One week into training camp and the Pittsburgh Steelers are ready to play football—for real.
Saturday was the most competitive practice of the summer as Mike Tomlin had his team engage in drills that focused on situational football. This included red-zone drills and the always physical goal-line drill.
Despite a late night practice on Friday, the players showed no signs of being tired. They were fresh and energetic, and it showed with their performance on the field. Several players, including Vince Williams and Martavis Bryant, were excellent and brought the huge Saturday crowd to its feet.
Besides their performance, the dog days of camp began to show, as there were two more fights. With three fights in two days, these players appear to be ready to get off the practice field and into the stadium.
In less than a week, they will finally have their opportunity to play, but until then, they have to maintain their composure and realize the big-picture goals.
With that said, it was an exciting day of training camp, and here is a look at my observations from practice.
Pittsburgh Steelers Football Is Back
The Pittsburgh Steelers have long been recognized as one of the toughest teams to play against. They played a physical brand of football. Opponents knew that they would be sore the day after the game against the Steelers.
That attitude and style of play have been missing in recent years, but they appear to be on their way back. Whether it is the competitive nature of training camp, the youth on the roster or the presence of Joey Porter on the coaching staff, the Steelers have an edge about them.
We began to see this on Friday night when Le’Veon Bell and Williams battled in the first fight of training camp. Well, there were two more on Saturday.
The first was between Kelvin Beachum and Chris Carter.
Carter rushed from the right side during a red-zone drill and the two started to battle behind the play. Beachum had Carter lined up for a “power bomb” move like the one you would see in the WWE before he eased off. The entire offensive line and Jarvis Jones stepped in to separate the two.
Not long after this, another fight occurred between Maurkice Pouncey and Hebron Fangupo.
Pouncey is always one of the most fiery players in camp, but this fight was on the verge of being serious. The two threw punches at each other—not particularly intelligent since they have helmets on. This one went down during the goal-line session.
Besides the fights, there was some more productive attitude with the defense bringing physical hits all throughout practice. Thundering hits happened in virtually every team session and during some of the positional drills as well.
There was a sense of pride from each side of the ball as well during the goal-line drill. It is the most competitive drill of training camp, and the players treat it like a real game.
We have to wait and see if the Steelers are truly back to their physical ways, but the aggressive nature of this year’s training camp has been a welcomed addition.
Vince Williams Playing With Attitude
Ryan Shazier was a rather surprising selection for the Steelers in the first round. Maybe no one was more surprised than Williams.
Williams performed well in his rookie year, especially considering that he was a sixth-round draft choice. However, as a two-down linebacker, the Steelers felt the need to get more athletic at the position, hence the selection of Shazier.
Shazier has had a very good camp, but Williams has as well. He is playing with a chip on his shoulder—as pointed out by Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review—and running backs are feeling the brunt of this.
Vince Williams has been a beast during the first week of camp. The guy has a big chip on his shoulder.— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) August 2, 2014
If there were video of the play, Williams would have earned the WWE Jim Ross “he broke him in half” treatment for a hit that he put on Josh Harris. He had another on the goal line against Miguel Maysonet, which had the entire defense fired up.
Williams isn’t going to jump Shazier or Lawrence Timmons on the depth chart, but he will be very hard to keep off the field in short-yardage situations. He is playing with a ruthless aggression and is too talented to keep on the sidelines.
Martavis Bryant Flashes Brilliance in Red Zone
Bryant is one of the most inconsistent players in training camp. He looks brilliant one moment and terrible the next. He had two frustrating drops during drills on Friday night, but he more than made up for it with his performance on Saturday.
During red-zone drills with the defensive backs, Bryant was nearly unstoppable. He scored a touchdown on virtually every play. Whether it was receptions in the corner on fade patterns or over the middle, he was dominant.
Bryant displayed his ability to use his body to shield away a defender and his extension to catch the ball at its highest point. He has a special talent that no other player on the roster has and can carve out a role if he can replicate his performance in games.
Scott Brown of ESPN.com pointed out how important Bryant’s height is on fade patterns:
Martavis Bryant catches pass from Gradkowski on a deep fade. Size advantage is undeniable as he beat Antwon Blake on play.— Scott Brown (@ScottBrown_ESPN) August 2, 2014
Antwon Blake has been terrific in coverage, and this play was no exception. Bryant towered over Blake and the other defensive backs he matched up against. With such long stride, Bryant has deceptive quickness that defensive backs with slow feet will struggle to defend.
Bryant’s most impressive play came against Cortez Allen. He beat Allen to the back right corner of the end zone and made a beautiful one-handed touchdown reception.
Bryant may not be ready to contribute in the base offense, but only Antonio Brown was better in the red zone.
Mike Mitchell, Steve McLendon, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jordan Zumwalt and Rob Blanchflower did not practice. Heath Miller did not practice, but he appeared to be healthy.
Mitchell had on football pants and did some running on the middle practice field. He was not light jogging, but he was not at full speed either. It was an encouraging sign that he is getting closer to returning to the field.
Cam Thomas took McLendon’s spot with the first-team defense, and Stephon Tuitt played left defensive end.
The quarterbacks worked with the garbage cans again. They were placed in the back right corner of the simulated end zone, and they had a GoPro camera attached to them. Ben Roethlisberger stood next to the cans and added some nice entertainment value for the fans. Multiple quarterbacks made it in, but Todd Haley had the best performance with two completions.
Will Martavis Bryant be a red-zone threat as a rookie?
During receiver drills, quarterbacks practice throwing soft passes to the receivers’ back shoulders. Roethlisberger took a great amount of time to detail to Brown what he wanted. He gave specific instructions to Lance Moore and Markus Wheaton as well.
Bryant made several spectacular receptions in the red-zone drills, but no one was better than Brown. Why? Brown is quicker than any other receiver on the roster, and the defensive backs could not keep up with him.
During the red-zone drills, the defense was in the nickel and Roethlisberger lined up in the shotgun. With the defense spread out, he tossed the ball to Dri Archer, who used his speed to pick up a big gain.
Archer had a big day during positional drills. He burned Timmons twice on passing plays. On the second, Timmons thought he had a stop until Archer accelerated, drawing a huge reaction from the crowd.
Jarvis Jones looked solid in coverage, as did Shazier, who nearly had a diving interception off a deflected pass. Several of the other linebackers were a step slow, including Jason Worilds.
No player jawed more during the goal-line drills than Ike Taylor. Led by Taylor, defenders were visibly—and audibly—upset after the offense used a play-action pass on the first play to score a touchdown. The offensive players didn’t seem to mind their victory.
Wesley Johnson had a tough day at left tackle. He repeatedly got beat in pass protection and against the run.
Jordan Dangerfield had another interception. This time it was on an overthrow by Landry Jones. No big hits, though. A rather quiet day by his standards.
Brendon Kay went down because a couple of linebackers hit him during team drills. The coaches were not happy and yelled to keep off the quarterback.
Vic So'oto intercepted Kay in the red zone and returned it for a score.
Brad Wing had a terrific day punting. He had a ton of hang time and no bad punts. Many of his punts caused the return man to back up to field the ball. Danny Smith had the punt unit practice from all parts of the field.
The crowd on Saturday was the largest for a practice at Saint Vincent College this summer.