The Pittsburgh Steelers practiced through intermittent rain showers on their first day of padded practice at the team’s St. Vincent College facility in Latrobe, PA.
The weather did nothing to dampen the intensity.
In fact, in my nine years on the beat it was the liveliest session of live hitting and tackling during team 11-on-11 drills that I can remember.
Rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier made a favorable impression in both those team drills and in the featured one-on-one showdown of the day, ‘Backs on Backers’.
Although the latter drill is inherently geared to linebacker success with their running start and with the rushing linebacker accompanied by a fellow ‘dummy’ pass rusher against a lone pass protector, Shazier faced and bested NFL veteran running back LeGarrette Blount on at least two of three consecutive snaps with head coach Mike Tomlin, offensive coordinator Todd Haley, defensive assistant coach Joey Porter, and several other leaders observing.
Shazier’s speed was on display on the first two snaps with spin moves and short area jukes to swim past Blount nearly untouched. Porter shouted out, “Speed is your ally!”
The third meeting with Shazier and Blount brought a mighty collision of two fighting rams in a loud pop.
After practice, Blount said “I like him. He’s fast. He can run. He’s a big hitter. When they put a young guy in with the veteran guys, you know he’s pretty good. I’ve just got make sure I get him before he gets off the line. He’s a quick kid. Obviously I’m not as quick as he is. He got my attention on the first couple. As a competitor, it’s in your nature to not lose so I kept on going.”
Tomlin’s assessment was that Shazier “did some nice things. He was allusive and played to his assets with his speed and his agility. But it’s day one.”
Of note Tomlin kept his new speed back Dri Archer out of the ‘Backs on Backers’ competition. As Tomlin said a few years ago when keeping diminutive Chris Rainey out of the same drill, “I’m not going to pull my boat with a Ferrari.”
Perhaps the most memorable play in team drills was a leaping sideline interception by linebacker Jason Worilds as he was dropping in pass coverage against Archer on a wheel route.
Tomlin joked afterwards that “it’s the first time Jason Worilds has caught a ball in any fashion out here in practice and in walk-through. I call him the defensive end from Blacksburg. I’m going to paint the ball and give it to him.”
Left guard Ramon Foster missed another day on practice as he continues to mourn a death in the family. Chris Hubbard again took first team left guard reps in his absence.
On defense, Will Allen continued to man Mike Mitchell’s presumed strong safety spot while the new pickup battles back from a groin injury. Tomlin did say that Mitchell had a good run session in the morning with training staff as he works back to health.
With Le’Veon Bell sitting out practice (as well as Alvester Alexander), it was also a day of increased reps for backup running backs Tauren Poole and Jordan Hall. Hall was also a standout in ‘Backs on Backers’, first for getting beat by Shazier but then for recovering to hammer Terrence Garvin in a stand-up collision. Tomlin’s response was to “Kick his [butt] again, Jordan!”
The Steelers will have their weekly off day on Tuesday July 28th and return to practice on Wednesday.
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