Day Two is in the books. Tomorrow the pads come on. That will be a ton of fun but for now, let’s recap what happened on Saturday.
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– Injury report. Mike Tomlin seemed vague about it after practice. TJ Watt (hamstring) remains on PUP while WR Johnny Holton suffered a hamstring injury today. I haven’t seen rookie CB Alexander Myres in uniform the last two days. I believe I saw him on the field, donning a grey shirt and black hat, but he’s not a familiar face so I can’t be sure. Either way, he’s not practicing for unknown reasons. Injuries are of course going to begin piling up tomorrow when it’s full contact.
– TEs coach James Daniel was the first member of the Pittsburgh Steelers organization on the field, riding down on the cart – again, by himself at 2:25. He camped out underneath the tent next to the main practice field until things got underway.
– No change from yesterday. Same first four players on the field, entering at 2:34. Trevor Wood, Kevin Rader, Josh Dobbs, and Devlin Hodges.
The backup tight ends, starting with Rader, spent pre-practice on the JUGs machine. Rader struggled a bit and seems to have difficulty catching passes over his head. Couple drops there and in warmups later on in the day.
– Good news! The crossbar challenge between Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey made its return. Starting at the five, they throw at the crossbar and if they hit it, move back five yards. A fan favorite. Rookies Fred Johnson and Garrett Brumfield along with second-year player Patrick Morris tasked as ball boys. Roethlisberger raced out to an early lead, connecting from 35 yards out (thrown from the 25 yard line) but Pouncey stormed back and tied things up. He won, smacking the middle of the bar from the 35 while Ben couldn’t get past the 30.
– Alejandro Villanueva might have some of the other football skills. Soccered around a football a few times, kicking it off his back heel, up into the air, and skipped a few yards ahead of him. Just a super talented guy.
– Defensive backs again sent through the JUGs machine before practice by Teryl Austin. Everyone getting work. And they need it after what happened last year.
– In the first snap of warmups in 11 personnel, JuJu Smith-Schuster lined up at the Z, Donte Moncrief at the X, and Eli Rogers in the slot. The second grouping: Diontae Johnson at the X, James Washington at the Z, and Ryan Switzer inside.
– The offensive line groups remain the same. Will briefly run through them again.
First Team: Villanueva-Foster-Pouncey-DeCastro-Feiler
Second Team: Hawkins-Morris-Finney-Johnson-Okorafor
Third Team: Prince-Brumfield-Hassenauer-Gray-Banner
– Punt return line: Eli Rogers, Ryan Switzer, Diontae Spencer, Cam Sutton. Didn’t see Joe Haden field any like he did yesterday.
– New little twist in the punt return line. Return man already has a ball in his hand. Coach fires one out of the machine. Player has to toss the ball in his hand up into the air, catch the one fired out, and then re-catch the one he tossed up. Working on hand eye coordination and hands.
– Switzer tried to catch as many punt returns as he could, hauling in five balls before dropping the 6th one. Believe six or seven is the record. Will have to check my notes. But a good effort nonetheless.
– Kameron Canaday and Trevor Wood working as long snappers today. Vance McDonald stood over Wood and coached him up a bit. They’re in similar boats. Tight end who snapped a little in college, McDonald at Rice and Wood at Arizona/Texas A&M. McDonald though is still going to be your emergency snapper once the regular season starts.
– Running backs working on ball security. Coaches and teammates trying to rip the ball out as the back tucks it away in some early drills.
– Tomlin made his way over to the blocking sled today to watch the tight ends. Xavier Grimble looks good. “Good hit” Tomlin said after one time Grimble went through. Some praise for Rader, too.
Unusual situation with rookie tight end Zach Gentry. Never seen this before. Every tight end hit the blocking sled..except for Gentry. When it was his turn, McDonald stepped in and held a bad for Gentry to hit. Don’t know if they’re working on something specific with him or maybe there’s some sort of minor injury with him. Something to a finger or hand, I don’t know. But it was different.
– Again, Shaun Sarrett and Adrian Klemm splitting up the offensive linemen. Klemm worked on combo blocks on zone runs. The 2nd level “linebacker” (a linemen) scraping or staying at home determines which of the blockers releases to the second level. Sarrett worked on stunt pickup.
– Briefly watched the LBs work on their zone drops on the middle field. Sutton Smith looks fluid in his hook/curl drops. Going backwards will be pretty new for him after rushing the passer in college.
– Some special teams notes before we get into team drills.
– Eli Rogers did pushups before fielding punts later in practice. Guy putting in a lot of work. No doubt about that.
– Playing gunner isn’t just about defeating blocks. It’s about defeating blocks in time. And I mean that literally. Assistant coach had a stopwatch to time how quickly the gunner, double-viced by two defenders, got to the ten yard mark.
– Kickers kicked for the first time today. Looked like everyone did well, though these weren’t particularly challenging kicks. The block team throw up pads to simulate hands in the air. Don’t want anyone jumping in an environment like this. Honestly, my angle wasn’t perfect so I couldn’t track how many makes or misses but it seemed Chris Boswell and Matthew Wright performed well.
– You can see how practice works together too. At first, it was just the snappers, holders, and kickers on one side of the field with the field goal block team working about 30 yards away. After about five minutes, they put them all together for the full operation. Break up the units into specific parts, allowing for more individualized attention, and then mesh them.
– Stephon Tuitt and Vance McDonald worked as first team wings on the field goal team with Cam Heyward at LT. Kevin Rader and Xavier Grimble 2nd team with Christian Scotland-Williamson and Zach Gentry third string.
Appreciate Scotland-Williamson’s work ethic and attention to detail. While the first two units went through field goals, CSW stood about ten yards off to the side, positioned like a wing, and punching/reacting on the snap with everyone else. Not just standing around. Making the most of his time with extra reps. Good stuff.
– We have punter action too. I missed one punt of Jordan Berry’s but here are the hangtimes and distances of the ones I’ve recorded.
Jordan Berry: 4.95 seconds (49 yards, great punt), 4.55 (34 yards, out of bounds to his right, not nearly as great).
Ian Berryman: 4.11 (49 yards), 4.83 (44 yards), 3.89 (34 yards, yikes)
That last one was probably more directionally based but I don’t think either two punts were very pretty. Berry at least got good hangtime.
– Some 7 on 7 notes.
– Defense made a couple plays there in a situation heavily favored for the offense. Terrell Edmunds drove on a dig route run by James Washington and broke it up. Mark Barron had a BU on a 10 yard curl intended for Jaylen Samuels. And linebacker Robert Spillane had a breakup on Diontae Johnson.
Two plays downfield by the defense? Justin Layne blanketed Tevin Jones down the left sideline, forcing a difficult, lofting throw that PJ Locke nearly intercepted. Seemed to go through his hands. Kameron Kelly had a great play. Underthrown ball by Josh Dobbs for Diontae Spencer running to the left corner. Kelly found it and plucked it, falling backwards deep downfield for the interception. Showing off those ball skills.
– The offense did get in one big play. Artie Burns was giving James Washington a big cushion in off man coverage. But Washington stemmed to the outside running vertical, did a great job of stacking (getting on top) of Burns and reaching out in front of him to pluck the ball for a 50 yard gain. Great route and catch from a guy who needs a big camp.
– Vince Williams, like yesterday, first man on the JUGs machine after practice.
– Ok, let’s get into team sessions.
First Team Session (Seven Shots)
1. Ball on the two. Like always. Mark Barron opens up next to Vince Williams. Base 3-4 with Stephon Tuitt-Javon Hargrave-Cam Hewyard on the field. And how about this…a pony backfield. James Conner in the backfield, Jaylen Samuels split out wide right. Corner route, a touchdown from Ben Roethlisberger to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Nice throw and catch.
2. 01 personnel. No RB on the field. Four receivers out there. Donte Moncrief, Ryan Switzer, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Eli Rogers with Vance McDonald split out far right. Empty set, obviously. Roethlisberger was in gun but walked up under center, seemingly like he was calling an audible or adjusting the protection. Surprise hike and he snuck the ball up the middle for the QB sneak touchdown, extending the ball out over the goal line as he crossed it. With this being a designed run, not a QB scramble, it’ll count as a “win” for the offense.
3. Looks like Bud Dupree got some pressure on Roethlisberger that forced a quick throw. Looked for Xavier Grimble in the back of the end zone, underneath the goal posts, but the pass is too far in front and incomplete. Joe Haden covering.
4. Vince Williams and Devin Bush now at ILB. Roethlisberger, with a pump fake, again wanted JuJu on a fade to the left corner. Smith-Schuster caught it but it looked out of bounds, shoved out by Steven Nelson.
5. Mason Rudolph the 2nd string QB in seven shots after Dobbs got work there yesterday. Probably planned and not based off Dobbs’ struggles there yesterday. Ralph Webb motioned out slot left. Stick route to the left by Kevin Rader at the goal line. Zip on the throw and there needed to be. Rader was sandwiched between Marcus Allen and Tyler Matakevich but held on for the score.
6. Benny Snell in the backfield, Diontae Johnson at the X. Everything covered and Ola Adeniyi gets some pressure. Rudolph scrambles over the goal line but with the good coverage, this is a win for the defense.
7. Perhaps some miscommunication between Rudolph and Johnson. Errant pass incomplete left side. Brian Allen covering.
Defense wins the day, 4-3. Here’s the tally after two practices.
Seven Shot Wins
Second Team Session
1. Ball at their own 41. Shallow crosser from Roethlisberger to Moncrief. Gain of two.
2. Vince Williams and Mark Barron at ILB. Ben connects with Moncrief again, a curl route before Nelson tags him up for a nine yard gain. Anthony Chickillo timed the snap well, forcing Matt Feiler to shove him upfield.
3. Diontae Johnson and James Washington on the outside with Eli Rogers in the slot. Cam Sutton the dime defender. Screen left from Roethlisberger to Jaylen Samuels. Bud Dupree tried to jump and bat it down but missed. Pickup of nine.
4. Edmunds and Sean Davis at safety. Roethlisberger pump fake. Edmunds and Mike Hilton take the cheese and converge on Vance McDonald down the right seam, leaving JuJu Smith-Schuster open down the right sideline. Perfectly placed down to the 22 yard line. Gain of 37. Whew.
5. Rudolph checking in at QB. Deep out left side complete to Johnson, who ran a crisp route. 12 yard completion.
6. JT Jones and Ola Adeniyi the 2nd string OLBs. Heave downfield from Rudolph to the speedy Diontae Spencer but it’s overthrown by a yard or two and incomplete. Artie Burns has the foot speed to stay stride for stride. Nice job by Patrick Morris to pickup Tyler Matakevich’s blitz while Adeniyi dipped under and past Jerald Hawkins around the edge.
7. Christian Scotland-Williamson split out wide. Roosevelt Nix at fullback. Playaction by Rudolph. Quickly hits Nix in the right flat. Burns tags him up for a six yard pitch and catch.
8. Johnson and Tevin Jones the two wideouts. Good pocket created by the offensive line. But the coverage was equally strong, forcing Rudolph to check it down to Ralph Webb, who ran for four before Matakevich made the “tackle.”
9. Roethlisberger back in at QB. 12 personnel. JuJu and Moncrief at WR, McDonald and Grimble at TE. Roethlisberger climbs the pocket, hits Moncrief on a dig route for a 19 yard completion. Joe Haden a half step behind and couldn’t knock the ball out.
10. Johnson at the X, Washington the Z, Rogers in the slot. McDonald at TE. Chickillo good jump off the line. But this was a designed middle screen to McDonald, Steelers ran it last year, and it works well enough (probably took too long to actually avoid pressure but the QBs can’t be hit here) for a 19 yard completion.
11. Nix sidecar to Ben in shotgun. Barron and Bush on the field. Roethlisberger complete to JuJu along the left side. 10 yard pickup.
12. Jordan Dangerfield and PJ Locke third team safety. Herb Waters at LCB, Justin Layne RCB. Sutton Smith and Tuzar Skipper at LOLB/ROLB linebacker. Diontae Spencer shows off his speed downfield, creating space, but had to wait up a bit for Josh Dobbs to get the ball to him. Still, catchable and Spencer hauls it in for the biggest completion of the day, 44 yards. Skipper did have pressure on the play.
13. Smith this time gets some pressure, flushing Dobbs to his left. Sideline throw intended for Gentry goes through his hands incomplete.
14. Dravon Askew-Henry and Marcelis Branch the 4th string safeties. Short throw from Dobbs complete to Trey Edmunds. Four yard gain. Askew-Henry first defender there.
15. Uylsees Gilbert III and Tegray Scales the ILB pairing. Casey Sayles-Greg Gilmore-Isaiah Buggs along the defensive line. Bit of a high throw from Dobbs to Rader. Catchable ball but as we noted, Rader has trouble with throws over his head. Nice play by Branch to punch the ball out and force the incompletion.
Third Team Session
1. Williams/Barron the duo at ILB. Good stunt pickup by the line. Rudolph working with the 1’s (Ben’s reps will be managed during camp, he may not practice tomorrow) and fires to Moncrief for an 13 yard completion.
2. Haden LCB, Nelson RCB, Hilton in the slot. Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave the two down linemen (smart to manage Cam Heyward’s reps too). Conner releases out of the backfield to the right and Rudolph hits him at the LOS. Juke of the day, Conner cutting back and leaving Vince Williams behind, gaining four before he’s touched “down.” Nice job to make something out of nothing. Conner got a handshake from William Gay as he worked back to the sidelines.
3. Nothing available for Rudolph. Chickillo sheds his block and gets pressure. Throw goes over Washington’s head down the right side.
4. 3rd and 2. But Steelers go with four receivers, including Ryan Switzer in the backfield, as he did a handful of times last year. Steelers in dime with Cam Sutton. Bunch to the left and Tevin Jones works under JuJu Smith-Schuster for a short slant and the first down. We’ll call it a gain of four.
5. Marcus Allen and Kameron Kelly 2nd team safeties. Burns and Sutton at corner. Nice blitz pickup by Benny Snell. Lets Dobbs climb the pocket and hits Johnson for a gain of eight.
6. Scales/Matakevich at ILB. Dobbs’ throw a little high to Tevin Jones. Bounces off his hands, should’ve been caught, and Scales is johnny on the spot, picking it off the tip. Three interceptions in two days for this defense.
7. Checkdown from Dobbs to Snell. Not a super difficult play but nice hands catch by the rookie back. Gain of six. Tagged down by Sutton. Adeniyi lost his footing and skidded upfield trying to turn the corner.
8. Versatility is one of Tevin Jones calling cards and he aligns in the slot. Not sure what happened. Looks like Dobbs’ arm got hit because the ball died in the middle of the field with no one it.
9. Short curl Moncrief goes to the ground for but hauls in from Rudolph. Just a pickup of five. Good pickup by Jay-Sam on a blitzing Devin Bush (which alone has me excited).
10. Williams and Bush the ILB pairing. JuJu/Moncrief on the outside. Screen left from Rudolph complete to Conner. Cam Heyward reads it well, forcing Conner to cut it back, and Dupree tags Conner for a loss of two.
11. Little bit of contact here but Vince Williams bats away an out route intended for McDonald from Rudolph. Mike Hilton, somehow, lost his helmet on the play despite not being involved on the throw. Tighten that chinstrap young fella.
12. Dangerfield and Locke the safeties. Devlin Hodges gets involved. Quick hitter from him to RB Malik Williams in the left flat. Williams stumbled a bit but found his footing and caught the ball. Seven yard gain.
13. Kameron Kelly running in the slot. Layne at LCB, Waters at RCB. Inside zone/RPO to Edmunds. Gilbert tags him up. Four yard pickup.
14. Fourth team defensive line. Conor Sheehy-Henry Mondeaux-Winston Craig. Hodges complete to Wood on the left side, pushed out by Robert Spillane. Think Tomlin called out to Spillane to try to rip the ball out. Emphasis, more than ever, is on creating turnovers. Good.
15. Branch/Askew-Henry in at safety. Mondeaux-Craig the down linemen. Hodges hits Gentry and he gets some YAC down the right side. Gain of 18. Craig appeared to whip rookie LG Garrett Brumfield to geenrate pressure.
Fourth Team Session
1. Ball on their own 43. Barron and Bush running together with the 1’s. Ramon Foster pulls left to right, Conner carrying behind. Javon Hargrave gives chase and touches Conner as he cuts upfield. Gain of four. Conner juggled/bounced the ball in his hands as he walked back to the side.
2. RPO. Dobbs fires complete to McDonald. McDonald thought about throwing out his Thanos-level stiff arm but retracted and let Terrell Edmunds push him out of bounds. Six yard completion.
3. Dime defense versus four wide (Switzer again in the backfield). Bush the lone ILB on the field (ooooohhh). Dobbs draws the defense with a hard count. Mesh route beats man coverage, Moncrief running away from Nelson and it turns into an 18 yard gain.
4. Split zone run, Snell on the carry. Daniel McCullers holds the middle and doesn’t allow a lane. Heyward chases Snell 10-15 yards downfield looking to rip the ball out. Snell hangs on, spinning off him. Call it a run of five yards.
5. 11 personnel with Switzer in the slot. Webb carry right side. Scales helps clogs things up. Short pickup of two.
6. Johnson/Washington on the outside with Switzer in the slot. Rudolph in at QB. Attempts to throw backshoulder right sideline for Washington. Good bit of contact between him and Artie Burns but the pass clangs incomplete. Look like Patrick Morris was pulling as a false run key and flung himself into the backer coming off the edge to keep the pocket clean.
7. Now Marcus Allen gets inserted into the team’s dime package. Dangerfield/Locke as the deep safeties. Again, Rudolph wants Washington and again it’s incomplete with Burns covering. Big Dan may have bothered the throw and got his hand in Rudolph’s line of sight. “There ya go Big Dan!” one of the players called out.
8. Second team o-line in with Finney at center. Washington and Johnson the WRs. End around to Johnson for 15 yards, Rader charging hard to get out in front and provide a convey.
9. Handoff to Conner. Again, McCullers taking up space in the middle. Have it as a one yard run.
10. Hooks-McCullers-Alualu the second team d-line. False start, Foster got a little anxious and the play is blown dead.
11. Dobbs now in at QB. Stunt on the right side between Chick and Bush, Bush looping outside with Chick crashing along the interior. Dangerous throw from Dobbs to Jones. Nearly picked by Nelson. He should’ve had it. Ends up incomplete.
12. Jones in the slot. Screen from Dobbs to Williams left side.. Sheehy has a runway and gets some pressure and Dobbs just throws the ball into the ground incomplete.
13. Edmunds carry right side. DT Winston Craig seemed to plow through Brumfield and got penetration. I’ll be generous and give this a gain of three.
14. Johnson the X, Eli in the slot, Spencer the Z. Juggling catch made by Wood right side from Hodges. Not pretty but at least a reception. All in the name of a two yard gain.
15. Diontae Spencer the X receiver. Edmunds carry left side, RG Derwin Gray wrapping around to provide the lead block. Effectively walls off ILB Robert Spillane. Gain of five to finish out practice.
– I’ll have to tally up Dobbs’ numbers from the first two days but rest assured they aren’t pretty. The QB on all three interceptions through the first two days. Not all his fault but still not loving his accuracy and ball placement to all areas of the field. Rudolph hasn’t “wowed” either but he’s been better of the two. Long ways to go though, to be fair. Battle is determined in late August, not late July.
– Like I wrote yesterday, appears Benny Snell has a good pair of hands. Get a better feel for the position tomorrow when the pads come no. Still no Sutton Smith at FB. A fullback has hardly been used these first two days.
– You’re going to see four receivers on the field this year for the Steelers’ offense. Count on it.
– If you see the pony backfield, Conner and Samuels in the game, it may come near the goal line, as it did for its one rep today.
– We knew Diontae Spencer could jet but his wheels on display today. He’s made plays downfield the first two practices.
– Reps already limited for Tevin Jones and Trey Griffey and they’ve only hurt themselves with drops when given the few chances they’ve received. Better pick it up.
– Don’t take this as a terrible thing but quiet first two days for Xavier Grimble. Not much going on with him in team drills.
– Tough day for rookie LG Garrett Brumfield. Looked overpowered. Lack of size hurts him. Conversely, DT Winston Craig made the most of his reps and Daniel McCullers had a nice afternoon.
– Kameron Kelly flashed his ball skills with that INT. Has the makings of a camp sleeper and 53 man roster darkhorse. Could come at Dangerfield’s expense.
– People will rag on Artie Burns for giving up the long reception in 7v7 but I thought he had another nice day.
St. Vincent Snapshot
Scene after practice. If you squint, you can see the DBs in the right end zone on the JUGs machine. Most players sticking around for extra work after the final whistle.
Twitter Camp Question
Off to a good start. And they clearly want him involved. Expect him to start opposite JuJu in 12 personnel to begin the season.
Steelers Highlight (You Probably Don’t Remember)
I’ve dug up 15 random Steelers’ highlights. And I mean random. From all eras, sides of the ball, and outcomes. Just a trip down Nostalgia Road.
The final sack of Casey Hampton’s career, taking that football away like it was a prime rib from Joe Flacco in 2010. Big Snack finished his NFL career with nine sacks.
Bob Belcher Quote Of The Day
“I don’t hate them. Just your grandma. Well, I don’t hate her, just her voice. And the sounds she makes. And the things she says.”