After two days off following the death of WRs coach Darryl Drake, the Pittsburgh Steelers returned to St. Vincent College today. It was a shortened practice, however, thanks to an impending thunderstorm that drove the team off the field. For most of practice, there was a steady rain. Hopefully things dry out tomorrow.
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– The combination of it being a weekday, the forecast calling for rain, and the fact this was scheduled to be an off day all led to a low attendance today. I arrived around 2 PM and myself included, there were 14 fans in the bleachers. Things filled up a little more closer to practice’s start but still, very light crowd on hand.
– Players were in shells today, not full pads. So it was a little more difficult to see who was working or not, especially on the rain-shortened day. But I have a pretty good gauge of who was in and out.
Not practicing today were: C Maurkice Pouncey (unknown), CB Joe Haden (ankle), TE Christian Scotland-Williamson (hamstring), ILB Vince Williams (hamstring), CB Joe Haden (ankle) and OG David DeCastro (unknown). Little bummed Williams couldn’t go today but maybe the slick rain conditions played a factor in that decision. CSW traced the field early in practice, a sign his injury shouldn’t keep him out too long. Haden, though wearing long pants, didn’t have anything visible on that injured ankle. No boot, no brace, no anything that you or I could see. That’s a really good sign.
Returning today were: WR Diontae Johnson, OLB Bud Dupree, CB Brian Allen, CB Artie Burns, DE Cam Heyward, OLB Sutton Smith, FS Sean Davis, OT Alejandro Villanueva, and OG Ramon Foster.
Johnson, Heyward, Davis, Villanueva, Burns and Foster were full participants, working in team drills. Allen and Smith were in individual. They may have been in team but I didn’t see them, though the few reps made it tough to gauge. But if they’re not all the way back, those two are very close. So that’s good.
– Josh Dobbs, Devlin Hodges, and Patrick Morris were the first three players out on the field today, coming down the stairs at 2:33 PM.
– Darryl Drake would always ride down on the cart with James Daniel and Karl Dunbar onto the practice field. Keith Butler rode down with Daniel and Dunbar too. Daniel fed all the TEs on the JUGs machine with Trevor Wood and Zach Gentry the first two to jump on.
– Everyone grieves death in different ways and I want to be clear I’m not passing any judgment for any of what I’m going to write here. But visibly, JuJu Smith-Schuster seemed most effected by Drake’s death. Definitely and understandably not like himself. Slowly walked down onto the field standing on the sidelines for several moments. Assistant coach Blaine Stewart, who is playing a big role with the receivers right now, offered a brief hug. Later, JuJu sat and then laid down in the end zone by himself before Donte Moncrief came over and sat next to him. (thought about it and decided not to tweet/post any photos of it. Just don’t think that’s appropriate right now). Moncrief then helped JuJu up to get to work, a fair metaphor for trying to deal with this difficult situation.
– As you probably have already read, longtime coach Ray Sherman was working closely with the receivers today. Mold of that father figure Drake and Richard Mann offered. Stewart also worked closely with the group too.
Sherman was pretty vocal during drills. “Eyes up! Keep your eyes up!” “Don’t slow down.” Stewart seemed to run the drill while Sherman offered coaching points through the drill, if that makes sense.
– Before the QBs and WRs came together to work individual/”on air” sessions, the receivers, running backs, and Ben Roethlisberger came together in a circle for a moment of prayer for Coach Drake. As soon as they came together, it began to pour down rain, which felt appropriate for the moment. Picture of that is in the header of the article.
– Here’s the first team o-line: Villanueva-Foster-Finney-Feiler-Okorafor
– 2nd team OL: Banner-Johnson-Morris-Gray-Hawkins
– 3rd team OL: Prince-Brumfield-Morris-Hassenauer-Hawkins
– Return line: Eli Rogers, Ryan Switzer, Diontae Spencer, Diontae Johnson, and Cam Sutton.
– Spencer, who normally struggles a bit in the “punt return challenge” tied Sutton’s record with six balls caught. He tried for the 7th, but with a football between his legs, couldn’t hop back far enough and the ball sailed over his head.
– Vance McDonald, Casey Sayles, and Trevor Wood along with Kameron Canaday all worked on long snapping.
– With the small crowd, it was a lot easier to hear the coaches today. Some quotes from new OL coach Shaun Sarrett when he was coaching up the OL, working on their punch coming out of their stance.
“Bring that second foot with you!” (a critical Mike Munchak coaching point, first two steps determine the rep)
“Don’t lean, Banner!” getting on big #72 a bit.
“Head up, don’t lean!”
“Don’t drop that post foot!”
The post foot, according to my notes at least, is the inside foot of the linemen. The post step is where you take a “power step” a flat, aggressive inside step with the post foot. So I assume Sarrett was reminding the line not to drop that foot. To stay flat with your step. Drop the foot and you’ll open your shoulders and not stay square and strong to the blocker.
– And Danny Smith was his usual, vocal self during the one ST session they snuck in before the storms rolled in. Working on punt coverage, the line blocking and then releasing through the rushers/defenders to go cover the punt.
“Rip, rip, rip,” he repeated for the interior players to shed the defender after blocking.
“Get out!” he called when it was time for the players to release and cover.
Not sure who he was talking too but he was getting on someone for not being forceful enough defeating the block.
“You gotta be more aggressive than that…that dude in Kansas City (this week’s opponent) is gonna kick your ass!”
So they went again. And Smith was happy with what he saw.
“Good! That’s what I’m talking about!”
On one rep, backup TE Kevin Rader didn’t do a good enough job on his release.
“Come on Kevin!” Smith yelled.
And they went for another rep.
“That’s what I want” before the horn sounded.
– Watched some of the WR vs DB one-on-ones. Teryl Austin coaching up relatively newly signed CB Jermaine Ponder, rolled up in press coverage. “Narrow your base,” he said from behind as Ponder took a half step inwards by both his feet.
Later on, Ponder tugging on Spencer’s jersey on this dig. “Don’t grab.”
– Here’s a crazy fact. CB Trevon Mathis practiced with the team for the first time today. Meaning his first game came before his first practice. I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard of another Steeler who’s done that.
– Ok, let’s talk team sessions.
First Team Session (Seven Shots)
1. Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward as the nickel tackles. TJ Watt and Bud Dupree the pairing at OLB, Mark Barron and Devin Bush inside. Artie Burns as first team LCB for the injured Haden with Steven Nelson RCB and Mike Hilton in the slot. Sean Davis rejoined Terrell Edmunds at safety.
Ben Roethlisberger the QB. Donte Moncrief and JuJu Smith-Schuster on the outside, Eli Rogers in the slot. James Conner in the backfield. Fade in the right corner for Moncrief broken up well by Burns, turning back to find the football and knock it away.
2. Trips receiver left (Eli, JuJu, Moncrief). Xavier Grimble isolated backside. Roethlisberger looked to fire over the middle but Watt reads him and leaps for the throw at the line of scrimmage, picking it off. He races the other way, 99 yards into the end zone.
3. Anthony Chickillo steps in at LOLB while Watt makes his way back from the end zone. Weirdly, an inside zone handoff to Vance McDonald for the TD. Finding all kinds of ways to get him the ball.
4. Benny Snell sidecar to Roethlisberger. Zip on this ball, Ben connecting with McDonald on an out route to the front right pylon. Kameron Kelly threw an arm out but the placement was excellent for the score.
5. Mason Rudolph checks in. Looks right, comes back left and looks for Zach Gentry on the left side. Double-coverage, broken up by Brian Allen. Incomplete.
6. Throw off his backfoot by Rudolph is out of the end zone intended for Gentry. Kam Kelly bumped into Gentry and knocked him on his back, helping him up after the play was over.
7. Half roll right by Rudolph. Once again, looks for Gentry in the back right of the end zone but it’s broken up well by Kameron Kelly.
Defense wins the day, 5-2. Your camp totals.
Second Team Session
1. Not full contact. Energy still high, or at least attempted by players and coaches, Mike Tomlin yelling out “Let’s go, let’s go” to try to set the bar. Roethlisberger in at QB. Inside zone handoff to James Conner, who jumps left and hits the hole. Devin Bush and TJ Watt tag him after three.
2. Jaylen Samuels takes this short toss and runs up the middle. Clogged by the defensive line. Gain of just two.
3. Flea flicker! Conner with the carry, pivots around, and pitches back to Roethlisberger. He hitches and fires down the right side. Two receivers in the area but intended for Moncrief. Hung in the air a bit and knocked away, really should’ve been picked, by Terrell Edmunds. Incomplete.
4. Diontae Johnson the X receiver. Pony backfield with Samuels split out, Conner in the backfield. Small crease for Conner right side before Watt tags him up. Dupree chases Conner the rest of the way to the end zone but we’ll call it a gain of four.
5. Roosevelt Nix in at FB. Ball on the 40. Smith-Schuster runs a sharp dig but loses his footing out of his break, slipping and falling to the ground. Roethlisberger’s throw picked off by Steven Nelson. JuJu remained on the field for a few moments before slowly walking back to the sideline. Looked like James Conner tried to cheer him up on his way back.
6. Playaction, Roethlisberger pulling the ball out of Snell’s belly. Quick fire in the left flat complete to Vance McDonald. Edmunds meets him head on after a five yard pickup.
7. Josh Dobbs checks in. Malik Williams carry left side. Chickillo defeats Derwin Gray’s trap block and forces Williams wide. He cuts upfield before being tagged by Tyler Matakevich. Run of three.
8. Samuels up the middle. Cam Sutton tags him. Goes for three.
9. Toss left to Snell. Hilton on the stop, Adeniyi with the chase. Another gain of three.
10. Devlin Hodges comes in. Nix at FB. Playaction. Curl complete to Tevin Jones for a pickup of 16.
11. Williams again up the middle. Bit of a hole. Five yard play.
12. Last one as the team wanted to get to special teams work with the rain falling down. Hodges with the playfake. Nice snag down the left seam in traffic by Zach Gentry, plucking it off Robert Spillane’s shoulder for a 20 yard completion.
Third Team Session
1. Ball at the offense’s own 41. Javon Hargrave and Tyson Alualu the nickel defensive linemen. Josh Dobbs in at QB. Empty set. Stick route right side for Tevin Jones goes through his hands and incomplete. Slick football with the rain but gotta make the play. Mike Tomlin made that known.
“Catch that ball, Tev,” he rang out from a few yards away.
Team was setting up to run the second play when the horn sounded and the players were sent off the field with lightning in the area. Not much of an effort to try to finish out practice. It was officially called around 4:25 PM. Last players I saw come off the field were some of the defensive linemen. Hargrave and Alualu.
– So that was the day. Not much to note. Health-wise, it’s hard to be mad with where the Steelers are at. No major injuries, no roster moves that needed to be made even after the first preseason game. That’s a rarity. And lot of guys getting healthier and back in team like Diontae Johnson and Sean Davis.
– Kameron Kelly continues to show his competitive nature and ability to play the ball in the air.
St. Vincent Snapshot
Scene of Chuck Noll Field right after they called practice. Then the skies opened up for my entire drive home.
Twitter Camp Question
Okorofor. 👀. He struggled mightily on left side. Has been better on right side.
— Steelers Ball 19 (@SteelersBall18) August 13, 2019
Not much of a question as a comment but worth noting anyway. Not a lot to ask with how light today’s work was. I would agree with that assessment but I also think he’s simply gotten more reps on the right side during camp. He played some LT last year, obviously played LT his last two seasons in college, but it is an adjustment flipping right to left. So I’d like to see him get more reps there before making an evaluation. He needs to work on his hand placement and power for sure. Two big issues and they are clearly related. Hands too often to the outside and he’s not able to control the rush. He’s not a naturally huge dude either like say, Zach Banner or Fred Johnson, so he doesn’t have that innate strength to anchor like those two do.
Steelers Highlight (You Probably Don’t Remember)
First offensive play in Steelers Super Bowl history. Dive to Rocky Bleier, Franco Harris providing the lead block.
Bob Belcher Quote Of The Day
“Here’s what we’ll do. I’ll do the cooking and you just stand there and nod.”