Training Camp Diary: Wednesday August 3
I’m not exactly a rookie at this—it certainly isn’t my first training camp rodeo—but the Steelers threw me a curve last Friday, as they didn’t have the traditional training camp roster lists available. I learned from that mistake and made my own, which I duly remembered to print and bring along. Not only did I sort it by number so it’s easier to find out who #whatever is, but I was able to put it into a large old lady font so I could read the information.
I also corrected my mistake from last Friday, in which I arrived too late to get a seat in the shade. I have a livid almost-sunburn to show for that on my shoulders. So today I arrived in time to get a shaded seat, and also remembered the damp towel, because training camp is grueling for all of us…
I was interested to see whether any rookie mistakes were being corrected by the young players. Here’s what I saw:
Arriving earlier had the additional advantage that I got to see the traditional “competition” between Ben and Maurkice Pouncey, who throw passes at the uprights and try to hit the crossbar. The surprising thing isn’t that Ben is a lot better at this than Pouncey—it’s that Pouncey can throw a pretty sweet pass. Mike Tomlin came over and watched part of the competition, apparently with great enjoyment.
Apparently it was hot enough today, because he broke out the long-sleeved black shirt. I’m glad he’s happy. Despite the greater heat, Xavier Grimble made it through practice without having to leave with heat-related issues, so apparently the trainers have taught him how to hydrate, or something.
There were some kickoff drills, with a number of defensive players attempting to catch the kickoff (via the JUGS machine—I’m not sure there have been much in the way of live kicks yet.) A number of unlikely defensive players were back taking kicks, including the 284-pound Caushaud Lyons, who missed the ball altogether, the 312-pound Lavon Hooks, the 291-pound Roy Philon, the 305-pound Javon Hargrave, who dropped his, the 295-pound Giorgio Newberry, and the 300-pound Ricardo Mathews. They may have caught the ball, but I’m not sure how far they would get with it in an actual game. I thought I saw Artie Burns back there as well, but read on Steelers.com that he had the day off. But since this was pre-practice stuff maybe he snuck in.
On the other side of the field, the usual offensive suspects were doing the same drill. Eli Rogers decided to try the “how many balls can you hold while you catch another one?” contest. He got all the way up to holding three and catching a fourth, but couldn’t get beyond that. Antonio Brown’s record from a year or so ago (six, I believe) is definitely in no danger.
The horn blew for warm-up drills, and while they did them the players sang what has now become the traditional serenade of DeAngelo Williams, whose birthday is in April and who probably doesn’t like be reminded on a daily basis that he’s the oldest running back in the league.
After warm-ups the catching drills began. The first was an amazing rolling catch by No. 49. I assumed it must be Mandel Dixon, but discovered that Dixon was injured in Monday’s practice and was waived. The new No. 49 is Jake Phillips, a 6’6″, 249 lb. rookie out of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. The Steelers also waived/injured Shakim Phillips, not too surprisingly, and signed 5’10”, 174 lb. cornerback Kevin Whilte (Texas Christian.)
I have loads of comments about the receivers throughout the day, which I’m going to condense right here. Ben to Antonio Brown should be outlawed. It just isn’t fair. Not too surprisingly, there’s no other pairing quite like that one, but generally speaking the receivers looked good, even when the catches were being contested in both the 7 on 7s and the 11 on 11s. There were a few notable plays made by the DBs, but mainly it was about the receivers, especially with Ben throwing the ball. The route running looked mostly crisp, and they burned the defense on some nice comeback plays in almost every instance.
Levi Norwood is definitely working hard to make a case for himself. Darrius Heyward-Bey mainly looked very good, although he had a big drop. Isaac Blakeney, a 6’6″, 225 lb. WR, beat his DB a couple of times.
Sammie Coates apparently had a bit of an off day on Monday but looked terrific again today. I read or heard (it’s all blurring together at this point) that nobody spent more time at the Steelers facility in the offseason than Coates, and it shows. However, Montell Garner did manage to throw him off a route with some exceedingly aggressive coverage. I noticed Eli Rogers was mostly lined up with the first team, Coates with the second team, so perhaps Todd Haley (or whoever) was trying to help Coates with his concentration by what I assume is a temporary demotion.
When the defense joined the offense on the near field I noticed that the Steelers had brought in an official. He got some practice throwing his flag from time to time.
When the 11-on-11s began they focused on running plays, and there were some nice runs as well as some which were stuffed by the defense. It seemed to be pretty even. Generally speaking, the more experienced guys (Daryl Richardson, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Cameron Stingily) did better than the rookies, which I suppose you would expect. And I will just throw in here that Alejandro Villanueva was back with the first team line again.
Le’Veon Bell didn’t do much today—he had a couple of runs and caught a pass, but mostly wasn’t lined up. DeAngelo Williams didn’t spend a great deal of time on the field either, although he did take a 7-on-7s dumpoff pass for a TD. I think that the “clarity” Tomlin is looking for doesn’t require more looks at either of those guys, and I hope this pattern continues.
Canaan Severin had a beautiful, leaping catch but then landed on his shoulder and disappeared to the locker room. I don’t see any injury report on him, so hopefully it will just turn out to be one of those “bumps and bruises kind of things,” as Tomlin would say. UPDATE: various sources are reporting a “shoulder injury,” no other info so far.
There were several more sets of special teams drills which I will again condense. I noticed that the auditioning punter (No. 2, Will Monday) was out faking the kickoffs. I guess they don’t want to risk Chris Boswell, and I think that’s an excellent idea. Once they began “live” kick return drills (in other words, the returners actually had some opposition) it was much easier to see who looked good. Sammie Coates looks blazingly fast. Levi Norwood is also making a special teams case for himself.
Marcus Tucker dropped a kickoff, which is probably not a good thing for him at this juncture, although he did quickly and calmly collect it and get going. (He later dropped a Bruce Gradkowski pass in 11 on 11s, right in the bread basket.) Isaac Blakeney was blocking for Fitzgerald Toussaint, who ran through the defense like a hot knife through butter and headed for the end zone. But from what I saw today Sammie Coates was on the fast track for the returner job, although I just read that William Gay took him aside to discuss ball security
The next set of 11 on 11s had the defense showing a bit more mettle. Ben threw a pass to AB in the middle but in real life I think he would have been sacked. Robert Golden showed some quality coverage of Toussaint. Landry Jones then took over, and got off a few really nice passes, including a beauty to Coates which he caught beautifully as well. But he had to throw the ball away at least once, go with some little dump-offs, and so on. The best gains were all to Sammie Coates. Bruce Gradkowski also threw a completion to Coates, this time in the middle of the field. Sammie was sort of the Swiss army knife of today’s practice.
I have to say, Landry Jones looks good so far. It feels as if he’s really earned the No. 2 spot. Let’s hope this continues.
That’s about all I have for today. The Senquez Golson injury is quite a blow, but Tunch and Wolf were raving about Sean Davis today, and I get the feeling he may pick up the slack, as they are playing him a lot in the nickel. Tunch feels that he has great instincts, and is really good at switching from covering someone to playing the ball. Javon Hargrave got a lot of time, as Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt were mostly rested today, and apparently made the most of it.
After practice Xavier Grimble was out on the JUGS machine, even beating AB to it. An awful lot of guys were hanging around doing various drills and such on their own (or with a few other guys) after practice. There were still at least 20 players or so out on the field when I left. I don’t ever recall seeing this level of enthusiasm for post-practice work, especially on a fairly hot day.
to be continued