Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp: Observations from Monday's Practice
Not only did Tomlin’s players don pads for the first time, but they put them to use. Backs on backers may have highlighted the day, but it was the live tackling during team drills that truly set the tone for the day.
It was a particularly important day for a defense that is looking to regain its edge after a down season last year. Though it was only one practice, Dick LeBeau’s defense was aggressive and flying around the field.
There were plenty of takeaways from Monday’s practice as we finally got a chance to see the team in real football situations. Here are my observations from the first padded practice of training camp.
Justin Brown Continues to Shine
The Pittsburgh Steelers may have found their tall receiver for Ben Roethlisberger and his name is Justin Brown.
Brown impressed the coaching staff this spring and has continued to do so in training camp. His performance did not stop when the Steelers had their first padded practice on Monday. He was once again one of the best players on the field.
It is imperative that Brown makes a name for himself early in camp because he will have to hold off competition from Derek Moye, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Martavis Bryant for the fourth spot on the depth chart.
For what he lacks in experience, Brown has displayed terrific hands. He has caught everything that has come his way, which is something not even Antonio Brown can say. Not only is he catching the ball, but he is exactly where the quarterback wants him to be.
One of Brown’s best traits during camp has been his ability to adjust to poorly thrown passes. He did just that today on a sideline pattern in which he had to turn his body, make a leaping grab and tap his toes in bounds to make the reception.
Brown may not be a threat to be the No. 2 receiver, but as long as he continues to perform, he will have the No. 4 spot on the depth chart locked down for the foreseeable future.
Mike Adams Struggles
Mike Adams looked to have a future on the Steelers offensive line after he was the team's rookie of the year in 2012. In six starts, he showed signs of being a dominant run blocker, though he needed to work on his pass protection.
Two years later, Adams can still dominate against the run, and he still struggles against pass-rushers. We saw that again today when he faced defenders in contact drills for the first time this summer.
Adams had trouble against Shamarko Thomas on a bull rush and was knocked to the ground. Sure Thomas is athletic and has a low center of gravity, but he is 10 inches shorter and 100 pounds lighter than Adams. There is no excuse for Adams to go down in that situation.
He had some problems, unsurprisingly, blocking Cam Heyward in team drills, and he had consistency issues in one-on-one drills as well.
It was more than just the physical aspect of the game that gave Adams problems. With Brendon Kay as his quarterback, Adams broke his stance that would have resulted in a false-start penalty. While this may have been on Kay, Adams was the only member of the offense to stand up after being set.
Any hopes that Adams would develop into a starting-caliber tackle under Mike Munchak are slowly starting to vanish. There is still time for him to turn it around, but it was not a good day for the third-year tackle.
Defense Catches Up to the Offense
The first-team offense looked like an arena league team at times, throwing the ball around the field at will. It is no wonder why. Practicing without pads strongly favors the offense.
Once the pads came on, the defense seemed to be invigorated. Steeler defenders could finally do their job—hit people.
Even though it was the first padded practice of the year, the team wasted no time getting physical. It really sets the tone for a team that is looking to regain an aggressive nature on the defensive side of the ball. It was also the first time that we got a good look at the speed on the defensive side of the ball.
Ryan Shazier was flying all over the field. Shamarko Thomas was aggressive near the line of scrimmage. Even Jarvis Jones showed an explosiveness that he was missing last season.
Dick LeBeau did not hold anything back either. He brought pressure from the outside and inside with a variety of different looks.
Heyward rushed from a stand-up position in the middle of the defensive line. Shazier moved to right outside linebacker and Jarvis Jones shifted to the center. Thomas blitzed from the outside.
The defenders may not have always got to the quarterback, but they did generate enough pressure to force poor throws. It was an encouraging sign as the defense has struggled in this area in recent years.
The defense also made their first interceptions of training camp. Jason Worilds had the first, and Shaquille Richardson made the second on an errant pass by Bruce Gradkowski.
Jarvis Jones Shows Improvement
Jarvis Jones struggled during his rookie season a year ago and finished 2013 with only one sack. In order to improve for 2014, he had to get stronger and develop more pass-rush moves.
While I have not been able to judge his strength, Jones did show more effective moves when rushing the quarterback. He put this on display during one-on-one drills with the offensive linemen.
Jones beat Kelvin Beachum twice in a row, which impressed the coaches. He displayed good technique and explosiveness on his first rush when he used an inside swim move. Jones was barely even touched as he went by the third-year tackle.
During team drills, Jones displayed good recognition ability on running plays and improvement when dropping into coverage. He had one pass deflection that earned the praise of one of the coaches.
Jones is still a work in progress, but his performance early in camp is encouraging.
Rain and cool temperatures have made for a comfortable first day in pads. The Steelers may not practice in 80-degree weather again until the weekend.
Roethlisberger continued to look good throwing the ball but was the victim of two drops, as Antonio Brown and LeGarrette Blount each dropped passes.
Daniel McCullers has impressive acceleration for a man his size. Once he gets moving, he is hard to stop. Emmanuel McCray found this out as McCullers ran right through him to force backup QB Landry Jones to scramble out of the pocket.
Jarvis Jones may have had a strong practice, but he wasn’t without at least one fault. On a running play to Blount, Jones tried to arm tackle him. Let’s just say that there are few linebackers in the league who can arm tackle Blount. Jones is not one of them.
Arthur Moats has been working as the top backup at outside linebacker and is beginning to look the part. He has shown signs that he can rush the quarterback and had his best practice of camp.
Derek Moye is not going lightly in the wide receiver battle as he made the best catch of the day. It was a leaping reception in which he caught the ball at its highest point to bail out his quarterback.
Martavis Bryant ended the final team drill of the day with a dropped pass on a crossing route. He was open and it hit him right in the hands.
The Steelers have taken a straightforward approach with Dri Archer by lining him up in the backfield and in the slot. Monday was the first time they used some trickery with Archer by running him on a reverse. He gained about eight yards before the play was blown dead.