LATROBE, PA -- The Pittsburgh Steelers continued their work at Saint Vincent College, operating with two starting quarterbacks and adding Diontae Johnson to the mix after his contract extension.
The rain ended practice early, but players got plenty of work in. According to head coach Mike Tomlin, only 11 plays were missed, meaning there were a lot of notes grabbed before the thunder.
Trubisky’s Rocky Practice
Mitch Trubisky is still getting most of the first team reps at practice despite what coaches are calling a quarterback competition. The afternoon individual period saw Trubisky hit a pair of deep shots down the right sideline, the last of which to freshly extended Diontae Johnson as he beat Ahkello Witherspoon on a go route. He would hit George Pickens on a run route on the first play of seven shots for a score as the defense somehow lost the 6’4 receiver in the end zone.
Trubisky rolled out to his left to start the team period and he hit Zach Gentry in stride on an over route. From there, things seemed to go off the rails a little bit. There were three separate occasions where he had potential interceptions dropped by defensive backs. His final three throws of his seven on seven series resulted in three straight incompletions:
- Corner route to the back pylon but Kazee had Sternberger blanketed before he dropped an interception.
- Trubisky tried to find Austin a pivot route underneath but the throw was wide, causing Austin to try and dive for it. Pierre was in coverage as it fell incomplete.
- Trubisky tried to hit Snell on a choice route where he broke to the sideline towards open grass but he missed the throw by several feet to end the series. Poor series for the favorite to start week one as he was visibly upset as he walked off the field.
Rudolph's Steady While Pickett Ascends
Based on what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen through my time at camp, Mason Rudolph has been the most consistent in Latrobe. There aren’t any jaw-dropping throws that get you off your feet but he just seems to be in good command of the offense. He went 2/3 in seven shots with a pair of scores. Mostly everything is underneath but the ball is out on time and he’s been accurate hitting guys on the move.
Kenny Pickett had a strong day, albeit in limited reps. His first touchdown came in his lone rep during seven shots. He hit Cody White on a beautiful corner route towards the back right pylon. Pickett also had arguably the throw of the day which capped off his seven on seven series. He displayed excellent eye manipulation to hold Tre Norwood in the middle of the field before firing a dart to Boykin on a post route for the score. He’s not doing as much scrambling these past two days, a sign of more comfort in the pocket. It’s safe to say that he’s earning more reps based on his play.
Anthony McFarland Steals Show
McFarland was the star of Steelers camp. He was on fire from start to finish. In one on ones, McFarland beat both Myles Jack and Devin Bush on wheel routes down the field. He had several steps on both plays but both footballs were poorly thrown. The first was under thrown but he worked his way back to the football through contact to make a contested catch. The second was thrown inside and low but he made a splendid diving grab for a big gain.
The lone explosive play of the day was a jet sweep to McFarland who lined up in the slot. McFarland got to the edge and took off upfield with one man to beat. He made a nasty cut and juked Donovan Stiner to take it to the house for a 65-yard touchdown. McFarland is being used in creative ways and he’s stood out when given the chance. He’s still the favorite for RB3.
Big Decisions Loom at Wide Receiver
With Diontae Johnson back practicing and Chase Claypools return hopefully imminent, there will be less reps for the rest of the room. Deciding which five or six receivers to keep on the 53-man roster is surely to be a difficult task for the Steelers coaching staff. Johnson, Claypool, Pickens and Austin are the likely on locks.
Which leaves Miles Boykin, Anthony Miller and Gunner Olszewski battling for the final spot(s). Boykin is interesting because he has a supreme blend of size and speed while also bringing plenty of experience on special teams. Miller‘s been a difficult cover for just about anyone in drills as his route running has stood out both when working in the slot and on the boundary. Olszewski has the advantage of being a successful returner in the league and has been sure handed when targeted.
It’s noteworthy that Miller did get some work in as a gunner during the special teams period yesterday. It’ll be interesting to see if he has the chance to do that in the preseason matchups. This is as deep of a receiver room as the Steelers have had in several years.
Isaiahh Loudermilk and Genard Avery Make Noise Against the Run
Loudermilk made multiple plays in the backfield on Thursday, one during seven shots and one during the teams run session. The first of which occurred during seven shots, a toss left to Benny Snell. Loudermilk shot through the gap and made the stop short of the goal line.
He was also involved in the play where Jaylen Warren put the football on the ground. It was hard to see if he actually forced the fumble but he was active. Loudermilk’s a strong run defender and can carve out a role in that regard given the Steelers struggles last year in that regard.
Avery blew up a run to his side in the teams run sessions as he quickly disregarded the tight end (which was Jace Sternberger, I believe) to make a stop in the backfield. Avery has been noticeable through two days as he’s seen increased reps with T.J. Watt not participating in practice. He looks a lot more comfortable on the edge than he did inside with Philadelphia. Given Pittsburgh’s lack of depth there at the position, that’s certainly a good sign.
Jaylen Warren Had a Tough Day
As a running back, there’s few things that will get you in the doghouse quicker than putting the ball on the ground. Warren unfortunately did that twice on Thursday. The first of which was on a run that he bounced outside, Justin Layne came up and punched the ball out. He was immediately called over to the sideline after the play.
As the team switched sides on the field, Pickett tried to find Warren on a quick screen as he lined up outside. The ball was off the mark and inside making things a bit difficult but it was catchable prior to slipping through his hands. Warren’s impressed so far to the point that he received a couple first team reps on Thursday. However, the other backup running backs outperformed him on this day.
James Pierre Shines Bright in Cam Sutton’s Absence
Cam Sutton unfortunately left practice with a lower body injury. This gave James Pierre a chance to run with the first team defense the rest of the way and he didn’t disappoint. He had multiple pass breakups early, one on a fade ball to Miles Boykin. He had at least one more breakup in individual drills, as well.
Maybe more impressive was an impressive run fill on the edge. Coming off the practice before where he dropped an interception, Pierre’s got the inside track on the final cornerback spot. Still working as the starting gunner on the punt coverage unit, Pierre’s had some nice flashes on defense. It’s good to see that last years struggles haven’t carried over to camp in a negative manner.
Keep an Eye on the Inside Linebacker Competition
It really seems like Robert Spillane has a punchers chance at being one of the two starting inside backers for the Steelers defense this upcoming season. He's clearly the number three guy right now but he's still receiving some work with the ones. It's unclear whether or not he'll be able to officially surpass Devin Bush, that will likely be determined once preseason games begin to kick off. However, he's not going away quietly.
Another observation was that Myles Jack and Devin Bush had some struggles yesterday in coverage, mostly in one-on-ones with the backs and tight ends. To be fair, this is obviously a drill that the offense is designed to win the majority of the time given the defenders are being put on an island without help. However, both repeatedly gave up a ton of separation particularly to the running backs, Anthony McFarland and Benny Snell.
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