Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp: Observations from Thursday's Practice

Chris Gazze@ChrisG_PITCorrespondent IAugust 1, 2014

Chris Gazze

The no-huddle offense will be a staple for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season, but they had yet to break it out during training camp. Well, the wait is over, as it made its first appearance of the summer on Thursday.

The first-team offense showed no signs of rust in its only session with the no-huddle. The same could not be said for the backups, but it was the first time they broke it out this summer, and they have plenty of time to work out the kinks.

That was not the only change of the day, as the coaching staff upped the intensity following the slow tempo on Wednesday. This had the players fired up, which showed on the field with some of the biggest hits of training camp.

One of those big hits came from Jordan Dangerfield. He has been making plays every practice and is just one sleeper to keep an eye on as training camp progresses. But he wasn’t the only player to stand out on Thursday.

Here are my observations from Thursday’s practice.


Jordan Dangerfield Makes Impact

Jordan Dangerfield is drawing attention with big hits and bit plays.
Jordan Dangerfield is drawing attention with big hits and bit plays.Chris Gazze

Dangerfield continues to make plays on a daily basis.

Yesterday, he had an interception. He added another today, but that is not what has him standing out from the rest. Instead, it is the physical nature of his game.

Dangerfield is not afraid to step up and lay a big hit when defending the run. That is exactly what he did in practice when he nailed Miguel Maysonet with one of the hardest hits of training camp. It was so hard that it seemed to echo throughout the hills surrounding Chuck Noll Field.

Unlike some of the other players who have impressed, Dangerfield is showing off during seven-on-seven and live drills instead of positional drills. This makes his showing that much more impressive.

The first-year safety from Towson has not looked overwhelmed playing against NFL competition. He is very vocal in the secondary and appears to have a firm grasp of his responsibilities. However, he is primarily working against backups and has a lot of talent ahead of him.

Troy Polamalu, Mike Mitchell and Shamarko Thomas are all locks to make the team. It would be surprising if Will Allen didn’t since he is a favorite of the coaching staff—remember they brought him back during the season last year. Robert Golden is also a veteran who plays well on special teams and can contribute on defense.

That won’t stop Dangerfield from giving it his all. Even if he doesn’t make the final roster, he is making a strong push for a spot on the practice squad.


No-Huddle Finally Arrives

Mike Tomlin watches over the first no-huddle session of training camp.
Mike Tomlin watches over the first no-huddle session of training camp.Chris Gazze

The Steelers spent a lot of time during the spring implementing the no-huddle offense, as they plan to use it as a feature part of their offense throughout the regular season. Despite this, it hadn’t made an appearance in training camp.

That streak ended on Wednesday during the second team session.

Early in the practice, Ben Roethlisberger led the first-team offense through a no-huddle walkthrough session while Bruce Gradkowski was in charge of the second team. Just as they would perform in a game, the Steelers are not in a hurry-up offense while working without a huddle, but rather take a methodical approach.

During Roethlisberger’s session, the offense had a positive play on every snap. It was a relatively balanced mix of runs and passes with Roethlisberger making calls and audibles at the line of scrimmage. He worked with Dri Archer and Tauren Poole in the backfield and had his usual complement of receivers.

When throwing the ball, Roethlisberger got the ball out of his hands quickly. He was very accurate and moved the chains with this approach. It was very similar to what we saw last year during the second half of the regular season. There were no deep throws during this session.

Landry Jones worked with the second-team offense for the second straight day. He was slower to get the snap off and used a hard cadence on virtually every snap, which he used to help read the defense to make his calls.

Jones looked better than he did on Wednesday, but he was very slow with his progressions. It seemed like he was scrambling around the pocket on every play, which is fine in practice but will result in sacks during game action.


Pick Up the Pace

The first live-contact drill on Thursday was the most aggressive yet.
The first live-contact drill on Thursday was the most aggressive yet.Chris Gazze

Jerry Olsavsky had to yell at the defense to keep the pace moving on Wednesday, but that was not the case on Thursday. During the first session of live drills, the entire coaching staff was on top of both sides of the ball to keep everyone hustling back to the huddle.

The result was a lot more energy, especially from the defense. They were aggressive to the ball and sound with their tackling. It was the swarming defense that we are accustomed to seeing in Pittsburgh.

The defensive line was particularly effective during this period against the run. The offense focused on the ground attack and had very little room to run. That is because the linemen were flowing to the ball and freeing up space for the linebackers.

It is worth noting that Todd Haley had the offense working on outside runs and only had one run between the tackles. The defense was too fast to the edge for the running backs—even Archer.

After a down year for the rush defense, the Steelers have shown signs of dominance; however, they are still giving up the occasional big run. On the plus side, it is encouraging to see the offensive line open up big holes, which is something they have not done much of in recent years.


Camp Notes

Officials made their presence at training camp.
Officials made their presence at training camp.Chris Gazze

Mike Mitchell, Jordan Zumwalt, Alvester Alexander, Matt Spaeth, Michael Palmer, Rob Blanchflower and LeGarrette Blount all were without pads. Le’Veon Bell returned but was limited and did not participate in contact drills.

Mitchell spent a portion of practice watching at the back of the defense with Carnell Lake.

Darrius Heyward-Bey and Eric Waters both left practice with injuries.

Officials were in training camp today and called several penalties. Defensive holding in the secondary and offensive holding were two that I noticed.

Justin Brown got several snaps with the first team and made an outstanding reception. It was a back-shoulder from Roethlisberger. Brown twisted his body around to make the catch in bounds in front of tight coverage by Antwon Blake. This came during seven-on-seven drills.

Brown was not the only player to get first-team reps. Chris Carter stepped in during the final team session for Jarvis Jones. He primarily played rush end in the nickel set.

Landry Jones continued to get second-team reps during team drills ahead of Gradkowski. Even though Gradkowski has not been accurate this camp, it would be hard to believe that Jones has jumped him on the depth chart.

Before leaving with an injury, Waters got beat in a blocking drill by Arthur Moats. After speaking with a coach, he came right back and stoned him.

Maysonet had a tough day. Not only did Dangerfield destroy him, but Thomas blasted him as well. This hit was even louder than the first.

During the final session of team drills, Brendon Kay was quicker to get rid of the ball than Jones. This was the first time I noticed this during camp.

Shaun Suisham missed two “Mayday” field goals. In this drill, the field-goal unit runs in from the sidelines as Danny Smith counts down the final seconds. Suisham nearly fell when setting his spot on the second attempt. Both attempts were from 61 yards.

Speaking of field goals, Gradkowski, Jones and Brad Wing practiced as the holder.

Greg Warren did his best Suisham impression during kicking practice. He had to pretend to kick the ball while the other guys were working on coverage.

Jarvis Jones struggled with his power rush. The blockers that he matched up against stood him up.

Chris Gazze

Jordan Hall had a couple of nice carries. He nearly had his undershirt ripped off on one of them.

Steve McLendon was active against the run and was responsible for several stuffs at the line of scrimmage.

Several young defensive linemen stood out. Daniel McCullers continued to show his power, though he moves slowly. Stephon Tuitt was able to power through his blockers to get in the backfield. On one play, Josh Mauro beat Mike Adams with his quickness on an inside move and came around the back end to make a tackle for a loss.

Adams has not been strong in individual drills but has looked better against the defense in live drills. That has not been the case for Wesley Johnson. He has performed well in drills and at multiple positions during live action.

Attendance at training camp has been very good over the last two days. It should be even better on Friday night when the Steelers have their annual night practice under the lights.


Note: All photos used in this article were taken by me. Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of ESPN.com and all roster information is courtesy of Steelers.com.  


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