Pittsburgh Steelers: Notes and Quotes from 1st Week of Training Camp
The Pittsburgh Steelers' 2015 training camp is underway, with the team participating in practices since Sunday. With practices come practice reports as well as interesting nuggets of news that could help illuminate where the roster may be headed in the coming weeks.
Here are notes and quotes about some of the biggest storylines that have emerged during Week 1 of the Steelers' training camp.
Ross Ventrone Injury
Reserve safety and special teams ace Ross Ventrone suffered an ankle injury in Monday's practice and had to be carted off the field, according to PennLive's Jacob Klinger. Steelers Depot's Alex Kozora reports Ventrone has been in a walking boot since and has not resumed practicing.
Per Steelers Depot, head coach Mike Tomlin reported Monday that it was a "lower leg" injury but had no updates on his status on Wednesday. The Steelers did, however, sign defensive back Jordan Sullen on Wednesday and released linebacker Shawn Lemon, which could be an indication that they expect Ventrone to be on the shelf for at least a little while.
No James Harrison, Will Allen
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said at the start of training camp that he would be holding out outside linebacker James Harrison and safety Will Allen because they "are too old to be working right now," and so far, he has stuck to the plan.
As Steelers Depot's Alex Kozora reported from Day 2 and Day 3 of training camp, both Harrison and Allen spent the sessions on the sidelines. Kozora also observed that while Harrison and Allen ran sprints and did "light warm-ups" in individual drills, the pair sat out the fourth day of practice on Thursday. But Kozora does not believe there are any injury reasons for the two to be out.
When asked when he will hit the practice field, Harrison said to ask the coaches and added that "I'm just doing what I'm told," as reported by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Chris Adamski.
Both Harrison and Allen are established veterans and don't need training-camp reps at this point in their careers. And by holding the two off the field, the Steelers can get a better opportunity to evaluate the younger, less proven depth at linebacker and safety behind them.
Goal Line an Emphasis
Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley wants better production out of the team in the red zone and at the goal line this year, and to drive home that point, the Steelers opened their OTA practices earlier in the spring with red-zone drills.
That point of emphasis is carrying over to training camp. For the first three practices, the team opened 11-on-11 practices from the 2-yard line, as reported by Steelers Depot's Alex Kozora. On the first day, the defense got the better of the offense. By Day 2, the defense had recorded four interceptions in goal-line work, three of them thrown by backup passer Landry Jones.
On Day 3, though, the Steelers offense managed five touchdowns on seven goal-line plays run, a marked improvement. Expect these goal-line drills to be a mainstay of the Steelers' early 11-on-11 work each day.
Backup Quarterback Report
The Steelers opened camp with veteran No. 2 quarterback Bruce Gradkowski sidelined with a shoulder injury, which has given them a chance to take a closer look at the two players behind him, Landry Jones and Tajh Boyd.
In the first two days of camp, Jones worked as the No. 2 quarterback—and it was enough for Steelers Depot's Jon Ledyard to give a "stock-down" rating to Jones after the second day of practices. Ledyard wrote, "Jones is doing a little bit better job of recognizing blitzes and getting the ball out, but the throws are simply underwhelming," while his colleague, Alex Kozora, noted that three of the four interceptions thrown in 11-on-11s through two days came from Jones.
It was a mixed bag for Boyd on the third day of practice, which led Ledyard to declare Boyd's stock to be "in limbo." Ledyard wrote, "Hard to say that any quarterback really nailed it today after several sloppy offensive sessions, but Boyd continues to make a couple throws each practice that really impress." He did note that Boyd has shown "flashes that could be enough to wrestle the third-string quarterback job" away from Jones.
This battle will continue to play out through camp and most certainly in the Steelers' five preseason games.
Reese Dismukes Struggling
One thing that certainly made Tajh Boyd's life more difficult in his 11-on-11 sessions was backup center Reese Dismukes. Communication and timing between Boyd and Dismukes was hard to come by, with Steelers Depot's Alex Kozora noting that Boyd and Dismukes fumbled or botched the snap a disappointing six times in practice on Day 3. Bleacher Report's Chris Gazze said that he has "never seen so many botched snaps in my life."
And though Boyd and Dismukes worked after the practice session on their snaps, Gazze saw at least one more botched snap between the two on Day 4. Furthermore, Dismukes had no answer for nose tackle Steve McLendon, who "swam" over the center who, according to Kozora, "really struggles laterally."
Kozora's colleague John Ledyard, who has also been in attendance at camp, wrote: "For a guy who was a four-year starter at center in college, these struggles make no sense. But they've been consistent, as every day Dismukes has had issues with snaps. Much more of this and the Steelers may be forced to simply find someone competent to replace him."
Dismukes has had added opportunities at center partially because Maurkice Pouncey is on the physically unable to perform list with a minor foot injury. But Dismukes has not improved at this early point in camp, which puts his job security in jeopardy.
A Rough First Week for TE Cameron Clear
Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley offered unsolicited praise about undrafted rookie tight end Cameron Clear following OTAs this spring, telling Steelers Nation Radio (via Steelers Depot):
It's like this free agent Cameron Clear that we have. I mean, he's a big, good-looking body and had about six catches last year and wasn't on the field. So it's just what you value and what you think gives you the best chance to win, and I think that as long as we're all here, we'll value a big tight end that can catch and block.
But Haley might have spoken too soon, if Clear's performance in training camp thus far is any indication. Bleacher Report's Chris Gazze noted that Clear had to leave practice on Monday because of the heat and that he "looked gassed once again on Wednesday." And Steelers Depot's Jon Ledyard has given him "stock-down" ratings after the second and third days of practice. Ledyard wrote on Monday:
Clear's routes continue to be an issue, but that is to be expected for a guy who is still very raw due to limited playing time in college. He'll have to focus on the little things, like standing straight up in his release and failing to explode off the line and into his pattern. Being unable to finish practice due to issues with the heat will only add to the pre-draft questions about his conditioning and work ethic, whether those concerns are warranted or not.
On Wednesday, Ledyard added: "[H]is routes were upright and sloppy during tight end drills, and he dropped a couple of passes and double-caught several more. Clear also appears gassed constantly, always standing with his hands on his hips or taking a knee regardless of what the rest of his position group is engaged in."
Without the conditioning to withstand the heat of training camp, Clear's reps will dwindle, and he won't be able to improve his rawness as a pass-catching tight end. The Steelers will not put up with weeks of Clear not being physically able to perform.