Pittsburgh Steelers: Observations from Wednesday's Training Camp Practice
Prior to the start of practice on Wednesday, there was a Pittsburgh Steelers news item that created some buzz.
"It actually feels great,'' Roethlisberger told the Post-Gazette. "I don't have any pains anymore. Let's just hope it doesn't get any worse."
By getting worse, he means it tearing.
Besides the injury talk, the Steelers did have a productive practice and continued to add new wrinkles to the offense.
Here are some observations from Wednesday’s practice.
Roethlisberger Looks Fine
Watching practice on a daily basis, you would never know that Roethlisberger was injured.
Roethlisberger’s passes have been accurate, and he has shown no signs of decreased arm strength.
Over the course of Tuesday's practice, Roethlisberger threw several deep balls that either hit the receivers in stride or were thrown too far.
One of Roethlisberger’s best passes of the day came when Antonio Brown beat Ike Taylor deep and Roethlisberger hit him on the run for a big gain.
Later in practice, Emmanuel Sanders got behind Curtis Brown and Will Allen, but the pass was too deep for Sanders.
Sanders indicated that Roethlisberger needed more air under it.
In summary, Roethlisberger’s performance has not been affected by his shoulder injury.
Starting Defensive Line Is Strong
A lot of the talk has been about how the offense is focusing on the run. What hasn’t been discussed is how well the defense has been performing against it.
Pittsburgh’s run defense is perennially one of the best in the league, but fell off last season with Aaron Smith no longer dominating prior to going out with an injury and Casey Hampton slowing down.
The way practice has been going so far this year, the run defense may be on its way back into top form.
Brett Keisel is still the star on the defensive line, but Ziggy Hood and Steve McLendon are coming on.
The defensive line has demonstrated the ability to control the line of scrimmage and has helped prevent the backs from getting any long gains.
On one particular play, McLendon shoved Maurkice Pouncey several yards into the backfield. He is very strong and is showing that he is more than capable of stepping in for Hampton.
Meanwhile, Cameron Heyward has shown improvement and has been disruptive. Today, he controlled Kelvin Beachum, which enabled him to shut down a play.
Heyward will have a much bigger role in the defense this year.
Wide Receivers Continue to Battle
The battle for the fifth wide receiver spot is turning into one of the better camp battles this year.
There is a lot of talent at the position, but not one player has separated from the group, and they have all had some ups and downs.
For example, Derrick Williams and Tyler Beiler have both shown the ability to get open, but both players dropped passes that hit them in the hands today.
Toney Clemons, who had some drops earlier in camp, made a nice adjustment on a ball thrown behind him and made a catch while being contacted by the defender.
In a bit of a surprise, David Gilreath lined up as the third receiver with the second team on Wednesday and has been getting a number of looks in the passing game.
While he has gotten open, Gilreath does not always make the most of his opportunities. In other words, he's not making all the catches that he needs to be making.
With Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and Mike Wallace—when he returns—all entrenched on the roster, the other receivers need to make the most of their opportunities.
At some point, one of these receivers will begin to separate from the pack.
Brown Developing into Top Option
While several receivers battle for fifth on the depth chart, Brown is making a strong push to be Roethlisberger’s top option this year.
Everyone wants Wallace back in camp, but Brown is once again making the most of an opportunity.
Brown has become Roethlisberger's favorite target, and he rarely fails to make a play.
Brown has developed into an excellent route runner and has gotten the better of Taylor in many one-on-one matchups—including catching a deep pass behind Taylor on Wednesday.
But that does not mean he is perfect.
On one play, Roethlisberger expected Brown to break off his route to come back to the ball, but Brown continued to run.
Roethlisberger and Todd Haley explained to Brown that they wanted him to come back to break the coverage. In essence, Roethlisberger was putting the ball where only Brown could make the play.
This is just one example of how quarterbacks and receivers get on the same page during practice. They learn each other’s nuances that this comes into play during games.
Hello Screen Pass
The offense spent a lot of time working on the screen pass.
The linemen, quarterback and running backs were working on this drill with blocking dummies.
Having some fun, Roethlisberger caught the first screen pass from Leftwich, but they quickly got serious and worked for a solid 15 minutes on this drill.
During this session, screen passes were thrown to the left, right and then up the middle.
There were at least three screen passes completed later in practice during the team drills, including completions to Isaac Redman, Baron Batch and Jonathan Dwyer.
Cornerbacks Continue to Impress
One of the deepest areas on the team this year is at cornerback.
Taylor has one starting job locked down, and Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown continue to battle for the second starting spot.
Lewis has been starting, and Allen has been playing the nickel.
All three players have performed well, and the true test will come once the preseason games begin.
Allen has looked the best in coverage and is showing signs that he can play a physical game as well. He also has excellent closing speed when defending short passes.
Lewis gives up a lot of passes underneath, but has not been beaten deep. He continues to work as the starter.
Brown is very physical, but has been beat on a number of occasions. However, he did bat down one pass today and has shown that he can play the ball.
The Steelers have three very good cornerbacks competing for one spot. That is a great position to be in.
The special teams worked on situational kicks during practice. These included squib kicks, surprise onside kicks and high kicks designed for the lineman on the return unit to field.
Several linemen were forced to call for a fair catch. Chris Scott muffed one attempt and Corbin Bryant called for a fair catch and then ran with the ball after he caught it.
Casey Hampton did some light jogging on the sidelines. At this point, he probably moves at two speeds—slow and stop.
During an offensive line drill, Mike Adams had his helmet down in David DeCastro’s facemask. Offensive line coach Sean Kugler yelled at Adams to “get his head out of there.” He had earlier praised Adams and DeCastro for their hand placement.
Kelvin Beachum had some technique problems during blocking drills, but Kugler had him adjust right after taking the rep.
Stevenson Sylvester once again played at left outside linebacker. He worked with the starters, while LaMarr Woodley did not practice.
DeCastro had a nice seal block on Bryant to open a hole for Jonathan Dwyer.
Chris Rainey demonstrated his speed once again today. He was able to get separation from Sean Spence during a drill and had some nice runs. He has the ability to fit through some very small holes. However, he did not finish practice due to a heat-related illness according to Mike Tomlin (via Steelers.com).
There was once again a strong emphasis on running the ball during team drills. A few screen plays were mixed in. As practice progressed, the offense began to throw the ball more.
Kicker Danny Hrapmann practiced kickoffs. The kicks ranged from being five yards deep to only making it to the goal line.
David Paulson is not the strongest blocker, but he has shown some abilities as a receiver. He caught one pass while getting some work with the starters.
Troy Polamalu had one of the plays of the day after Paul Cox appeared to make a catch over the middle. Polamalu found a way to sneak his hand onto the ball and knock it from Cox’s hands.