By Alex Kozora
Practice notes from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first of two joint practices with the Buffalo Bills.
– Before we get into anything, oh man, what a whirlwind of a day. Intense practice and it was virtually non-stop for about two hours. It’s why I didn’t tweet as much as usual, especially once the team began 11 on 11.
In the positional team drills, at one point, there were two sets of backs on backers going on, WRs vs DBs, and OL vs DL. All happening at once across one field. Madness. 11 on 11 had both offenses and defenses going at it from opposite halves of the field. Impossible to see it all and I’ll admit it – it was overwhelming for me.
– Injury roundup: Matt Spaeth, Jordan Zumwalt, Vince Williams, Jarvis Jones, and Ramon Foster all sat out today. Not good news for Zumwalt, fighting to make this team. Rest of the group didn’t have any surprises. Foster had a sleeve and wrap on his left knee.
Multiple players were still limited. Le’Veon Bell yet again did not work in team drills. Ditto with Ryan Shazier and watching him in individual positional, he was working at about half speed. I am not certain but don’t believe Michael Palmer participated in team drills.
Big injury of the day happened to Greg Warren, who Mike Tomlin called as suffering a potentially “significant leg injury.” Bryce Davis is the team’s only other long snapper and hadn’t snapped since early in camp, if memory serves.
– When I got to camp at a little after two, Tomlin was already patrolling the mostly empty field, talking to a Bills’ officials.
– Shaun Suisham and Brad Wing were the first players to walk down the stairs at around 2:31. Suisham kicked a couple field goals from a tee and with a holder, including a crazy 71 yard attempt that did fall short. Suisham also punted several times, ostensibly a backup plan with Adam Podlesh on the “did not report” list.
– Cody Wallace and newly signed running back Stephon Houston were the next players down onto the field. Wallace worked on his initial bucket step by himself multiple times. Houston was working with running backs coach James Saxon. At one point, Tomlin came over to shake Houston’s hand and chat with him for a few moments. Probably the first time they’ve ever met and an hour later, Houston is carrying the ball in team drills. Just the way this league works sometimes. New faces everyday.
– The Bills’ coaching staff made their way onto the field at about 2:45.
– The Steelers came out first, practically as an entire unit, right at 2:55. The Bills walked out a few moments later but not all at once like Pittsburgh.
– The Steelers’ offense and defense warmed up on the near field by the bleachers. The Bills worked on the turf field.
– Practice started late with the first horn not sounding until 3:06.
– Maurkice Pouncey, Ben Roethlisberger, LeGarrette Blount, Ike Taylor, Cameron Heyward, and Antonio Brown were in a circle by the middle field talking to a group of Bills players before practice officially kicked off.
– Again, Cody Wallace replaced Ramon Foster as the starting left guard.
– Second-team offensive line from warmups: Guy Whimper, Cody Wallace, Wesley Johnson, Chris Hubbard, Mike Adams. It was reported that Mike Adams flipped between the left and right side.
– Markus Wheaton caught five punts at once, but couldn’t hold onto the record-tying 6th one.
– Steelers’ quarterbacks were working on scramble drills with running backs. Being flushed out of the pocket, having to keep the play alive. Good work for both the quarterback and running back. With Big Ben under center, it’s an important skill to practice.
– Was just drills and don’t want to make too much out of it but Isaiah Green did look a little slow in flipping his hips. Maybe a little out of control in his pedal, too. Just something to log in the back of your mind.
– Terence Garvin is so fluid when asked to flip in coverage. Guy really does play like a safety.
– Once the Bills and Steelers came together, it was organized chaos, as I mentioned above. So much to look at. In the first drills, paid most attention to WRs vs DBs and the Steelers’ linebackers against the Bills’ running backs. Some notes from each.
– Jason Worilds wasn’t trying to play with finesse in this drill. Bull rushes and there was a big pop each time he collided. Threw a Buffalo back to the ground on one occasion.
– Cortez Allen had an early breakup of Sammy Watkins, who was running a dig.
– Dan Molls once got CJ Spiller with a spin move. Nice play.
– Landry Jones had a money throw over the head of Da’Norris Searcy to Lanear Sampson on an out route.
– Terence Garvin and Sean Spence showed well in the first set of backs on ‘backers. Though after a short rest, Garvin did have trouble against tight ends. They were stronger and able to seal him upfield when he attempted to swim.
– And overall, the Bills’ running backs and tight ends held their own. Didn’t get abused the way the Steelers’ backs did in the Friday Night Practice at Latrobe.
– Watkins did later get his revenge against Cortez, beating the corner deep down the left sideline.
– Markus Wheaton had one nice grab versus Mario Butler. Wheaton had just gotten his head around with the ball quickly approaching. Arms extended, he plucked and secured the catch.
– Derek Moye did win at least once against Stephon Gilmore, catching a back shoulder throw.
– Darrius Heyward-Bey had a great fingertip grab on a nine route.
– Martavis Bryant double-caught the ball but burned one of the corners down the sideline.
– CJ Goodwin got good separation on one occasion but dropped a pass that hit him right in the hands.
– Continue to see Kashif Moore’s quicks and ability to separate but as I’ve seen the last few practices, including this one, he’s dropping the ball too often. Might be pressing because I always thought he had decent hands.
– Steelers I could see from the first special teams period where the home team was punting. David Paulson, Shamarko Thomas, Robert Golden, Sean Spence, Greg Warren, Terence Garvin, Antwon Blake, Chris Carter.
– Wing’s hangtimes: 3.87, 4.59, 4.22, 4.71, 4.19, 4.79, 4.64, 4.64. Bit of an up and down day, couple of poorer punts from him. But a couple that boomed as well.
– During one of the return moments, the referee from the far end blew the whistle. Wondering what the call was and why that ref stopped the play. Looked like he flagged Tomlin for not standing on the sideline. Tomlin got a good chuckle out of it.
– When it came time for the Steelers to return punts – there wasn’t any tackling in this drill, to be clear – Wheaton had five returns while Archer had the other five.
– Dri Archer let one bounce. Friend told me that Danny Smith chewed the rookie out for it, saying something to the effect of it costing the team eight yards of field position.
– Shaquille Richardson and the Bills’ Kenny Ladler were going at it as jammer/gunner well after the whistle on one occasion.
– Le’Veon Bell did some running on the side and continued his work in 7 on 7’s.
– Play-by-play of the OL/DL that took place before the fourth and final 11 on 11.
1. Cam Thomas kicks things off by dipping Cyril Richardson.
2. Eric Wood stuffs Steve McLendon. McLendon briefly fell to the ground before getting up, and Wood continuing to absorb.
3. Cam Heyward swims past good ‘ol Kraig Urbik.
4. Howard Jones dips past the tall Seantrel Henderson.
5. Cyrus Kouandjio absorbs Vic So’oto’s bull rush well, but So’oto does spin late to win at the last moment. In an in-game scenario though, the ball would have been out by then.
6. Stephon Tuitt dips J.J. ‘Unga.
7. One of the Bills’ lineman anchors against Hebron Fangupo.
8. Missed the matchup between Josh Mauro and Antoine McClain. Mauro might have dipped past but I can’t be sure.
9. Cordy Glenn gets upright but does have the core strength to anchor against an Arthur Moats bull rush.
10. So’oto tries to speed rush past Edawn Coughman but he’s off balance and falls to the ground.
11. Ethan Hemer does a nice job swimming over Cyril Richardson.
12. Daniel McCullers bulldozes over Macky MacPherson. MacPherson is a 290 pound rookie. Great name, damaged ego.
13. Happens late but Brian Arnfelt does dip Jared Wheeler.
14. Howard Jones beats Chris Hairston to the inside.
15. Couldn’t see who the Bill was but Moats beat him cleanly to the inside. Little outside shimmy to get the tackle cheating that way.
16. ‘Unga pushes Nick Williams up the arc.
17. McLendon gets some revenge, beating Eric Wood.
18. Heyward swims over McClain.
19. Howard Jones with a successful inside spin against Glenn.
20. So’oto does similar to Kouandjio.
21. Richardson has an easy win against Cam Thomas.
22. Doug Legursky anchors Al Lapuaho.
23. Mauro dips McClain.
24. Henderson absorbs Moats’ speed bull rush.
25. So’oto runs through a doubled-over Coughman.
26. Good hand fight from Tuitt to stay disengaged but he can’t dip the edge and gets pushed up the arc by a lineman whose number I didn’t manage to see. The battle took place in the back corner of the end zone and players occasionally obstructed my view.
27. Roy Philon dips McPherson. Philon does have the ability to get that inside shoulder low and slip past.
28. Wheeler seals Brian Arnfelt.
29. Going to be honest here. Have Howard Jones facing Hairston but for the life of me can’t read my handwriting. Jones swam over the tackle, but not sure if it was successful or not. Penmanship goes out the window at a practice like this, not that mind was any good in the first place.
30. Moats dips past Kouandjio.
31. Richardson sticks to and mirrors Ethan Hemer. Well done.
32. Wood stones Fangupo. Like McLendon earlier, Fangupo fell to the ground.
33. Urbik anchors Lapuaho.
34. Howard Jones can’t disengage Glenn.
35. Kouandjio does a nice job against So’oto. Mirrors well against the linebacker’s inside spin.
36. ‘Unga gets upright but absorbs Nick Williams good enough.
37. McCullers runs through another lineman. Think it was Legursky. McCullers has 36 1/4 inch arms. Legursky, uh, does not.
38. Roy Philon again wins by dipping, swapping hips past McClain.
39. One of the Bills’ lineman, have an incorrect number listed in my notes, seals Arthur Moats to end things.
– Play by play of the four 11 on 11 installments.
– This one was contact, full boar, green light, you get the idea. Oh man, was it pretty intense. Again, with two groups going at once, it’s impossible to see everything. I spent this time focusing on the Steelers’ defense versus the Bills’ offense while occasionally looking to the other side in between plays.
1. Steve McLendon gets penetration on this CJ Spiller run but the running back cuts it back seamlessly and finds a big hole on the left side. At first, I thought it was no tackling with how easy of a run it was for Spiller.
2. Crazy play here. Playaction, EJ Manuel throwing a comeback. Not positive who was the receiver but think it was Sammy Watkins. It’s low and the receiver goes to the ground. It either bounces off him or Will Allen swats it away as the two dive, but it somehow pops back up into the air, about waist-high, and Cortez Allen picks it off. Short return up the left sideline.
3. Will Allen with a nice pop on the line after a 2-3 yard gain.
4. Manuel again looks to Watkins who lets the pass go through his hands. Shamarko Thomas puts a nice shot into the rookie wide receiver, a tick or two after it was clear the pass was incomplete. Tell Thomas it’s time to hit, and hit he will.
5. Shark does miss a tackle on Fred Jackson on the next play, who picks up a couple.
6. Fred Jackson carries off left tackle.
7. Dive up the middle and there’s a big pop. Not sure who got in there, might have been Fangupo. Bunch of bodies flying around.
8. Mike Williams beats Brice McCain who opened the gate (flips his hips) late. But Jeff Tuel overthrows him down the left sideline.
9. Sean Spence makes the tackle against Bryce Brown.
10. Run for Buffalo. Don’t have much more legible in my notes.
11. Playaction. Blast from the past as Dennis Dixon hits Frank Summers in the flat. Terence Garvin makes the tackle.
12. Will Allen knifes in free into the backfield for the TFL. Goes nuts. Runs over to the sideline and starts celebrating with Antonio Brown. Remember that video where the two kids get a Nintendo for Christmas? That was Will Allen’s reaction, times about a million.
13. Comeback complete to Mike Williams against Antwon Blake.
14. Robert Golden was the first one to meet the Bills’ runner on a draw. Couple of other hats to the ball as well.
15. Run. Cyril Richardson drives Daniel McCullers off the ball as well as anyone I’ve seen this camp.
– Troy Polamalu was held out of this drill due to the live tackling. He would participate in all the others.
– There were two mini-scrums in this 11 on 11. CJ Spiller and Jason Worilds got into a shoving match. Probably some bad blood spilling (*sad trombone*) over from backs on ‘backers. The second one was more heated where both sidelines nearly came running all the way out. Not sure what caused it. But it’s camp, so it doesn’t take much.
– Couple of things I saw on the offensive side of the ball.
1. Antonio Brown caught a curl matched up against Stephon Gilmore.
2. Martavis Bryant and Jordan Hall had two of the nicer plays for the offense in this session. Bryant caught a dig for a nice chunk and Hall busted off a sizeable run.
3. After Archer was taken out of bounds, Jerry Hughes made no effort to get out of Archer’s way. Archer began to sit up and Hughes calmly banged his knee off backs’ helmet. Definitely intentional. Welcome to the NFL, rook.
– If you follow me on Twitter, you would have seen the picture of a monk standing on the sidelines watching practice. Just a cool juxtaposition between the monk and football. Serenity of the monk, violence of the game. Struck me as pretty awesome.
– For the rest of practice, there was no full contact. Watched the offense here.
1. Ben sitting this series out. Bruce Gradkowski completes to Antonio Brown on a dig.
2. Gradkowski completes to Wheaton on a curl, who takes a substantial shot from the corner. Not supposed to be contact but it wasn’t followed here. That’s ok, love the competitiveness.
3. Gradkowski forces a throw into double coverage to Wheaton. Incomplete.
4. Gradkowski tries to throw a slant to Lance Moore. Nickell Robey lays out to knock it down and does get a piece of it. But the ball remains in the air and Moore adjusts, hauling in the ball from behind him.
5. Gradkowski overshoots Antonio Brown on a nine route down the left sideline working against Gilmore.
6. 5 hits David Paulson on a curl.
7. Landry Jones comes in and finds Bryce Davis about 15 yards downfield. Bryant Browning was beat to the inside.
8. Jones looks for Derek Moye on a slant. Pass is incomplete but it was abundantly clear Moye’s jersey was held.
9. Jones does a nice job of climbing the pocket and fires to Kashif Moore over the middle. But it goes through his hands and is picked off by a safety.
10. Jordan Hall receives a pass in the flat from Jones. But a Bills’ blitz came in free and it would have been a big QB crunch had that been permitted.
11. Jones fires deep down the right sideline for James Shaw. He makes the grab, but I’m certain it came out of bounds.
12. Eric Waters catches a curl from #3. Guy Whimper beat pretty badly off the edge.
13. Right side of the line appeared to totally collapse. Jones fires hot to Rob Blanchflower in the right flat. Pass is incomplete.
14. Bubble screen from Brendon Kay to Lanear Sampson along the right side.
15. Kay finishes it with a screen to Eric Waters. First time we really got to see Waters, ball in hand, run upfield. Already figured this but the guy is an athlete. Ran like a wide receiver.
– Three quick notes from what I saw on defense.
1. Ross Ventrone batted a pass down at the LOS.
2. Will Allen continued his strong play, tipping a pass and batting it down in coverage.
3. Chris Carter came in free off the offense’s left side for a “sack,” again, had it been permitted.
– The Bills’ QBs were wearing red no-contact jerseys. The Steelers weren’t. Any reason for that? Just a personal preference from team to team?
– Again, watched the offense against the Bills’ defense.
1. Inside zone to LeGarrette Blount.
2. Ben Roethlisberger completes to Markus Wheaton on an out route to the right sideline.
3. Big Ben finds AB near the left sideline on an out route.
4. Roethlisberger complete to Lance Moore on a dig. Marcus Gilbert did seal Mario Williams but those guys weren’t trying very hard to get after the QB. Not like the first installment.
5. Roethlisberger attempts to throw a swing pass on a screen to Dri Archer. He drops it.
6. Offsides on Buffalo. Ben’s throw is too high to 84. Looked like Kelvin Beachum got outleveraged.
7. Draw to Archer. Multiple Bills’ hats in the backfield. Not a pretty sight.
8. Jones throws incomplete with really no one in the area. Maybe it was for Kashif Moore.
9. Screen to Tauren Poole from Jones.
10. Draw to Jordan Hall.
11. Jones again does a nice job of climbing the pocket and finds Martavis Bryant on a curl. But the rookie receiver drops it.
11. Landry Jones checks down to Miguel Maysonet.
12. Another draw, this time to Maysonet. Will Simmons ended up on the ground.
13. Bruce Gradkowski complete to Lanear Sampson on an out route. Sampson had lined up in the slot this play.
14. Gradkowski scrambles to finish out the drill. Seemed a little quick to take off.
– You’ll never convince me otherwise that St. Vincent College isn’t the most beautiful campus in the United States. Picture-perfect.
– Finished by watching the Steelers’ defense pitted against the Bills’ offense.
1. CJ Spiller got the handoff to the left side.
2. EJ Mauel fires it for Scott Chandler but Troy Polamalu knocks it away, resulting in a cheer from the crowd. Chris Carter was held coming off the edge.
3. Manuel to Chris Hogan is incomplete. Wide receiver was open, Manuel just missed.
4. Handoff. Cam Thomas appeared to do a nice job to get into the backfield.
5. EJ Manuel complete to a wide open Scott Chandler over the middle of the field. The Steelers’ defense was completely lost in this one. Me first day of high school lost. Isaiah Green and Brice McCain were both halfway onto the field before coming off. On the field, each player was pointing and shouting at each other, trying to get lined up. Shamarko Thomas came down near the box as a “Sky” safety, then got pointed at by another DB to retreat to his normal shell. Just a mess here. Coaches were none too pleased.
6. Shark blitz. Manuel complete to Robert Woods, working against Antwon Blake.
7. Run. Stephon Tuitt comes in from the backside to stuff the runner at the line.
8. Pass complete in the left flat. Dan Molls, who ran second-team ILB with Garvin again, not that it’s a surprise with Zumwalt down, had the coverage.
9. Comeback is complete along the left, the far, sideline.
10. Draw to running back Ronnie Wingo. Runs into the heart of the line, including Daniel McCullers.
11. Playaction. Pass glances off Ike Taylor’s hands and into the open arms of Kevin Elliott. Moments later, Taylor would start screaming into his helmet out of frustration.
12. Chris Summers catches a dig route in front of Taylor, the wide receiver using his 6’5 frame to his advantage.
13. Curl to Mike Williams. Blake could not close in time.
14. EJ Manuel scrambles.
15. Good coverage. Manuel again scrambles to close things out.
– Just one other note from the offense. As I alluded to above, despite this being his first day with the club, Stephon Houston did participate in team drills.
– Incredible, head-spinning day. Hopefully things slow down for me tomorrow.
– Will Allen had an excellent practice. Great bounce-back from a guy who struggled in Saturday’s game.
– Really liked Landry Jones’ ability to feel the rush. Saw it a little bit against the New York Giants and saw it again today.
– As a whole, the second-team offense seemed to get bested by the Bills. Had their moments but overall, the Bills won.
– Darrius Heyward-Bey showed his speed in one on one’s and as a gunner during a special team’s drill. Split the double team of the jammers.
– Lance Moore and Markus Wheaton showed sure hands.
– It was incredibly difficult to keep up with who was running with what team so I really didn’t make much of an effort. Believe Chris Carter dominated the ROLB snaps with Jarvis Jones down again. Don’t think Brian Arnfelt logged any time in team drills. Was getting his right hand checked out after individual positional work. That might have been the reason why.
– Marcus Gilbert and Lanear Sampson were briefly checked out by trainers but appear to be fine.
– I know we normally leave you with a Syfy movie of the day, but trust me, there is no movie possibly more exhilarating than practice today. Nothing could top it. And a packed house to witness it all.
– Number of skirmishes in practice today: 2. Number of illegible lines of my notes: 2. Number of hello’s from Missi Matthews: 0.
– We’ll be back at it tomorrow for the final one.
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