Steelers, Lions wrap up productive joint practices
LATROBE, Pa. (AP) The last thing the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions wanted from their two-day joint training camp practices was a fight.
Instead of inefficient, fight-filled workouts, the Steelers and Lions went through a pair of intense, yet productive practices, featuring only a few minor skirmishes on the second day, heading into their preseason opener Friday night at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
''It's just good to get some unfamiliar faces and some unfamiliar schemes to really test us,'' Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. ''The benefit of it is unbelievable.''
The Steelers previously hosted Buffalo at St. Vincent College in 2014, but it was the first joint training camp practice for the Lions since 2000 against Carolina.
''You get an even more realistic look, rather than waiting until the first preseason game,'' Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. ''The intensity of the practice, I think when you're working against someone you haven't worked against, it automatically takes it up.''
The practices didn't feature any live tackling between the two teams and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was excused from the first session Tuesday. He worked out on Wednesday.
There was a distinct AFC North flavor with former Baltimore defensive tackle Haloti Ngata now with the Lions. Wide receiver Marvin Jones and defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry, also with the Lions, were both members of the Cincinnati team the Steelers beat in a memorable AFC wild-card game in January.
''You try to work together to get better,'' Ngata said. ''You're not trying to come out here and be a big dog and try to finish guys. You just come out and get some productive work.''
Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown and Lions cornerback Darius Slay were two of the most productive during the first day of practice. Slay sat out Wednesday with a `medical situation' according to Caldwell.
The two battled head-to-head on Tuesday though, as Brown got the better of Slay two out of three times with deep-ball touchdowns during one-on-one drills. Brown had a rare end zone drop on another deep ball, but beat Slay again later in practice.
''The first (deep route) I expected for the crowd, but three in a row, I was like `oh my goodness, I'm already going to die here,'' Slay said. ''He said `I'm going deep all day Slay,' and I said `no, you cannot.' He tried to kill me, man.''
Brown, who caught 136 passes for 1,834 yards last season, set NFL records, becoming the first player in league history with 526 receptions in his first six years and the first to catch at least 125 passes in consecutive seasons.
Slay, the Lions' top cornerback, regularly lined up opposite the now-retired Calvin Johnson in practice. The former second-round pick came away impressed by the slippery 5-foot-10 Brown.
''It's different because I can get my hands on Calvin,'' said Slay, who recently signed a $50 million deal that runs through the 2020 season. ''I never seen that kind of guy in my division, who's shifty and makes big-time plays. He's one of the best in the business. It can only make me better.''
Quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions' offense also seek improvement after finishing 20th in the league last season. The group took a step Tuesday when Stafford connected with tight end Cole Wick in the corner of the end zone. Jones, who signed a five-year contract after setting career highs last season in Cincinnati, drew double coverage on the play, allowing Wick to break free.
''There's tons of work to be done between now and the season opener,'' Stafford said. ''That's what these days are for. It's fun to come out and get different looks that we don't see when we play our defense.''
NOTES: Roethlisberger, Brown, RB Le'Veon Bell, C Maurkice Pouncey, RB DeAngelo Williams, WR Markus Wheaton and first-round pick CB Artie Burns aren't expected to play Friday against the Lions.