Simply putting on the pads was not enough for the Pittsburgh Steelers as they participated in live drills on Wednesday. This brought about some of the hardest hitting that you will ever observe at training camp.
Bill Cowher was known for live hitting during the popular goal-line drill, but Mike Tomlin broke it out for a regular session of 11-on-11. The physical tone was set as the offense ran the ball on every play.
The offense worked several plays out of the no-huddle as well, but Wednesday it seemed to be geared toward preparing the defense for the up-tempo offenses that it will be facing this year.
Besides the normal slate of drills, special teams continues to be a point of emphasis with Danny Smith running a variety of coverage drills on Wednesday.
These drills included players having to run around two blockers, take on a third blocker and then shed the block to hit the returner. Later in practice, players worked in tandem to wrap up the returner and strip the ball from them.
Here is a look at the rest of the action from Wednesday’s practice.
Note: All photos in this article were taken by me.
Defense Dominate Against the Run
During the opening 11-on-11, every play from scrimmage was a run play, and we finally got a taste of how the ground game is developing as it was a live, hitting scrimmage.
The defense dominated this session for the most part with the defensive line controlling the trenches and the linebackers swarming in to make the stops.
It should not be much of a surprise as the Steelers still have a premier run defense even with less talent along the defensive line, plus the defense is always ahead of the offense at this point of camp.
On the first two plays, the play went to the right and was stopped for a loss.
The offense finally got a nice run with Le’Veon Bell on the third play as he picked up positive yardage. I keyed in on Marcus Gilbert and Jason Worilds on this particular play and watched Gilbert get the upper hand.
Bell had his best gain on the very next play as he cut against the flow of the linemen to pop it outside. He was the star of this session and is quickly establishing himself as at least a two-down back.
Besides these runs, the defense had its way, particularly the second and third team. These units dominated the line of scrimmage as the backup offensive line has yet to come together.
Adrian Robinson came in on back-to-back plays from the right side of the defense to stop Jonathan Dwyer for at least a four-yard loss.
Kion Wilson followed this up with a tackle for a loss.
Shamarko Thomas showed some of his inner Troy Polamalu when he pursued from the backside to help get a stop for a loss. Even though he didn’t get a tackle, the rookie impressed Ryan Clark who went over and gave him props for the play.
Later in practice, he popped Dwyer, who lowered his shoulder into the rookie safety’s chest after a big gain.
Jarvis Jones continues to flash as he stormed into the backfield and took down Baron Batch to end the session.
Burress Has Still Got It
Burress had one of the nicest plays of the day and demonstrated that he is still a deep threat.
Bruce Gradkowski was in at quarterback, and Burress was running a go route. About 25 yards or so into the route, Burress flung his arm up because he knew that he had the defensive backs beat.
He didn’t just beat anyone, he ran by Thomas, and Isaiah Green provided help as well.
Gradkowski finally saw him and launched the ball at which point Burress was at least four yards beyond Thomas.
Thomas would close as the ball fell to Burress, but the height mismatch was too much to overcome as Burress made the reception and avoided a tackle to take it in for a score.
Burress may not have that elite speed that so many teams look for, but being able to beat press coverage off of the line, using his hands and body to fight off a defender and getting up for high balls with his height and long reach are still skills that no other receiver on the roster can match.
By no means should Burress be one of the top three receivers, but he has proved so far in camp that he still has value as an NFL receiver.
Now that they are beginning to settle in, I figured it would be a good time to give a brief update on each member of the draft class.
Jarvis Jones has already showed signs of growth, particularly defending the run and dropping into coverage. He still has a long way to go before he beats out Worilds. You can tell that he is still thinking too much and not reacting.
He has shown the ability to get to the quarterback, but he has primarily been working against backup offensive linemen. When he does get around the edge, it is quick and he is in position for a strip-sack.
Bell is well on his way to earning the starting job. He has been the best receiver out of the backfield by far and can make plays happen in space. He was also the best back in the live hitting session on Wednesday.
Where Bell will need to continue to improve is in the area of blocking. It is easy for defenders to get under him and knock him off his balance. He does a nice job getting low during positional drills, but is more upright when going up against a defender.
Markus Wheaton has drawn a lot of comparisons with Mike Wallace. I don’t see it. I feel that he is more of a blend between Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.
He has the deep speed—but faster—of Brown and the quickness and willingness to go over the middle like Sanders. Though he has had his fair share of drops, they appear to be the result of the fact that he is still learning the offense rather than the lack of ability.
Wheaton proves to be a versatile player as he is being used in the passing game, as a returner and took a reverse for the first time on Wednesday.
Thomas is a physical specimen and has been lined up all over the defense. He has held up on delivering a couple of monster hits but will surely unleash in the first preseason game.
It has become clear that his height puts him at a significant disadvantage when covering a receiver such as Burress or a tight end. He has also been susceptible to allowing receptions on crossing patterns.
Landry Jones looks like a typical rookie quarterback. He can be indecisive at times during team drills and scrambles rather than takes a chance at threading a pass into a tight spot or throwing it away.
He does have an NFL body and a decent arm, but he has a long way to go. It will be interesting to see how he performs in the first preseason game with a porous offensive line in front of him.
Terry Hawthorne was the only defensive player to take reps in the return game. He has yet to make a positive or negative impression as a cornerback, but he has had an injury setback.
Justin Brown has a nice set of hands and is a surprisingly fluid receiver, but he can be slow out of his breaks. He has been running fifth in the receiver rotation and is fielding punts as well.
While Brown has looked good in drills, he has yet to get many passes thrown his way during 11-on-11. He has still been a pleasant surprise.
Vince Williams has made calls for his unit on the defense but has yet to stand out one way or another.
Nick Williams has an NFL body and has made some plays in the backfield. He has also looked like a rookie drafted from a small school
Cortez Allen, Terry Hawthorne and DeMarcus Van Dyke did not participate. Heath Miller and—I believe—Sean Spence did some light workouts on the far field.
Danny Smith changed up the fielding drills. Rather than the punt returners just catch the ball from the jugs machine, he had the kickers, punters and long snappers provide some simulated interference.
The quarterbacks spend a fair amount of time each practice working on scrambling and dumping the ball off to the running backs. It appears as though the running backs could put up big receiving numbers this year.
When working on the blocking sled, tight ends coach James Daniel got on David Paulson and told him to “watch that crown.” Paulson’s head dipped too low and Daniel does not want to see that on Sundays.
The wide receiver rotation is: A. Brown, Sanders, Cotchery, Burress, J. Brown and Wheaton.
During the seven-on-seven drills, the defense had a nice sequence of action. Damon Cromartie-Smith had a chance at an interception that hit him right in the numbers, but he dropped it. Another pass was batted down by a player that I didn’t see, and Stevenson Sylvester made an interception.
The interception was one bright spot from Sylvester; he appeared to have struggled in coverage the rest of practice but did get some pressure from the outside on one play during team drills.
So far, the ground game has favored the right side, and Ben Roethlisberger has favored throwing the ball to the left sidelines.
Roethlisberger hit Brown on a deep pass in which Brown had to adjust his body as the ball came over his shoulder to the outside part of the field. William Gay was in coverage.
Paulson made the catch of the day in which he extended high for a ball over a defender. He had to adjust his body to make the catch, too. It was very impressive.
Willie Parker acted as a defender with his hands in the air during the quarterback scrambling drill.
Roethlisberger ran the garbage can drill and did some trash-talking as well. Gradkowski sunk several and John Parker Wilson and Landry Jones hit a couple as well. Todd Haley and the ball boy struggled.
Former long snapper Mike Schneck was at practice on Wednesday.