Pretty eventful Day 11 of practice, the final open session before Friday’s preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Closed practice tomorrow, a walkthrough for the team, before heading to Heinz Field. Let’s give you the lowdown on what happened Wednesday.
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– Injury report. Obviously, #1 story is Joe Haden. I didn’t see what happened to cause the injury. Don’t think really anyone did. Didn’t even see him carted off though I always have my head in my notes after plays so it’s easy for me to miss these things. It happened during the full-contact run session. Haden had been given light work for the start of camp but with lines at corner already thing, three of them out today, and his typical backup Artie Burns missing, maybe the coaches felt like they had to play him more.
I know there’s an understandable freakout anytime the word “cart” is used but you have to know the layout of St. Vincent. It’s not friendly to walking around. Players can leave the field one of two ways. Walk across two football fields, up a sidewalk, and take the stairs, or up a giant hill. So for any players dealing with any sort of lower body injury, even cramping, it’s smart to use the cart. Why make the guy walk if he doesn’t have to? And that’s generally how things seemed to have ended for Haden. A minor ankle injury, carted off as a precaution. But the team will give an official update following Friday’s game.
To the rest of them because I don’t think Tomlin spoke to the media after practice (he did talk to Peter King though). 12 players began practice sitting out: RB Ralph Webb (unknown), OLB Sutton Smith (unknown – oblique?), CB Justin Layne (unknown, looks like lower body), OLB Bud Dupree (unknown), WR Diontae Johnson (groin), CB Artie Burns (groin), C Maurkice Pouncey (back), OG Ramon Foster (unknown), ILB Vince Williams (hamstring), DE Cam Heyward (child), OT Jerald Hawkins (unknown), and CB Brian Allen (unknown).
I don’t know what is wrong with Allen but I do know he was munching on an apple before practice. These are the hard-hitting notes you come here for.
Pouncey wasn’t on the field for the second straight day. Don’t know if he went to the city to get his back checked out or what. Foster missing two days suggests some sort of injury, not just regular rest. Williams wore the same vest thing TJ Watt had on a few days before he came off PUP and I spotted him, walking along with Ryan Shazier (#ShakeNBake), on the far field, tracing the sidelines. That’s one of the steps in the team’s rehab. So he should be back soon.
Safety Sean Davis again didn’t participate in team drills. I like his odds of doing so the first practice after Friday’s game. Alejandro Villanueva was in pads but limited to individual drills too. He has ice around his right elbow for a portion of practice. They’re just managing him smartly. I’m not concerned.
– Pretty light crowd today, though it filled up near the start of practice. Rain, it being a weekday, and nearing the end of camp all played factors in that.
– Devlin Hodges, Trevor Wood, Travon McMillan, and Josh Dobbs the first four to come down the stairs at 2:36 PM.
– One negative on Hodges. Longer throwing motion than someone like Dobbs, who is more compact. Do have a concern about that leading to fumbles when the pocket collapses around him. Just noticed it during warmups.
– JuJu Smith-Schuster had on a pair of bright red pants early in practice though by the time they got to individual sessions, he had swapped them out for white ones. Where he changed I have no idea.
– Ben Roethlisberger having some fun in warmups. Put on a blue beanie and acted as a defender while the other QBs threw. He pointed out zone coverages and even blitzed the A gap on one play, forcing rookie guard Garrett Brumfield to block him. Bet Brumfield never expected to tell that story in his first training camp. On the final play, Smith-Schuster, also on “defense” picked off a pass.
– Return line: Eli Rogers, Diontae Spencer, Ryan Switzer, and Cam Sutton. Usual suspects.
– Before Devin Bush peeled off to an early ST session, he and Shazier had a chat across the field. Rookie leaning on the vet. Shazier, and I don’t say this as a medical update, just an observation, is walking much better now. Seems to have better mobility over his right leg/foot. Great news.
– One-on-one drills. WRs working on their blocking. Screen pass thrown complete to Ryan Switzer, James Washington throwing a good block on the DB. WRs coach Darryl Drake praised him and said “Four yard play is as good as a run.” That’s the mentality. Screen/RPO/quick game are just elongated runs.
Drake praised one of Brandon Reilly’s downblocks next.
– Special teams notes. Same faces in the kick return game. Sutton, Switzer, Spencer, and Johnny Holton.
– Kickers got more work today. Chris Boswell connected from: 32, 32, 39, 41, 51, and 51. The latter of the 51 yarders was the “mayday,” end of game kick. So Boz was a perfect 6/6.
Matthew Wright connected from: 32, 32, 39, and 41. He missed both of his 51 yard attempts. One fell short, landing near the back of the end zone, while the other veered slightly left. So he went 4/6. Leg strength is again an issue. He reminds me of Matt McCrane. I don’t view him as serious competition to Boswell. He’s now battling himself and the rest of the league, whoever becomes available during cutdowns.
– Ended the FG session with a pair of fakes, thrown by Jordan Berry and Ian Berryman. Defensive line Henry Mondeaux caught both, showing soft hands on the second one, making the extended grab before rolling to the ground.
– Here are OL/DL work from today.
1. Anthony Chickillo rips through Chukwuma Okorafor.
2. Nice anchor by Matt Feiler, showing his strength to rebuff Javon Hargrave.
3. BJ Finney, having an impressive camp, anchors against Daniel McCullers.
4. Tyson Alualu quick swim over Fred Johnson. “Again,” Mike Tomlin immediately orders, wanting to see them go at it one more time.
5. Bull to swim move by Alualu works, getting into Johnson’s chest and winning the rep.
6. TJ Watt shaking off some of yesterday’s rest. Powerful bull that runs Zach Banner back and lets Watt shed.
7. But Banner recovers the rest of the session. Better anchor and able to re-punch his hands to stop Watt.
8. One more time, Watt vs Banner. Inside spin fails, Banner simply too massive to try and get around with that move.
9. Sorta a draw between Anthony Chickillo and Okorafor. Chickillo spun, got tall, didn’t really work, and Okorafor seemed to let him go at the end.
10. Good rep by Hargrave. Bull to rip past Feiler, Feielr doubling over. Don’t see that often. Not at SVC.
11. Chickillo’s rip move fails on Okorafor.
12. Finney does well to hold on against McCullers. Didn’t look pretty but it was effective enough.
13. Win by Fred Johnson on Casey Sayles.
14. Watt gains the edge initially but can’t turn the corner against Banner.
15. Another spin by Watt fails on Banner.
16. LT Damian Prince bends at the waist and Ola Adeniyi sheds him.
17. They go again. Adeniyi has a half-step on Prince but loses his footing around the edge.
18. Little grabby but JC Hassenauer hangs on against Isaiah Buggs.
19. Good tight hands by Hassenauer to control Buggs and win again.
20. Late rip by Greg Gilmore on Patrick Morris. Garrett Brumfield, always the QB in these drills, couldn’t handle the “snap” and the ball skipped away.
21. Lavon Hooks bullrush gets into his chest and uprights Derwin Gray, walking him back.
22. Hooks tries to swim and swaps hips but is a below average athlete and can’t turn the corner. Aaron Donald he is not.
23. OLB JT Jones gets wide and swims over Fred Johnson and is able to turn the edge but he got pretty far upfield.
– Let’s delve into team sessions.
First Team Sessions (Seven Shots)
1. Watt at LOLB, walking around to teammates to shake their hand and head butt them (softly, no one is getting concussed here) before the offense breaks the huddle. Chickilo the ROLB. The o-line was: Okorafor-Feiler-Finney-Johnson-Banner. Ben Roethlisberger in at QB. Throw intentionally behind Donte Moncrief, away from a sinking Steven Nelson, but Moncrief couldn’t complete the catch and the pass incomplete.
2. Five receivers, Switzer motioning out of the backfield to join James Washington, Tevin Jones, Eli Rogers, and Smith-Schuster. PJ Locke surprisingly getting first team reps, ahead of Kameron Kelly, and opposite Terrell Edmunds. Stick route to JuJu slot left, working away from Devin Bush. Touchdown.
3. Touchdown, quick throw right from Roethlisberger complete to Jaylen Samuels between Bush and Locke. Good play for the offense.
4. Don’t know how Ben completed it but touchdown to Vance McDonald left side that I’m 90% sure went through Bush’s hands and caught by McDonald.
5. Mason Rudolph comes in. Touchdown in the right flat to Diontae Spencer complete working on Cam Sutton.
6. 2nd team o-line. Prince-Hassenauer-Morris-Gray-Banner. Matakevich and Spillane at ILB. New guy Jermaine Ponder in there already with the defense, probably in part to all the cornerbacks missing. Rudolph looking for Trey Griffey in the back of the end zone but as Griffey pulls up to run away from Dravon Askew-Henry, Rudolph throws the ball trying to lead him across the field. Falls incomplete.
7. Jordan Dangerfield & DAH the safety pairing with Sutton and Ponder at corner. Tomlin yells out “Come on 2,” a nod to Rudolph. The motivation didn’t work. Rudolph throw left side is jumped and picked by Kameron Kelly, who returned it the other way, pitching it to defensive linemen Henry Mondeaux at the very end, letting him go into the end zone.
Offense wins the day 4-3.
Second Team Session
1. Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave the DTs. Devin Bush and Mark Barron the ILBs. Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton the corners. Jones, JuJu on the outside, and Rogers in the slot. Johnson pulls right to left. Samuels on the carry. Chickillo strings it out left side. Samuels escapes his clutches but doesn’t get away from Devin Bush, who drops him for a three yard loss.
2. Rudolph to Tevin Jones thrown a little high right side. Catchable ball though. Haden came in to close on the ball, breaking it up. This appears to be the play where Haden was injured.
3. Sayles-McCullers-Alualu the defensive line. Benny Snell up the middle. Bush wraps him up and takes him down for a gain of three.
4. Snell stretch run right side. McCullers among several others to bring him down for a one yard gain.
5. JT Jones and Ola Adeniyi the 2nd team OLBs. Ponder/Sutton the outside corners, Askew-Henry in the slot. Snell another carry. More daylight this time, running through the tackles of Tegray Scales and Sutton, though the pair eventually drag him down after six.
6. Johnny Holton flashes his speed to get open deep downfield on a corner right to the right side. Pretty, on-target throw by Josh Dobbs to hit him, beating Ponder. Holton makes the catch, cuts back to avoid a sliding Dangerfield, and takes it the rest of the way. 65 yard touchdown.
7. Trey Edmunds strung out left side. Adeniyi gave up the edge but might have been held. Matakevich held him up at the line and reserve DE Conor Sheehy, who I joked was the 91st man on the roster, finished it with a loud hit. Good rep from him. No gain.
8. Dobbs playaction. Half roll to the right, hits Zach Gentry right side. Scales and Dangerfield combine on the stop. Gain of five.
9. Holton gets loose deep again. Devlin Hodges nails him on a post, beating Hilton by a half-step down the middle. 47 yard completion. Holton definitely had speed and now healthy, he finally gets to show it.
10. McMillan tough run along the right side. Legs kept churning and he pushed the pile for seven. Little skirmish kicked up between Patrick Morris and Isaiah Buggs, Morris taking a half-swing. But as he did previously, Garrett Brumfield does a good job playing peacemaker.
11. Really nice play by RB Malik Williams. Play should’ve been blown up in the backfield but Williams made a jump cut to the right, making two defenders miss (DT/DE Winston Craig was one of them), and taking off down the right side. Made something out of nothing.
12. Edmunds up the middle. Buggs disengaged from Brumfield’s block and made the step after a run of three.
Third Team Session
1. “Everybody stay on your feet,” Tomlin called out. Maybe an apt reminder after Haden’s injury. Ball on the offense’s own 39. Roethlisberger pump fake and then hits Smith-Schuster over the middle, making a very AB-like one-handed helmet catch with his right hand against Barron. Completion goes for 16.
2. Ben’s hard count gets the defense to jump, Watt getting caught. With the free play, Roethlisberger fires deep down the left sideline but Locke knocks it away from Jones.
3. Stick route complete from #7 to #89. McDonald with a fairly aggressive stiff arm that gets all up in Terrell Edmunds’ grill. Six yard play.
4. Roethlisberger getting the ball out quick, hitting Smith-Schuster square in the facemask with a loud thud as soon as he gets his head around bending his route over the middle. Marcus Allen covering.
5. Hodges hits Spencer breaking free on a post route. Bumps into and falls down colliding into Kameron Kelly. Adeniyi won the edge. 16 yard gain.
6. Soft zone coverage, Hodges hits Holton on an out route to the left. Pickup of seven.
7. Holton/Griffey twin set left. Snell motioned out of the backfield, aligned slot right, and runs a messy-looking curl route. Complete to Holton, who jukes Ponder and winds up picking ten. Hodges on the throw.
8. Dangerfield/Kelly the safety pairing. Pretty throw over Jones and perhaps Dangerfield to hit Eli Rogers over the middle. Hodges showing a little touch to arc the ball over the second level defenders. 15 yard play.
9. Dobbs comes in to hit Reilly on a curl. Askew-Henry tags him up. 12 yard pitch and catch.
10. Dobbs rolls right, connecting with Switzer open along the right side. Steven Nelson tagged him but not until it’s a completion of 20.
11. Marcus Allen and Marcelis Branch the safety pairing. A bad sign for Allen, who has had a pretty quiet camp? Gentry runs a corner but slows himself up looking for the ball too early in the route. Over his head. Dobbs on the throw, Nelson on the cover.
12. Dobbs hits Griffey running a five yard dig. Allen with the stop. With the YAC, it’s a gain of 14.
Fourth Team Session
1. Jones and JuJu on the outside, Rogers in the slot. Throw in the end zone, ball was on the +20, is high and incomplete. Sutton dove out and reached for it but missed.
2. Conner with a rare carry right side. Hilton tags him up after a run that gains a pair.
3. Empty set. Samuels split out wide. Wheel route left side covered well by Hilton. Nicely thrown all by Ben but it’s incomplete, Switzer unable to track it over his shoulder.
4. Samuels carry right side. Gain of about six.
5. Ball now on the 11. Tevin Jones made a nice diving catch at the one yard line. 10 yard play.
6. Snell sidecar to Ben. Two tight end set, McDonald and Grimble in the game. Jones and Smith-Schuster the outside receivers. Another great ball by Roethlisberger, thrown on time and on target to McDonald. Hilton dove but it made no difference. McDonald with the score, an 11 yard touchdown.
7. Ball now placed at the 29. Rudolph checking in. Holton and Spencer the outside receivers. Checkdown to Trey Edmunds complete, Spillane with the tag to blow the whistle. Nice job by Patrick Morris to help out Brumfield, who got beat by I think – remembering here, not in my notes – Henry Mondeaux.
8. JT Jones stuffs Edmunds at the line of scrimmage for no gain.
9. Holton and Griffey on the outside, Spencer now in the slot. Rudolph fires right side but Buggs gets his hands and bats the ball down at the LOS.
10. Travon McMillan follows Derwin Gray up the middle. But clogged up and goes for only two yards.
11. Askew-Henry working as the nickel corner. Empty set. Malik Williams split wide left. Fires right seam but over Gentry’s head. Scales was in his hip-pocket.
12. Rudolph’s attempt for Griffey is incomplete. Broken up by Marcus Allen.
Fifth Team Session
1. Two minute drill. Think there was less time on the clock than that. Ball on the offense’s own 44. Tomlin made the situation clear. “No timeouts! Field goal will do it!” Then, quieter, makes mention of seeing a “mayday” kick the team practiced earlier.
Rudolph walks up to the line of scrimmage then gives an alert to Holton, literally calling out “Johnny” and then directing traffic. Surprise draw to Snell. Well, a surprise to everyone but Big Dan, who busted through and made the stop at the line.
2. Diontae Spencer makes a diving throw along the right sideline vs Ponder for a nine yard gain.
3. Really pretty throw complete to Spencer on a dig. Adeniyi again beat Okorafor. This one went for 20.
4. Mayday kick. 44 yard attempt by Boswell is good, though the field goal unit didn’t get all the way on in time. Zach Banner looked really winded to the point where he was about to Lawrence Timmons vomit on the field. They brought Wright on for his “mayday” attempted and he connected on that one to close out practice.
– Off the top, I wanted to see if JuJu Smith-Schuster was sincere when he said he caught 300 balls after practice, telling Michael Irvin that yesterday. I honestly thought he was exaggerated. Heck, I counted Antonio Brown after several practices last year and I don’t think he ever caught more than 136.
JuJu was the last man to get on the JUGs machine letting everyone else (Christian Scotland-Williamson, Mike Hilton, Artie Burns) get their work in while he posed for pictures and signed autographs, including for one child in a wheelchair. I get why he waited so long.
He caught 370 passes – I counted each one – on 386 attempts. Most of those drops were one-handed attempts and he caught from a variety of platforms. Started with just passes down the middle, then worked left, right, at his knees, at his feet nearly skimming the ground, turning his shoulders left, right, catching between his legs (about ten total of those), above his head, one-handed with his right and left hand. He finished things up by inching closer to the JUGs machine until he was inches in front of it, forcing him to make an immediate catch as soon as the ball’s released. Crazy, crazy work ethic.
– With all the injuries, a lot of chances for young guys to have their reps expanded and roles elevated. Tevin Jones has strung together impressive practices and got work with the 1’s today, even jumping into reps over James Washington (wide receivers rotate plenty so I wouldn’t take it as a negative for Washington but a positive for Jones). PJ Locke getting 1st team safety work over Kelly is certainly noteworthy. And I *think* Casey Sayles may have passed up Lavon Hooks along the 2nd team defensive line. We’ll see what happens Friday.
– Devlin Hodges has put together some nice practices but I thought today might’ve been his best. Decision-making, placement, long ball, touch when he needed it. Showed a little bit of every trait you need.
– Isaiah Buggs continue to show up each practice. Block shed/tackle in run session today and a deflection later on in another team session. Barring injury, your 6 DL (Heyward, Hargrave, Tuitt, Alualu, McCullers, Buggs) seems pretty locked in.
– Much needed big day for Johnny Holton. Reminder of his skillset. Long strider with speed and coverage ability. Took advantage of guys being out of the lineup.
– Made mention of it up top but wanted to put it here for anyone skimming. Matthew Wright’s leg just doesn’t seem good enough. If you struggle to hit from 50+ in Latrobe against a non-rush, I don’t know how you’re gonna do it in December versus Baltimore. He reminds me of Matt McCrane and I don’t see him as a threat to Boswell.
– Also like I wrote above about Marcus Allen. Seeing him not get as many reps with so many guys out. Might be a little nervous about his roster spot especially with all the competition around him and the possibility the team looks outside the organization.
St. Vincent Snapshot
All the players remaining on the field post-practice. Receivers doing pushups in the middle.
Twitter Camp Question
He was playing free safety today. Which is a little odd because he’s a SS type like Dangerfield is. Had that breakup to Jones Ben threw on the free play. Hasn’t made the impact in the run game I thought, his calling card at Texas was a box run-and-hit type guy, but the coaches are impressed enough to give him a longer look. Stay tuned.
Steelers Highlight (You Probably Don’t Remember)
Opening kickoff in 1972, Steelers beating the Vikings 23-10. Minnesota return man John Gilliam (no relationship to the Steelers QB) runs this one back. Missed tackle by then tight end Larry Brown, brought down by K Roy Gerela.
Bob Belcher Quote Of The Day
“Well, I’m glad you kids are excited, because I am going to kill myself.”