Welcome back to Pittsburgh Steelers’ training camp, Day Three. Evening practice today, this year’s version of Friday Night Lights, I suppose. 5 p.m. kickoff but definitely didn’t have the feel of a Latrobe High School stadium. Oh well — hopefully next year.
Anyway, let’s get to the action.
We are thrilled to again have Touring Plans as a yearly sponsor of Steelers Depot’s training camp coverage. If you’re planning a trip to Disney, this is the team you want to work with. Hit them up on their website at the link here.
– Injury Report: Not practicing in any capacity today were: WR Cody White (hamstring), C JC Hassenauer (left knee), OT Zach Banner (ACL rehab?), RB Jaylen Samuels (hamstring/quad?) TE Eric Ebron (elbow), OG Kevin Dotson (tweak…of some kind), DE Cam Heyward (rest) and QB Ben Roethlisberger (old).
White is starting his rehab process, walking around Heinz Field’s grass. Usually signals the beginning of a one-ish week rehab journey. But soft tissue injuries like his hamstring are tricky so it’s uncertain when he’ll be back. Looks like Samuels got taped up on his left hamstring/quad. He laid out on the training table mid-way through practice.
At the risk of sounding alarmist, a little worried about Banner. He’s been in a jersey and generally gotten at least a little work early in practice the first two days I was there. Today he work a black hoodie, sweatpants, and had a backpack on carrying a play call sheet. Came out late and sat on the barrier separating fans from end zone. Felt like a step backwards. Hopefully that’s intentional and not an issue with his rehab or something else going on.
– Chukwuma Okorafor continues to be very limited while Stephon Tuitt also did light work. Not in a helmet or pads, he still ran through the bags a time or two in individual work. But that was it. TJ Watt continues to be held out of team work (he had helmet and pads and later ran on the side). Joe Haden was in pads but not in team sessions while JuJu Smith-Schuster didn’t see much action — if any — during team today. But he was in pads for the start of practice.
– And maybe a…coach injury? Jerry Olsavsky had his left knee wrapped up. Maybe from his playing days. Or he felt rain was coming.
– Returning to practice in full today were OT/OG Anthony Coyle (stinger), OLB Melvin Ingram, and ILB Devin Bush.
– Refs were on-hand for today’s practice.
– Newly signed TE Marcus Baugh will wear #89. Replaces the waived/injured Dax Raymond. Got thrown into the action in team drills today. Mike Tomlin exchanged a few words with him in the stretch line. Always nice to see the head coach talk to everyone, even longshots like Baugh.
– John Leglue was on the field early for practice. By himself, I think mentally preparing himself to play some center today (which he did). You could see him thinking through his steps and footwork. He stood in the back of the end zone, looked down at his feet, shuffled his first two steps off the ball and then repeated. He would walk over and snap a couple times to the QB (Dobbs, I think).
– Abdullah Anderson is putting in as much work as he can. Hitting the sleds before practice, after some early-practice drills, working on his punch and placement coming out of his stance.
– Assistant coaches get labeled one job but they tend to have more than one job responsibility. Blaine Stewart is listed as an assistant WR coach but he works closely with the “teams” guys during special teams sessions. He served as the practice long snapper in early punt drills and went over coaching points with the line/blockers.
– Teryl Austin spending some time talking with UDFA corner Shakur Brown and safety Terrell Edmunds on the side before practice got going today.
– Kevin Colbert on the field today. He chatted with Eric Ebron early in practice. I’m sure he’s not the only one but I’m guessing not every team has their GM on the field casually hanging out with players during practice.
– Mike Tomlin thanking Steelers’ Nation and giving a meaningful speech before practice, as you can see in the feature photo at the top of this article. And as we wrote about a little bit ago.
– Steelers’ O-line working on zone blocking rules/combo blocks today during individual sessions. Working in pairs. OTs and TEs in one group. Centers and guards in the other.
– Spent extra attention watching drills today. Eddie Faulkner throws a lot at his guys. Sometimes literally. One pass pro drill had the back shuffle through two sets of medium-sized medicine balls at the back who had to keep his hands up and punch the ball back to the coach. Another had them (while carrying a football) fall and roll on a big, red medicine ball. As they rolled over and started going to the ground, Faulkner used a football to try to poke the ball out. Ball security drill to take care of the football while going to the ground. That’s when defenders start going after the ball, see if they can catch the back off-guard with shifted/worse security after absorbing a blow.
– Mike Sullivan/Matt Canada maximizing their QB drills too. QBs would hand the ball off on a zone run to a RB and then roll out to their left. Another QB would then toss them the ball and they’d have to finish rolling to their left and throw to the ball to an assistant coach. So they’re working the handoff and physically handing the ball off and working on throwing the ball. Instead of doing one or the other or faking one or the other.
– Almost every CB drill involves a football. In their backpedal drill, the CBs pedal, turn, and then are thrown a football. On a tackling drill, working same foot/same shoulder, the “runner” is holding a football and the “tackler” usually takes a swipe at it. The safeties would work on their break. Drive 45 degrees and then catch the ball (they’re broken up into two separate groups, Austin was working with the safeties today. Presume Grady Brown with the CBs). The only drill without a football was their press/jam. Off-hand jam, punching with the hand opposite the WRs release. So punch with right hand if they release to your left. That opens up your hips as a corner.
Just my little rant here. I like Austin being so ball-focused in every drill and making that a point. Drill how you practice, practice how you want your guys to play.
– Special teams notes.
– In a punt return portion of special teams drills (not the early practice KR/PR line), Anthony McFarland, Ray-Ray McCloud, and Mathew Sexton returned them. McFarland had one muffed punt.
– Marcus Baugh ran down one punt but got juked by Sexton and stumbled to the ground. Welcome back to the NFL. Hey, at least you have a job again. Worth eating grass for one play.
– Christian Kuntz did the bulk of the long snapping during one STs drill today. But Kameron Canaday looked fine.
– Tyler Simmons and Anthony Johnson had a strong rep as jammers, doubling up and stuffing Stephen Denmark at the LOS. Hyped up teammates.
– Some field goal kicking today. No long kicks but a good number of attempts. By my count (and I relied on the refs to tell me if they were good or no good), I have Chris Boswell as going 6/7 and Sam Sloman going 5/7. All three of their combined misses came from 36 yards out. Sloman’s first miss hit and died off the right upright.
– Jordan Berry held for Boswell. Pressley Harvin III held for Sloman. Pat Freiermuth and Isaiah Loudermilk, with their great length and wingspan, as the left/right wings.
First Team Session (Seven Shots)
1. Ball on the two. Like always. Devin Bush/Robert Spillane the starting ILBs. Melvin Ingram at LOLB, Alex Highsmith at ROLB. Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson the outside WRs with Ray-Ray McCloud running in the slot with JuJu Smith-Schuster limited. Mason Rudolph hits Claypool who skies over Cam Sutton in the left corner for a great jump ball catch for the touchdown.
2. Miles Killebrew and Tre Norwood running first-team safety. Rudolph tries to hit Diontae Johnson on a fade to the right corner of the end zone but it’s underthrown. James Pierre tracks it, picks it, and races the 105-ish yards into the end zone for the pick-six.
3. Shovel look with Najee Harris running the shovel look/motion. But Rudolph roles right and hits Diontae Johnson. The DB (I think Maulet, could’ve been Brooks) did a great job to run through his blocker and stop Johnson from turning upfield. Maybe a gain of one but win for the defense.
4. Dwayne Haskins checks in. Empty set. Screen right. Zach Gentry wide open. Rashaad Coward and Joe Haeg are out in front but there’s no one to block. Easy TD.
5. Dwayne Haskins flushed to the right. Throw for Benny Snell in the right flat is low and off his hand incomplete.
6. Second-team offensive line. Aviante Collins-Brandon Walton-BJ Finney-Anthony Coyle-Chaz Green. Josh Dobbs in the game. Looks left, nothing there, so he uses his legs and takes off, racing over the goal line.
7. Shovel pass TD from Dobbs to Kevin Rader, who runs in over the goal line. Brandon Walton pulling around to lead the way, though I’m not sure if he even had to block anyone.
Offense wins seven shots, 4-3, though I hate when QBs run into the end zone. They can’t be hit — so lame.
8. I’m not sure what the discussion was but someone wanted the Steelers to run one more play. Ball placed on the six. Josh Dobbs still in at QB. Dobbs floats to his left and throws it over the middle between two defenders. Lot of traffic, dangerous throw, but TE Kevin Rader reaches out in front of a sea of hands to make the grab. Ref ruled he didn’t land in bounds, rolling over a defender and out of the back of the end zone. Incomplete but still love the play by Rader to make that his ball and grabbing it.
Backs On ‘Backers
– Surprised to see backs on ‘backers so soon, even if tonight was the “Friday Night Lights” practice where it’s done for a second time. But that’s twice in three days. Kevin Colbert stood in the left back corner to watch the battle. No pressure. Here’s the charting of those reps.
1. Najee Harris first man up, squaring off vs. Robert Spillane. Harris wins, sealing him upfield.
2. Calvin Bundage spins to the inside but Benny Snell moves laterally with him, mirrors, and shoves him to win the rep.
3. Marcus Allen with a swim move over Kalen Ballage but Ballage is able to ride him upfield.
4. Anthony McFarland trying to anchor against Ulysees Gilbert III. UG3 overpowers him late in the rep but McFarland held his ground.
5. Derek Watt with a strong base and makes quick work of Tegray Scales.
6. Good leverage by Buddy Johnson to get underneath Trey Edmunds’ pads and chest and knock his hands up into the air, driving him back the rest of the way.
7. Najee Harris’ hands are a little wide but he holds up against Buddy Johnson.
8. Jarvis Miller swipes and tries to beat Snell to the inside. But Snell sticks and knocks him down to the ground.
9. Ulysees Gilbert III swims over Kalen Ballage and then spins back to the inside. Ballage mirrored it well.
10. Edmunds pushes Bundage up the arc and Bundage loses his balance at the top.
11. Harris stalls out Marcus Allen’s bull rush. Ref threw a flag on this rep. Not positive why — I think maybe on Allen for hands to the face.
12. Great rep here from Jamir Jones who shows a burst of strength and power and runs over Watt, knocking him on his back.
13. Quincy Roche drives his feet and pushes back Trey Edmunds a good bit.
14. Harris is 3/3 so far so he graduates to facing Alex Highsmith. And Highsmith schools him, winning to the outside with a chop/swim.
15. They go again. Harris is ready for power but Highsmith hits him with a spin move. Harris gets turned around and crossed up, at one point Harris’ back is turned to him but he’s able to recover in the end. Highsmith gets the W here though.
16. Anthony McFarland grabs Bundage and throws him to the ground. Ref throws an obvious flag.
17. They go again. And again, McFarland grabs and rips Bundage down to the ground. Another flag.
18. Ballage mirrors Jamar Watson’s spin move. Good rep.
19. Jarvis Miller dips under and through Benny Snell.
20. Jamir Jones with power again, running through Harris and knocking him — like Watt — down to the ground on his back. Two really impressive reps from Jones here.
21. Harris saves a little face here. Jones tries to go finesse here and hit him with a spin but Harris catches it and wins this rep.
22. One more battle between Jones and Harris. Jones shows power again and pushes through Harris, who at least stays on his feet this time.
– During backs on ‘backers, there was a skirmish between Anthony Coyle and Carlos Davis in OL/DL. Don’t know the details. Just saw a mess of bodies and Davis on his back at the bottom of the pile.
Second Team Session
1. Ball at the offense’s 45. Mondeaux-Davis-Wormley the defensive line. Ingram/Highsmith the OLBs. Killebrew/Norwood at safety. Bush/Spillane at ILB, Pierre/Sutton at CB.
Offensively, Diontae Johnson/Chase Claypool the WRs. Pony backfield with McFarland and Harris the backs. McFarland going in motion pre-snap. Run to Harris up the middle. Carlos Davis swallows him up after a gain of two. A linebacker ran around Joe Haeg to get in on the action, too. Contact, tackling-session, though a little less intense than Wednesday’s show.
2. Pat Freiermuth the starting Y tight end. Derek Watt aligned as a wing. Fake the jet to Chase Claypool. Harris up the middle. Isaiah Buggs held the POA and occupied the middle well. Gain of three.
3. Loudermilk/Buggs/Mondeaux the defensive linemen. Mason Rudolph boot right. Throws to Najee Harris in the right flat. But Harris tries to catch the ball with one hand instead of two and he drops it. Incomplete.
4. Spillane/UG3 the ILBs. Draw to Harris. Cuts upfield, has some space, and gains 11 before Gilbert and Ingram get in on the tackle. Nice base block by Haeg on UG3 before losing him downfield.
5. TJ Carter-Carlos Davis-Abdullah Anderson now the defensive line. Pistol. False start by someone and the play is blown dead.
Justin Layne the LCB, Mark Gilbert the RCB. Cassius Marsh the LOLB, Jamir Jones the ROLB. Donovan Stiner/Lamont Wade the safety pair with UG3/Marcus Allen at ILB. Mathew Sexton the X WR. Tyler Simmons the Z. Simmons motions to Sexton’s side in a Twin Set. Simmons motions across and takes the handoff to the right side. Marsh holds his block against Rader along the sideline while UG3 plays it well, inside/out. Gain of four until Simmons goes out of bounds.
6. Brooks in at slot corner. Snell dive for three. Fake jet with McFarland. Davis and UG3 active this session and in on the stop and pile up.
7. Anthony McFarland shows burst off left side and gets into the second level. Poor angle by Mark Gilbert, at RCB, and he gives up the edge. McFarland shows his speed and races down the left side before getting knocked out of bounds at the 15. 40-yard run, the biggest of the last three days of practice.
8. Simmons come across on jet motion but doesn’t get the ball. McFarland takes the handoff and met at the line of scrimmage. Saw Anderson and Jones in there.
9. Josh Dobbs comes in. Pull to the right. Roche flies in unblocked from the backside and nails Ballage in the backfield for a loss of four.
10. Ballage on the carry. Calvin Taylor grabs him and spins him down after a run of five. Minor dust-up post snap but quickly broken up.
11. Dobbs playaction. Hits Rico Bussey on the left side. Gain of six before Denmark wraps him up and drags him down. Roche and Loudermilk applied pressure.
12. Ballage carry and he gets popped really good by Bundage. Loss of three. Ballage is upset and there’s another skirmish. Helmets come off, guys trying to break it up, and the final horn sounds for the end of that team session.
Third Team Session
1. Mason Rudolph in at QB. Checkdown to Zach Gentry for six.
2. Rudolph wants to hit Chase Claypool on a comeback left side. But the throw is late and Cam Sutton is able to break on the ball and knock it away. Incomplete.
3. Window dressing with James Washington running behind Mason Rudolph’s snap and drop. Screen to the right, away from Washington intended for Najee Harris. Chris Wormley reads it well and sticks to Harris to not allow him to release. Pass is incomplete.
Fan behind looks at the mess and goes. “What the F was that?” That might get said a time or two with this offense. A lot of good but if the tinsel doesn’t fool a defense on a play, it’ll occasionally look messy.
4. Rudolph quick slant over the middle to Pat Freiermuth. Quick throw and catch. Gain of ten.
5. Bussey lined up as the X. Anthony Johnson as the F (slot). James Washington the Z. Dwayne Haskins comes in and chucks it deep down the left sideline. Well-thrown pass but goes off Bussey’s left fingertips. Covered well by James Pierre.
6. Loudermilk/Davis the nickel pairing. Empty set. One-step screen from Haskins to Simmons. Caught. Layne half-fights off the block but Simmons runs past (not a tackling session) before Killebrew tags him after a gain of five.
7. Empty. Haskins short throw underneath. Runs away from Killebrew and then puts a head fake/spin on Norwood, though Norwood tags him up. We’ll be a little generous and call it a completion of 15.
8. Quick Y out to new TE Marcus Baugh from Haskins. Buddy Johnson meets him with a thud. Brooks and an ILB came on a blitz. Gain of five.
9. DeMarkus Acy the LCB, Stephen Denmark the RCB. Johnson/Bundage the ILBs. Pocket collapses on Haskins with Bundage coming up the middle. Short throw from Haskins complete to Watt, who goes to the ground contested by Johnson and makes the grab for four yards.
10. Dobbs in at QB. Bundage, who aligned seemingly all over the defense today (he played off-ball and EDGE at OK State) comes flying off the edge. Dobbs throw incomplete for Simmons right sideline. Nice man coverage by Acy.
11. Bussey the Z, Isaiah McKoy the X, Johnson the F. Dobbs with a risky throw left sideline to Baugh. Thrown between Johnson and Wade. Incomplete. Could’ve been picked.
12. Ballage motioned from the slot to the backfield. Shakur Brown blitzes from the opposite side, blocked initially by Kevin Rader but then let go as Rader leaks out (don’t know that he should’ve). Anthony Johnson makes a contested grab for a gain of nine working on Lamont Wade.
Fourth Team Session
1. Ball at the defense’s 26. Rudolph in at QB, Harris at QB. Bobble/juggle of the snap. Play got worse from there. Rudolph never sees Minkah Fitzpatrick. Tries to hit Claypool on a curl left side but Fitzpatrick breaks and picks it off. Great read, jump, angle, and finish. Brief run down the right sideline before ducking out of bounds to celebrate the turnover.
2. Some sort of toss/jet play left side with Washington. Goes nowhere, stopped at the LOS. Not sure who made the stop. Maybe Pierre. Loss of two.
3. Rudolph half roll to the right with McFarland jetting across the other away. Rudolph’s throw into the end zone is out of Diontae Johnson’s reach. Pierre covering though Johnson had a step on him.
4. Wormley/Mondeaux the nickel defensive linemen. Not sure what Rudolph saw but his throw — I believe he wanted Claypool — is off-target and nearly picked by Robert Spillane. Dropped. Maybe Rudolph thought Clayool was going to settle and he kept running across on a crosser.
5. Haskins in at QB. Screen left to Snell. Kendrick Green showing his mobility, getting out in front and walling off Marcus Allen. Snell runs off his inside hip for a good run. Goes into the end zone but he’s tagged shy of the goal line. Calling it a gain of 15. The Steelers’ most successful running back screen since 1987.
6. Shovel pass from Haskins to McCloud. Jamir Jones is free from his ROLB spot and wraps McCloud low, dropping him to the ground before offering a hand and helping McCloud up. No gain.
7. O-line: Collins-Watlon-Leglue-Coyle-Green. Leglue getting team reps at center. Snell forced to bounce a run strung out well by the defense. Loudermilk and Marsh did a good job. No gain.
8. Nice blitz pickup by Ballage. Haskins hits Freiermuth on a crosser versus Killebrew. Killebrew tagged him short but the coaches gave Freiermuth the TD. 12-yard score.
9. Draw to Ballage. Bounces the run left for a pickup of five before Bundage, who was playing some sort of off-ball/overhang role, comes in to tag him.
10. Lamont Wade jumps a curl to Tyler Simmons and picks off Dobbs. Good jump and aggression.
11. McFarland toss right. Cuts up inside of Acy and then extends the ball out over the goal line. But they marked him back a few yards. Gain of three.
12. Dobbs flushed left. Throws off-balanced into the back of the end zone. Not much room for the newly signed Baugh but he makes a good catch and absorbs the contact from Lamont Wade.
Fifth Team Session
1. Ball on the defense’s 27. Pistol with Rudolph in at QB (first pistol snap I’ve seen that wasn’t with Haskins). McCloud unsure where to line up. He gets motioned across but there’s still confusion and the offense has to re-huddle. Gentry as the starting TE. Harris carry right side. Highsmith comes in backside and Mondeaux greets the rookie with a thud. Gain of just one.
2. Claypool/Johnson the outside WRs. Pony with McFarland and Harris with Freiermuth at TE. Bunch left with Claypool/McFarland/Freiermuth. Shallow cross complete from Rudolph to Claypool. Alex Highsmith dipped and ripped under/past Dan Moore Jr. to get the pressure and would-be sack.
3. Three wide receivers aligned right with Freiermuth the backside X. Rudolph looks left, throws right complete to Claypool for about seven. Tre Norwood first defender there.
4. Rudolph rolls right and hits Washington in the low red zone. But Pierre is right there and doesn’t allow YAC. Short gain of two.
5. Trey Edmunds in at FB with a good lead block. Nice base block by Haeg to drive Calvin Taylor off the ball. Snell runs behind for seven.
6. UG3 gets pressure. Haskins throws behind Claypool and incomplete. Killebrew covering.
7. Haskins floats it right corner to Kevin Rader, who makes a tough, diving/falling grab near the back right pylon for the TD working on UG3 (who had sticky coverage). Kevin Colbert plays ref and throws his hands in the air to signal TD.
8. Pressure up the middle with Carlos Davis beating Leglue at center. No safety help but Isaiah McKoy bursts away from Justin Layne and has an easy TD near the back of the end zone under the right upright. Haskins with the throw.
9. Dobbs playaction to the right. Floats the ball over a leaping DeMarkus Acy but Tyler Simmons lets it drop through his hands like a basketball through the hoop. Pressure from Jamar Watson who came in free off the playfake.
10. 12 personnel. Fingertip TD grab by yesterday’s star Rico Bussey working on Stephen Denmark. There’s a chance Bussey didn’t get his second foot inbounds, it may have touched the chalk along the left side, but they called it a TD. I’m not going to fight the magical story that is Rico Bussey Jr.
11. Looks like Dobbs faked the shovel pass and then rolled left. Hit a slipping/falling McKoy for a TD on Wade. Apparently a flag on the play on the offense but not sure the details. Still counting this as a TD.
12. Pony look. Shakur Brown blitzing free. Dobbs dumps it to Ballage in the left flat. Jarvis Miller tags him. Gain of five to the five-yard line.
– Tough day for Mason Rudolph. Picked off twice and should’ve been three times by Spillane. Josh Dobbs is more aggressive and has some positive plays but he also played with a fire a lot. Some risky throws. Dwayne Haskins is finding that mix between being smart and making good decisions but still taking his chances downfield. Through three days, he’s been best of both worlds.
– Najee Harris definitely took his lumps in backs on ‘backers. But that’s not a bad thing. NFL is never a smooth, easy road. He battled hard. And they gave him a lot of reps too. Probably tired at the end of it. Kalen Ballage continues to do well in these settings. McFarland struggled today with his two holds.
– Nice to see some positive news with Isaiah McKoy today. They came late but he perked up a bit. Want to see some vertical shots his way. That’s how he won at Kent State.
– Kevin Rader’s hands have done a 180. Do the MLB-umpire check for stick ’em or something. Dude tied for the camp lead in 2019 with five drops. He’s catching everything now. Some tough, combat catches. Three or four of them in practice already and it’s not like he’s being targeted a lot. Freiermuth, Gentry, and Rader are showing good hands. Whoever doesn’t make the team should give theirs to Eric Ebron, Futurama style.
– Really got a feel for Kendrick Green working out in space today. Will be an asset pulling, second level, and the screen game. Poor OL blocking has been the #1 reason why the Steelers RB/TE screen game has sucked for years. Hopefully he can impact that in a positive way.
– Some good defensive showings from the likes of Carlos Davis, Isaiah Buggs, and Ulysees Gilbert III. They were around the ball a lot in team drills.
– The one surprise from camp I wouldn’t have guessed? Jamir Jones. Looked really strong in backs on ‘backers with power against Watt and Harris. And had a nice stop on McCloud in team. He’s definitely PS material if he keeps this up. Watch out for #44.
– Good day from James Pierre. He’s having a nice camp. Probably a guy you want on the field in some capacity this season. At least in dime, coming in at RCB with Sutton moving somewhere else. Maybe still in nickel packages too.
– Minkah Fitzpatrick didn’t have many snaps today. But he still found a way to pick off a pass. Play-maker. Kudos to Lamont Wade for his good pick today. Wasn’t a gimmie. He made it happen.
Heinz Field Snapshot
Abdullah Anderson by himself on the sleds early in practice. Getting extra reps. Cameo appearance by a rehabbing Cody White.
Twitter Question of the Day
I've heard both of these names in a glowing light. How many of these catches are just great catches with great coverage, or is Denmark just getting burnt?
— NeroTheKing (@NeroTheKing1) July 31, 2021
I think they’re both making plays. Good battles. That’s the thing about camp. One guy making a good play usually means he’s beating/winning versus a teammate. I don’t think Bussey has looked bad when Denmark has made plays or vice versa. Always things to coach and teach but they’re both doing well. Some of their plays have come against other people too. Denmark has breakups vs Sexton and McKoy.
Vintage Steelers’ Photos
Cool shot looking down the Steelers’ sideline in a 1960 game against the New York Giants.
Dale Gribble’s Best Quotes
“Boil up some Mountain Dew; it’s gonna be a long night.”