. Dumps the pass short right to Samuels, who I think sprang out of the backfield.

15. Greg Gilmore and Kendal Vickers come in as the reserve nickel DL. Jordan Dangerfield and Malik Golden your third-team safeties. Phillips rushes in free from his nickel spot. Dobbs quickly hits Trey Griffey on a drag running left to right.

Third Team Session

1. Matakevich again kicking things off as the starting Mack LB. James in at TE, AB and JuJu at WR. Burnett and Davis the safeties, Haden/Burns at CB, Watt/Dupree at OLB. Roethlisberger playaction. Wants to throw it downfield but it’s covered so he checks it down to James Conner, who sprints another 20 yards to end the rep.

“I like the finish” Tomlin yells out in support of Conner.

2. Brown, JuJu on the outside and Marcus Tucker in the slot, getting some work with the 1st team. James Conner takes the first handoff of camp, an inside zone. Bangs the run between right guard and tackle. Thud tackle to end things.

3. Now it’s AB and Justin Hunter in the two WR set. Twin set, Hunter in the slot. Split zone, Xavier Grimble pulling across right to left. Jaylen Samuels showed good ball security but way too slow hitting the hole that was definitely there. Taking time for him to process, expected for a rookie.

4. Bostic in at ILB. Roethlisberger looks off the safety to his left, turning back and firing deep downfield for AB on the right. Joe Haden is blanketing him underneath, Davis motoring over the top, and the pass is too far out in front. Incomplete.

5. Dobbs in at QB. Playaction, looks to hit McDonald on a 10-15 yard dig. Pass is high and skips off McDonald’s backside hand, tipped into the air and skies over Davis’ head. Incomplete.

L.T. Walton-Daniel McCullers-Tyson Alualu was your second-team defensive line.

6. Behre/Edmunds at safety. Sensabaugh/Allen at corner. Toussaint gets the carry. Bostic quickly meets him in the hole after a short gain.

7. Adams and Chick at OLB. Dobbs fakes the handoff. Pharoah McKever wide open down the right seam. Sensabaugh taps him up, arriving too late from his LCB spot, and then lets him run upfield to finish the rep.

8. Washington, Pattterson, and Tevin Jones the WRs. Smoke screen from Dobbs to Patterson, Jones throwing a decent block out in front.

9. First team back in. 12 personnel. 3×1 with AB isolated backside, to the offense’s left, as the X receiver, Jesse James hand down at the end of the line. McDonald standing up in the slot. JuJu the Z receiver. Roethlisberger complete to McDonald on a crosser over the middle, McDonald sitting down working against zone coverage.

10. Roethlisberger to AB complete between Burns and Matakevich. Samuels in at RB.

11. Fake the end around to Justin Hunter. Conner gets the carry up the middle but not much doing there.

12. Mason Rudolph checks in for the first time, the 34th rep of practice. Hands off to James Summers. Split zone action.

13. Toussaint with the carry. Leslie screaming up the middle to meet him pretty quickly.

14. Playaction. Boot right. Not sure what happened here but wasn’t good news for the rookie. Had an open Nix in the right flat. But either the ball just fell out of his hand of Farrington Huguenin batted it back into his face. Pass was incomplete and Rudolph fell on the ball.

15. Adeniyi at ROLB. Ryan Malleck looks to be the #2 fullback. Rudolph with a better result, hitting Patterson on a dig for roughly a 15 yard gain.

Fourth Team Session

1. First teams back in. Vince Williams free off the right side. Playaction by Roethlisberger. Hits McDonald on a crosser working right to left. 10-ish yard gain.

2. Hunter and Brown initially are in a twins, stacked formation to the left, though Hunter motions across (Roethlisberger stopped him and communicated something briefly, probably a minor screw-up on Hunter’s part). Looks like Ben got the ball out a little late. Tries to hit AB on an out route to the left sideline. Artie Burns makes a great play, reading the throw, jumping the route, and picking it off. He races down the right sideline.

3. Hunter/AB/Tucker in he slot. Conner on the carry. Immediate penetration from the defense so he quickly cuts to the left.

4. Roethlisberger hits Brown over the middle on a slant, Joe Haden unable to break the pass up in time.

5. Looks like Ridley blew the pass protection and Dobbs gets heat pretty quickly. Launches the ball downfield, where Washington did a nice job beating Sensabaugh and making a leaping catch far down the right sideline.

6. Dobbs quickly searches for Nix in the right flat. But Nix is fighting the ball, lets it into his body, and he spits it out for a drop and incompletion.

7. Fort/Thomas at ILB. Toussaint stretch left. Stuffed at the LOS, McCullers seemed to hold the POA well.

8. Now Samuels in at RB. Sensabaugh comes in off the left edge and his LCB spot. By this time, Collins is getting carted off with Morris working 2nd team center.

9. Samuels now aligned slot left. Movement pre-snap. Ben complete to Tucker, easy completion over the middle.

10. Toussaint stretch right. Heyward chases him from the backside while Tuitt gets penetration from the frontside. Good run defense and gap control.

11. Pocket pushes into Landry Jones’ feet. Checkdown to Ridley. Williams is sitting all over the throw but can’t break it up. Nice job by Ridley to hang on.

12. Samuels carry right side. Matt Galambos knifes through to tag him behind the LOS. Hooks at RDE, Joshua Frazier at NT.

13. Sutton LCB, Summers RCB, Phillips in the slot. Galambos rushing in free. Rudolph complete to James Summers in the right flat. Kelsey bumps him from behind but Summers stays on his feet and finishes the rep.

14. Jarvion Franklin in at RB. Thomas/Leslie the ILBs. Rudolph incomplete to McKever, thrown behind on a Hank over the middle. If I had to guess, McKever drifted too far away from center.

15. Parker Cothren/Kendal Vickers picking up scraps as the nickel defensive linemen. Marcus Allen at safety and I swear Hilton was taking a rep there too. Keeping that in the back of my mind for tomorrow. Franklin gets the carry off left side to end practice.

Odds and Ends

– Return line in order: Cam Sutton, Justin Thomas, Jamar Summers, Quadree Henderson. Joe Haden also took one rep but don’t expect him to see any meaningful action there.

– During special teams sessions, Henderson and Thomas fielded several punts on the middle field.

– Only Kameron Canaday long snapping. Unless Chris Boswell counts, he sent a couple to Jordan Berry. Don’t think that’s an effective strategies for kicks, though…

– Soon as the last team session ended and the first special teams began, my boy Danny Smith’s voice boomed over the field. Literally all that fans talk about when Smith is yelling.

– Benefit of having two OL coaches, Mike Munchak and Shaun Sarrett. During ST sessions, they broke off the line into two groups to work on combo blocks on zone schemes. Double the reps for everyone. And that’s huge.

– Like every year, assistant strength and conditioning coach Marcel Pastoor stretches out AB in the stretch line.

– Work was far from down after practice. I’d estimate 40-45 players immediately got to work after the whole team broke down the huddle. Nix was first on the JUGS machine (a good idea after a tough day catching the ball). Cam Heyward, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and about seven others ran sprints across the field. Mason Rudolph threw to Ryan Malleck while Josh Dobbs worked with Phaorah McKever. During 7v7s, when Dobbs and Rudolph weren’t getting reps, they stood 10 yards apart and played catch with each other to keep their arms loose.

Three running backs, Fitzgerald Toussaint, I think Jaylen Samuels, and someone else (maybe Ridley?), jogged to the fair field to hit the blocking sleds. And Antonio Brown ran routes with what looked to be either a high schooler or someone from the college, which is a pretty cool moment for whoever that guy is. So that’s good to see.

Final Thoughts

– Again, hard to say who did “well” on Day One in shorts and shells. I care more about where guys are lining up, as I said above.

– We’ll see how things look a week, a month from now, but the reports Randy Fichtner was going to get TEs in more space seem true. Saw it a ton, especially with McDonald, split in the slot or out wide. You’re going to see some “heavy” personnel, 12 and 22, and the Steelers walking McDonald out to try to get a mismatch on a linebacker.

Jaylen Samuels worked with the RBs in individual drills but saw plenty of burn as a wide receiver. He’s going to be a chess piece on offense. Same can be said for Cam Sutton defensively, who is going to be used in the slot and outside corner (probably not safety though).

– James Conner caught the ball really well. That was a good first step. Roosevelt Nix, unfortunately, didn’t have a great day in that department.

– Bostic got a handful of first-team reps but Tyler Matakevich took the majority and never ran with the backups. So that’s where things currently sit. McDonald got more reps than James with the 1’s, too, though in that situation, they both can be on the field at the same time, unlike Bostic/Dirty Red.

– Sensabaugh made a couple nice plays today in run support and in coverage.

St. Vincent Snapshot

Photo I took of the air show flying over the campus. A very Steelers-looking formation.

Steelers Fact Of The Day

A new section this year. Obscure, random history throughout the Steelers rich history.

Pittsburgh’s first ever draft pick came in 1936, selecting William Shakespeare, a halfback from Notre Dame. He never played a down for the team. Instead, he chose to work for a rubber factory in Cincinnati.

Dwight Schrute Quote Of The Day 

“Once I’m officially Regional Manager, my first order of business will be to demote Jim Halpert. So I will need a new number two. My ideal choice? Jack Bauer. But he is unavailable. Fictional. And overqualified.”

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