By Alex Kozora
My notes from day seven of Pittsburgh Steelers’ training camp at St. Vincent College.
– We’ll go through my notes from drills and then hop into the 11 on 11 to finish out today’s observations.
– A good chunk of the offensive lineman were the first onto the field. Maurkice Pouncey, Cody Wallace, Marcus Gilbert, David DeCastro, and Ramon Foster were ones I saw. Looked like they were going through a light drill with one of the coaches roughly 15 minutes before practice.
Jawan Jamison was also one of the first onto the field.
– Injury roundup. Team is getting healthier but a few new players sat out. Heath Miller sat out for an unknown reason. Possibly a maintenance day. Steve McLendon also was not available, and I didn’t see him anywhere on the field. Could’ve been an excused absence but that’s just speculation. Shaquille Richardson was in the stretch line with the team but did not practice due to a groin injury. Darrius Heyward-Bey remains out and each day, his already slim chances seem to dissipate.
Jordan Zumwalt and Rob Blanchflower remain out though both worked out on the side. Jog down the field, and then walk backwards across it. Repeated that a few times.
Dri Archer, Matt Spaeth, Michael Palmer, Eric Waters, and Justin Brown, all returned after missing just one practice. Archer still was wearing a wrap on his left leg, but as the afternoon indicated, it didn’t slow him down one bit.
As I tweeted out, Will Johnson was limping heavily as he made his way to a golf cart to escort him off the field. We’ll see where he’s at tomorrow. No trainers were with him.
– Second-team offensive line: Mike Adams, Chris Hubbard, Cody Wallace, Bryant Browning, and Guy Whimper. Adams and Whimper flip each day.
– Third-team offensive line: Whimper, Wesley Johnson, Chris Elkins, Will Simmons, Emmanuel McCray
– Return drill. In no particular order: Markus Wheaton, Justin Brown, Danny Coale, Lance Moore, Martavis Bryant, Dri Archer, Jordan Hall, and Jawan Jamison also got action as a return man.
– New albeit brief drill for the offensive line in positional work. Two lineman chest pass a medicine ball as they move laterally for five or ten yards.
– For the first time all camp, the QB/trash can competition was in full force. Your totals.
Todd Haley: 2
Brendon Kay: 2
Landry Jones: 1
Bruce Gradkowski: 0
On his last attempt, Haley nearly had a third but the ball rimmed out.
Ben Roethlisberger didn’t participate, standing next to the trash can instead. His explanation? “They’re playing for the right to play the champ!”
After one of the passes bounced into the throng of fans in the VIP section along the sideline, Big Ben played catch with a little kid. Ben would toss him the ball and the first couple times, the kid couldn’t make the catch.
“We’ll get this,” Roethlisberger assured.
A try or two later, the two connected. Cool moment. Always hard to judge a man from afar, but Roethlisberger genuinely seems like a changed man, definitely for the better.
– As they have all throughout camp, the offensive line continued to work on their bucket steps for the zone blocking scheme.
– Martavis Bryant was grouped with C.J. Goodwin, Danny Coale, Kashif Moore, and Lanear Sampson in drills. That indicates Derek Moye is running ahead of him. For now, at least. Nothing to panic over.
– Linebackers and running backs were pitted against each other again today. But instead of pass rushing, the linebackers were asked to cover the pass. Didn’t do a play-by-play, just wanted to get a strong look at the players.
The clear winner here is Dri Archer. We knew he was fast and we’ve seen it in action, to an extent. But the play that stuck out the most, the moment where it really sunk in as to how fast this kid is, happened when Archer made a grab in the left flat and motored down the left sideline. Seemingly at about half speed.
Lawrence Timmons was in coverage and he charges hard, with an angle, at Archer. And I mean, full speed from Timmons. Cheetah chasing down a gazelle, Kozora seeing Matthews, type of speed. Couldn’t catch him. And that was Archer at a leisurely pace.
Archer made all three grabs against Timmons including a pretty catch over his shoulder near the far sideline. Have a video of it. Will upload it in a little bit. The upload speeds at St Vincent nor McDonald’s aren’t very charitable.
Sean Spence should’ve had an interception but it hits him in the chest and falls to the ground. Does ten pushups right there on the field.
Vince Williams uses this as another excuse to hit running backs. Physical, looking to press and re-route. That’s his style.
We saw what Howard Jones could do as a pass rusher, and today, we saw a little bit of his coverage ability. Showed the ability to flip his hips and on one occasion, got his head around and knocked a pass away.
Le’Veon Bell had a solid outing, giving Ryan Shazier all he could handle. Bell is quick out of his breaks.
Let’s just say LeGarrette Blount’s hands are suspect at best. A drop in drills today. That’s at least his second of camp. Not a good option to be the third down back.
– During one of the special team’s periods, the team worked on recovering onside kicks as the kicking and returning team. For the latter, a coach would roll the football in the grass, causing it to skip up the player who would run in and secure the ball.
For the former, the drill involved the player waiting for a coach to toss the ball into the air to himself, signifying the kick. The player would then launch himself into a tackling dummy atop a foam padding. This should represent a player “blowing up” one of the return men to create the opportunity for a recovery.
I pray that was clear enough to get my point across. Getting rained on and then baking in the sun is not the best time.
– First-team punt coverage unit. Robert Golden the upback. Others I saw. David Paulson, Will Johnson, Sean Spence, Michael Palmer, Chris Carter, and Terence Garvin. Antwon Blake and Shamarko Thoms were used as one set of gunners while I saw Ross Ventrone and Brice McCain as the other pair.
– Second-team punt coverage unit. Tauren Poole the upback. Jordan Dangerfield, Vince Williams, Arthur Moats, Brian Arnfelt, and Bryce Davis. I actually don’t think Davis was long snapping but I could be wrong. Those who saw time at gunner: Devin Smith, Isaiah Green, Derek Moye, and even Markus Wheaton.
– There were at least two false starts this period. Once by one of the gunners and the other coming on the line.
– Dri Archer fielded punts but for the first time all camp, Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton were also given opportunities.
– Brad Wing’s hang times are back today: 4.89, 4.67, 4.59, 4.33, 4.25, 4.43, 4.70, 4.33, 5.12. The guy has a big leg and the hangtimes were great today. All nine punts were “NFL quality” hangtimes.
– Offensive line didn’t go one on one with the defensive line but they were in pairs to pick up stunts.
– Couple of notes from the 7 on 7 late in practice.
Martavis Bryant flashed. Got his arms extended well away from his body on a diving catch in the end zone/ But on the next play, Todd Haley had to motion to the rookie receiver to reduce his split. The nuances of the game like those is what is going to hold him back, even if the “good” to his game is awfully pretty.
– It was supposed to be a non-contact drill, but Isaiah Green rammed his shoulder into Lanear Sampson, sending the receiver sprawling into the Earth.
– Chris Carter briefly worked on his rush off the edge after practice. Had his shirt off. The guy is ripped.
– Veteran Lance Moore hung around with the young receivers after practice, working with Justin Brown, Sampson, and C.J. Goodwin. Friend said he spent a good 20 minutes with Bryant the other day, too. Love to see the vet passing on his knowledge.
– Ike Taylor, Brice McCain, and Cortez Allen all stayed after to catch out of the jugs machine. Ike has done this often during camp. Can’t say his stone hands are for a lack of trying.
– Let’s get into the 11 on 11.
– This was a situational drill, the Steelers working on red zone football. Ball placed at the 20.
1. Matt Spaeth pulls as the lead blocker for Le’Veon Bell. With McLendon out, Cam Thomas slid over to play the nose. Stephon Tuitt ran as first team LDE.
2. Another handoff to Bell. Cortez Allen had the “tackle” as they weren’t going to the ground in this period.
3. Shotgun, another one of those half tosses to Dri Archer who finds a crease on the right side and explodes through.
4. Draw to Blount. Notables on the second team defense. Moats at LOLB, Carter at ROLB. Green and Blake were the outside corners while McCain manned the slot.
5. Inside zone to 27.
6. Handoff to Tauren Poole ends in a loud thud. Couldn’t tell by who. Thomas was the second-team SS.
7. Defensive line consists of Ethan Hemer at left end, Daniel McCullers at nose, and Nick Williams at right end. Poole gets the carry off the right side.
8. Draw to Miguel Maysonet for a medium pickup. Was paying attention to Howard Jones who did a nice job shedding his block. Think it came at the expense of David Paulson.
9. Another draw to Maysonet. Daniel McCullers, working against Bryant Browning, sticks his big paw out to help clog the running lane.
10. Run off left tackle with Jordan Hall receiving the carry. Lawrence Timmons ends it with a loud thud.
11. Wesley Johnson and Will Simmons have entered as the second-team left tackle and right guard, replacing Mike Adams and Browning. Hall gets the carry and is up-ended one or two yards past the line.
12. Josh Harris records his first carry. Will Simmons did a nice job to stick to his block.
13. Outside zone to Harris. Vince Williams crushes him as Harris flails to the turf in this “no tackling” drill. Monster hit.
14. Third-team line is in. Johnson, Browning, Elkins, Simmons, McCray. Jamison run.
15. And to round it out, Jamison gets another carry.
– I stayed for a few extra minutes after practice as some of the players hung around to sign autographs. Sitting on the hill after getting some food, a group of kids ran up the hill past me, beaming after getting Antonio Brown to sign for them. Reminds you of why training camp is the best. No more intimate setting than this.
1. Shark open up as the first team strong safety and Troy Polamalu as the free. Still can’t figure out what they’re doing with the position. Massive rotation. Ben Roethlisberger hits Bell on a swing route.
2. Big Ben checks to Bell. Watched Kelvin Beachum working against Jarvis Jones and 68 won, mirroring with ease.
3. Backside fade from Ben complete to 84. Nothing Cortez Allen could do to defend it. Stephon Tuitt was looped into the “A” or “B” gap.
4. Robert Golden now the FS, Will Allen at strong. Roethlisberger ties to hit Matt Spaeth on a hot, but Allen breaks it up.
5. New wrinkle. Dri Archer is motioned from wide receiver into the backfield, joining LeGarrette Blount. The rookie back runs into the right flat and Ben looks his way but Archer drops it.
“Come on 13, catch the ball!” Ben exclaims, a bit frustrated.
Watched Marcus Gilbert versus Jason Worilds. Worilds can’t dip the edge and 77 puts him into the ground.
6. Roethlisberger overthrows Justin Brown although Brown seemed to slow down on his route. Brice McCain had the coverage.
7. Landry Jones running with the second team. His first attempt misses wide of David Paulson in the left flat.
8. Was trying to watch Jordan Dangerfield who lined up in the slot and blitzed. Jones complete to Paulson this time around. Dan Molls on the coverage.
9. Landry Jones misses Martavis Bryant bad enough to strongly suggest there was miscommunication. Dangerfield jumps on the chance, picking it off. He smartly gets up immediately and returns it. Martavis Bryant still has to adapt to the NFL rules of needing to be down by contact, stopping and looking back at his QB before realizing the play isn’t dead.
10. William Gay blitz. Rush is effective and Jones is forced to hit Justin Brown on a drag.
11. Gradkowski finds Kashif Moore. Missed it as I went to record the play but Shamarko Thomas fell over either Moore or Cortez Allen along the sideline. Was slow getting up but remained in the practice before walking off with a slight hobble. Returned for the next 11 on 11 so he should be alright. Nothing to worry about.
Also of note on the play was the aggressive look from the defense. Fake a ILB blitz in the strong side “A” gap and rush from the weak “A” instead. Great way to screw with slide protections.
12. Mesh concept. Gradkowski finds a wide open Lanear Sampson, the concept working perfectly.
13. Brendon Kay finds Bryant deep down the right sideline. #10 working against 41, a severe mismatch on paper.
14. Kay is dropped by someone, presumably on accident. Don’t think the coaches sounded too happy about it.
15. Vince Williams gets a clean shot at Kay, forcing the former Bearcat to scramble.
– Shortly after I arrived at practice, the rain started to come down. But I brought my umbrella so it was just a matter of waiting for Mother Nature to relent. Only thing I worried about were my notes. I placed them on the bleachers underneath the cooler, thinking it would keep it dry. Incredibly stupid idea. As you’re probably already thinking, the water from the exposed part of the bleachers were absorbed by my notebook, soaking it. Sun did come and dry everything out I had enough salvageable paper for today. Saw 17 cent notebooks at Walmart this morning. That’s called foreshadowing, everybody.
– This period was a shorter and more specialized one. Short-yardage work, each play a 3rd and 1.
1. Le’Veon Bell runs hard for the first down. Was keeping an eye on Cam Thomas, who did a nice job anchoring and fighting off blocks.
2. Stuff at the line by a back who I don’t have listed. Heard someone call out praise for Jarvis Jones, who was giving backside help. Came from either Mike Tomlin or Joey Porter.
3. Cam Heyward bench presses off the block and helps stop Blount at the line.
4. Big Ben finds Bell in the flats, complete for a first down.
5. Sean Spence is unblocked, finds running back Tauren Poole, and cuts him. Bryce Davis was the FB, acting as a lead blocker.
6. Spence follows it up with a respectable hit on Miguel Maysonet. Offense did pick up the first down, though.
– Woman sitting behind me was discussing with someone what “BFD” in a text could mean. The friend suggesting something to do with “best friends.” Not quite.
– Second time today the offense was in situational red zone. Ball again placed at the 20.
1. Roethlisberger swings it out to Dri Archer who has the edge and runs into the end zone. Again, this is a no tackling drill so the offense is going to look pretty good.
2. Outside zone run to Bell.
3. Roethlisberger tries to connect with Markus Wheaton but the pass is contested. Ryan Shazier nearly comes up with the interception off the bounce but the pass falls incomplete.
4. Big Ben complete to Matt Spaeth. But that’s not the story.
Was watching Chris Carter versus Kelvin Beachum the whole way. As Carter tries to come around the edge, Ramon Foster provides support and blasts Carter off balanced and into the ground. I looked for the throw at this point but by the time my eyes returned back to Carter, he and Beachum started going at it. Skirmish broke out.
5. Power O, David DeCastro pulling right to left. Bell with the carry.
6. Ben Roethlisberger wants to throw the slant but it isn’t open. Chucks a fade into the end zone, basically throwing the ball away.
7. Bruce Gradkowski running with the second team. Tauren Poole with the run. Terence Garvin with the thud.
8. Gradkowski throws behind Moye. Howard Jones couldn’t dip past Mike Adams, who wins the battle easily.
9. Archer on a draw.
10. 5 incomplete to Poole, I think. Couldn’t tell for sure. Had my binoculars on Nick Williams that play.
11. Power O from left to right. Chris Hubbard and David Paulson leading the charge. Miguel Maysonet makes a nice cut and gets upfield for a good gain before the whistle sounds.
12. Gradkowski throws a jump ball for Martavis Bryant. Covered by Cortez Allen, the rookie receiver reaches out with one hand and brings the pass in. Big cheer from the crowd.
13. Brendon Kay is picked off by Vic So’oto, who read the screen well and made a play on the ball. He takes off to the end zone, with Kay giving chase before giving up. So’oto reaches the goalline before turning back. I don’t blame him.
14. Chris Carter pops Jordan Hall in the backfield.
15. Draw to Josh Harris. Good counter as both inside linebackers blitz and are out of position. Harris ends up in the end zone.
– Last play-by-play. Famous – sometimes infamous – goalline drill.
1. Playaction and the anxious defense bites hard. It’s an easy touchdown pass in the right flat from Roethlisberger to Spaeth.
2. Miguel Maysonet is stopped just short of the goalline.
3. Power O, DeCastro pulling right to left, sticking to Garvin on the edge. Poole runs off his outside hip and has an easy path to the end zone. Another skirmish breaks out with Maurkice Pouncey a possible instigator. At the very least, he was at the center of it all.
4. Defense responds. Shamarko Thomas pops Miguel Maysonet with a big shot. Host of other bodies help bring the back down.
5. Power O again with 66 leading. Josh Harris is in tow, scoring.
6. Chance for the offense to win but there’s a fumbled exchange between Ben and Jordan Hall.
– Your final tally. Offense – 3. Defense – 3. No ties! Play on!
– Some final thoughts.
– Expect to see a good mix of Power O this season with DeCastro pulling. Team has done it repeatedly in camp. They’ve always been a right-handed team, but expect that to change because of Decastro’s athleticism. Glad the team isn’t being stubborn about it.
– As I alluded to earlier, Martavis Bryant can wow fans with his spectacular grabs, but he’s raw and misses on a lot of details. That’s going to hold him back. Better practice than where he was at the other day but I’m not exactly drinking the Kool-Aid either.
– As I noted before camp started, Cam Thomas is the #2 nose tackle. Not McCullers or Hebron Fangupo. I like McCullers chances of making the 53 more than I did entering camp but for that reason, I don’t think it’s a lock the team will carry 74 or 92.
– Arthur Moats appeared to play strictly as the LOLB today. Nothing at ROLB with Jarvis back in the lineup.
– Sean Spence had a nice day. Nose was around the ball. Ditto for Vince Williams, one of the hardest hitters on this team.
– Got a better look at Jordan Dangerfield in coverage today, something I’ve been anxious to do. Looked pretty good. Stays low in his pedal and flips his hips quickly. I’ve got nothing bad to say about him.
– Brad Wing is having a good camp. Family first, of course, but Adam Podlesh should return soon before the Steelers give Wing the job. Games are the most important barometer, of course.
– One play on the goalline put a new idea of concern over McCullers in my head. He can be cut pretty easy. Falls like a house of cards. Not going to be able to avoid it.
Another thought though is that he actually is a pretty good pass rusher. No moves but once 350 pounds gets moving, it ain’t stopping. Will be able to collapse the pocket and that’s a huge advantage for the defense.
– Number of calories of McChicken’s consumed during training camp: 2520. Amount spent on a pretty nice set of new binoculars: $10. Number of hello’s from Missi Matthews: 0
Back at it again tomorrow, Steelers’ nation.
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