Pittsburgh Steelers: Observations from Sunday's Training Camp Practice

Chris Gazze@ChrisG_PITCorrespondent IJuly 30, 2012

Pittsburgh Steelers: Observations from Sunday's Training Camp Practice

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    With the Pittsburgh Steelers having Monday off, head coach Mike Tomlin did not want to waste any time on Sunday.

    The Steelers had an extended practice that went for nearly two-and-a-half hours under the blazing sun.

    The entire practice was on the artificial turf surface and yielded plenty of production.

    Reps during the team drills went fast and furious as the coaches seemed to want the players to work at a fast tempo.

    The coaching staff also used a lot of different combinations along the line and in the backfield on offense.

    Though it's still early, competition for spots on the depth chart is in full force.

    Here are some observations from Sunday’s practice.

Saunders Is the Real Deal

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    Weslye Saunders told Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he does not know if his four-game suspension will be reduced.

    “I’m still waiting to hear back," Saunders said. "Obviously, some guys around the league already had their suspensions lifted or reduced. I’m still hoping.”

    The threat of the suspension has not slowed Saunders’ progress.

    Saunders has had a strong camp so far, but Sunday may have been his best day.

    Under the watchful eye of Coach Tomlin, Saunders was hitting the blocking sled hard and impressed the Steelers head coach.

    Saunders put the sled work to good use when he had to take on linebackers. He had a strong performance in the one-on-one drill and is the best blocking tight end with Heath Miller out.

    Besides his blocking, Saunders has stepped up his route-running.

    He has good speed and runs smooth routes. On one play over the middle, Saunders beat Foote, who was unable to keep up with him.

    The Steelers have a good, young tight end that will be tough for opposing defenses this fall.

Young Receivers Get More Reps

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    Emmanuel Sanders did not practice on Sunday.

    That put Jerricho Cotchery into the starting role.

    Cotchery had a lot of passes go his way, as he was a favorite target of Ben Roethilsberger, but his performance was not the story of the day.

    Instead, it was the young receivers who had more opportunities and made the most of them.

    Marquis Maze continues to impress with his routes and quickness. He also always catches the ball away from his body. You can never hear the ball hit his pads. On one particular play, he elevated for a catch on the sidelines.

    After a couple of so-so practices, Toney Clemons had a much better effort on Sunday.

    Clemons had one pass that he bobbled before catching, but otherwise, no notable drops. He made one of the best catches of the day when he had to elevate over the defenders to make the reception deep down the field.

    David Gilreath had his best practice, making several catches, including one with tight coverage from Andre Freeman. He was one a standout player on Sunday.

    But the catch of the day came by Jimmy Young at the end of practice.

    On a deep route, Young was blanketed by Ike Taylor, but still came down with the ball and lost his helmet when he went to the ground.

    This outstanding reception more than made up from an incident earlier in practice when he failed to get up off the ground and run following making a reception. In other words, he didn't "finish the play."

    The Steelers have a lot of young wide receivers vying for the final roster spot. It will not be an easy decision for the coaches.

Rainey Continues to Be a Focus

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    Chris Rainey is getting a lot of reps, and it is very clear that the Steelers intend on using him a lot this year.

    During team drills, Rainey has been getting a lot of carries, both between the tackles and to the outside.

    On Sunday, many of his attempts went to the outside, where he was able to showcase his speed and quickness.

    When the lanes get clogged and Rainey looks to cut back. With his short stature, he likes to duck under defenders as well. That will be something to watch for once the games start.

    Something that we haven’t seen in team drills has been many throws to the backs. Right now, the focus is on running.

Mix and Match of Personnel Continues

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    The Steelers are using a lot of different combinations on offense during team drills.

    In the backfield, they are using all of the running backs. Basically, each running back gets one play and then they move to the next one. It has been interesting to watch. 

    The coaches are trying out many combinations on the offensive line as well.

    Rookies David DeCastro and Mike Adams both received time on the first unit, while Ramon Foster was moved to tackle at one point with the second team.

    DeCastro may have to wait until after the first preseason game before being named the starter, but he has shown that he is more than ready for the job.

    At some point, the coaches will need to settle on a rotation, but for this early in camp, it is providing them with a lot of options.

Up-Tempo at Practice

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    The Steelers weren’t running a hurry-up offense, but at times, it felt like it.

    During team drills, the coaches did not waste any time getting the play called and the offense and defense set.

    The pace enabled the Steelers to maximize the number of reps during the practice session. This was particularly important given all of the combinations they were using.

    It was interesting to see the team move at such a quick pace, especially considering that the offense continues to place an emphasis on the run.

    There is a clear difference between Todd Haley and Bruce Arians when it comes to committing to the run.

Camp Notes

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    Ryan Clark wore red sox with white polka dots to practice. Maybe he was trying to start a new fashion trend?

    Speaking of fashion, Chris Rainey continued to wear yellow football pants, and he sports a colorful visor on his facemask. It definitely helped shield the sun on Sunday.

    Redman temporarily left practice with an injury, but he would return.

    Lawrence Timmons spent time early in practice working with Chris Carter one-on-one. Carter needs to improve. He got worked over in blocking drills with the tight ends and has made only a few plays. Tomlin did love Carter stopping Jonathan Dwyer in the backfield on one play.

    Rainey and Marquis Maze fielded punts. Gilreath and Young returned kicks.

    Drew Butler’s hang-time ranged between 3.6 and 4.8 seconds.

    Haley is communicates a lot when working with the offense, including Roethlisberger. Both are professionals, and they are working very well together.

    Max Starks and Rashard Mendenhall ran some light sprints. Both players looked good.

    The cornerbacks worked on press coverage. Two cornerbacks and a safety worked against two receivers. Clemons did a nice job beating Curtis Brown on one rep.

    Cortez Allen continues to shine. He got starter reps after Keenan Lewis left with an injury. Curtis Brown also got starter reps. I place Allen ahead of him at this point.

    LaMarr Woodley destroyed David Johnson in a blocking drill three times in a row. Jamie McCoy performed well. David Paulson needs to improve his strength, as he struggled blocking.

    Tyler Beiler flashed some talent with a nice catch on the sidelines, but also dropped a bullet from Byron Leftwich.

    Will Johnson worked some as the starting fullback.

    Kelvin Beachum was involved in a scrum that got the entire offense and defense involved. It did not last very long.

    Steve McLendon got into the backfield and stopped Baron Batch for a loss. He is doing a fine job anchoring the defensive line.

    Batch was pushed back by Carter while blocking in the shotgun. David Johnson had to come over to help.

    Adrian Robinson flashed potential. His best play came when he beat Marcus Gilbert and forced Roethlisberger to scramble. The play was blown dead by the coaches.

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