The Pittsburgh Steelers returned to practice on Wednesday after their off day for the second padded practice of 2014 training camp.
Joining the team for the first time this season was left guard Ramon Foster after missing the first five days due to a death in his family.
RB Le’Veon Bell (hamstring) remained out of practice along with rookie LB Jordan Zumwalt (groin, left practice early on Monday), as well as PUP-listers S Mike Mitchell and RB Alvester Alexander. Rookie tight end Rob Blanchflower joined the injured list with a high ankle sprain, which head coach Mike Tomlin said will keep him sidelined at least a week.
The competitive individual drills of the day included a run blocking drill with tight ends attempting to drive and seal linebackers in open space, as well as the first session of offensive linemen vs defensive linemen in pass protection drills.
Jarvis Jones and Matt Spaeth were matched up in the run block department for several sessions, with Tomlin exhorting ‘I like it ninety-five!’ after Jones extended and shed Spaeth and got to the edge. Spaeth, however, recovered for some good reps against free agent signee Arthur Moats. Will Johnson also solidly bested Moats, who was impressive on Monday in pass rush drills against big tackles, seemed to struggle more in this run defense drill today.
In OL v DL, Man-Mountain Daniel McCullers was impossible to miss as he used his 6’7, 352lb frame to on one sequence knock fellow giant Mike Adams completely over. Stephon Tuitt and second year man Hebron Fangupo also flashed with impressive quickness for big men, and I thought Stanford rookie Josh Mauro also had a few impressive moments. In general, the team’s defensive line depth looked more impressive than the backup o-linemen.
In team drills, Shamarko Thomas took several reps with the first team defense in favor of Will Allen at safety. Robert Golden also took a few reps alongside Troy Polamalu, as it appears with the Mitchell injury the coaches are giving both Thomas and Golden a chance to show what they can do.
LeGarrette Blount continues to get plenty of work as well without Bell practicing, and in one memorable run today stiff-armed rookie first round pick Ryan Shazier and planted him on his back before being ankle-tackled by Golden on the perimeter.
However, Blount also had a newbie moment as he walked erroneously into the OL v DL huddle, forcing Tomlin to laugh and tell him he was in the wrong position drill.
The crowd pleasing moment of the day came with wide receiver Antonio Brown catching a ball over the middle against Cortez Allen and then reversing direction in short space five or six times, turning Allen into a pretzel as he raced upfield.
Also of note, quarterback Landry Jones took several reps with the second-team offense ahead of Bruce Gradkowski and in general got plenty of work in. However, it’s too early to tell if Jones has a chance to beat out Gradkowski for the backup job in 2014 and Tomlin would only say that the quarterback workload will be distributed so “all the guys get plenty of opportunities to show what they’re made of.” I talked with and upbeat Landry after practice, who said he was feeling “light years” ahead of where he was as a rookie last season.
I also had a fun interview after practice with now eigth-year cornerback William Gay which will air tomorrow on TribLIVE Radio. Below are some quotes from our chat:
On being 8 years in:
“Nah. I don’t want to believe it. But it’s there. It creeps up on you. I remember walking down the hill as a rookie. Now I’m one of the guys they look at and are like, ‘Look at that old man still out there.’ I’m like, ‘Dang I used to say that about other guys.’ But it’s all fun, man, it keeps you humble knowing young guys are trying to beat you out. I got me a young haircut I’m going with the mohawk this year. About to turn 30-something, go back five years and see if that will work.”
“We call him ‘Big Dan’. He reminds me of the movie ‘The Longest Yard’, the big dude that was in there and he started crying and then destroyed everybody. Me and Troy were just talking, every time we’re going to just walk up and give him a hug. Nice guy. Won’t say too much to you. I told him, ‘Once you get six years in, people are going to be scared to talk to you.’ You’re going to say ‘Get out my face’. I told him, ‘You’re bigger than everybody. Just move people’. “
“That guy right there, he’s quiet. I call him ‘Silent Assassin’. That’s a dangerous person who don’t talk.”
On the rebuilt defense:
“I think the difference is how many new guys we have playing the past two years. That’s been a big difference. My rookie year, I only got in when we were up by a lot. Me, Timmons and LaMarr didn’t get in until we had big leads. I look around and say ‘It’s a new age around here’.”
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