The Pittsburgh Steelers' annual Friday night practice is always a special scene.
Latrobe Memorial Stadium was filled beyond capacity to watch the Steelers practice under the lights and to see several greats officially retire.
Willie Parker, Marvel Smith, Joey Porter and Aaron Smith were all honored with a retirement ceremony at the beginning of the evening.
The fans appreciated the ceremony and then were treated to a solid, but a rather lackluster practice.
Well, former head coach Bill Cowher used to debut the goal-line drill to the delight of the crowd while current head coach Mike Tomlin runs the backs-on-backers.
There is no comparison between the two drills—the goal-drill trumps backs-on-backers every day of the week.
But even without the hard-hitting excitement of the goal line, the crowd still got to see plenty.
Here are some observations from Friday’s practice under the lights.
Mike Adams Gets the Start
During walkthroughs, Mike Adams went to left tackle with the starting lineup. He would not leave there the rest of practice.
Adams got starters reps the rest of the evening and did not look out of place.
Over the course of the evening, Adams handled a variety of pass rushes well. He struggled at times, but was never beaten badly.
Adams looked pretty good run blocking as the offense once again focused on establishing the ground game.
With Max Starks out, the battle for left tackle is between Adams and Trai Essex and from everything that I have seen so far, there is no reason that Adams should not get the job.
There is no way that you can expect perfection from a rookie—especially one playing left tackle—but Adams has played well enough to at least earn a start at some point during the preseason.
Adams looks better than Marcus Gilbert did at the same point last season, and Gilbert turned out pretty well starting as a rookie.
There is still a lot of time before the Steelers need to name a starter at left tackle, but Adams should get some strong consideration.
Ben Gets Most of the Night Off
Ben Roethlisberger started off practice, but would eventually sit out once the team entered team drills.
Prior to ending practice, Roethlisberger participated in a drill where the quarterbacks had to throw a ball into a garbage can (there were two garbage cans stacked on top of each other).
Roethlisberger hit the target twice and Charlie Batch once.
Todd Haley continued his involvement with drills and participated as well. He came close on a couple of occasions.
With Roethlisberger out, Byron Leftwich played with the first team and looked much better running the hurry-up offense than he did the other day.
However, Leftwich’s pass was underthrown and intercepted by Keenan Lewis.
Batch ran with the second team and looked sharp, but his unit did not have time to score as the horn blew to end the session after a few plays.
Steelers are Battling…Each Other
The Steelers are more than ready to see some different colored jerseys as tempers flared once again.
First, David Gilreath was slammed to the ground after making a reception by Will Allen.
The hit was completely unnecessary and Allen went straight to the sideline, it was Will Allen who slammed David Gilreath to the ground after making a reception—likely to get far away from Tomlin.
Tomlin had none of it as he immediately was yelling at Allen.
Allen would eventually make his way over to Tomlin to get scolded for making such a bad decision.
Later, Cameron Heyward got mixed up with Willie Colon and Colon whacked Heyward in the facemask.
It was once of the hardest punches to a helmet that I have ever seen.
Never one to back down—and one who is often getting into fights—Heyward ripped off Colon’s helmets before teammates and coaches broke the two apart.
It was by far the most heated battle of camp.
During team stretches Chris Hoke used to do the “hokey pokey.” Essex may have taken over the pre-stretch dance as his teammates began clapping and he performed some, how can I describe it, “interesting” dance moves.
Emmanuel Sanders and Brett Keisel did not practice. LaMarr Woodley returned to practice.
In addition to Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu also ended practice early.
Shaun Suisham made all five of his field-goal attempts. Danny Hrapmann missed one, but did make a 53-yard field goal.
Juamorris Stewart and Toney Clemons each had a drop in receiver drills. It is pretty inexcusable to drop passes during drills.
Jerricho Cotchery had his worst practice of this camp with a couple of drops during position and team drills.
Antonio Brown continues to shine and should lead the team in receptions this year with or without Mike Wallace.
Cortez Allen continues to have a strong camp. He was targeted three times while defending Cotchery and allowed only one short reception.
Chris Carter made a nice stop in the backfield on a running play. Although, it looked like he wasn’t blocked.
During one-on-one drills between offensive and defensive linemen, Maurkice Pouncey handled Steve McLendon very well.
With that said, McLendon is better now than Casey Hampton was last season. He looks as though he can be a very good nose tackle.
Alameda Ta'amu is hard to move, but is not very explosive yet.
Corbin Bryant had a good practice. He generated some pressure and moves well for a defensive end. I'd be surprised if he does not make the team if he keeps up this level of play.
David DeCastro looked comfortable in pass protection.
Will Johnson continues to get a lot of playing time and touches. As each practice goes by, his chances are getting better to beat out David Johnson.
Baron Batch had a couple of nice carries and Chris Rainey looked good with a few nice runs as the offense continued to establish the ground game.
Rainey contributed in the blocking department. He chip blocked a couple of defenders.
Of the backup receivers, I put Derrick Williams in the lead with David Gilreath right behind him. Williams is not an ideal option but has been the best of the backups, and Gilreath has been getting open as well.
Isaac Redman appeared to have a slight limp toward the end of practice.