PITTSBURGH -- The pads are on. That's right, Pittsburgh Steelers training camp is officially - real.
Day 1 of pads was just as exciting as you'd think. Fans were in the stands, backs on backers were going on, and yes, there were even some fights.
Overall, Steelers camp felt like it finally took off on Wednesday, and for the first time, it was clear who was standing out - and who wasn't.
While there's plenty of time to figure out who's making/missing this team, the first day of pads was more to see who's real. Playing football in shorts shows your IQ, but the NFL game gets fast when people are hitting. Not everyone adapts well.
Let's dig in...
Antoine Brooks Jr. Has Work to Do
Brooks is in line to be the Steelers' starting nickelback this season, but there's work that needs to be done before he's the next Mike Hilton.
While one-on-one cornerback vs. wide receiver drills aren't designed for the defense, he got beat multiple times. Coverage is still a skill he's improving on, while his ability to blitz seems to be something he's been working on - and showing confidence in.
Najee Harris vs. Marcus Allen Was More Exciting Than You'd Expect
The first backs-on-backers rep was Benny Snell Jr. vs. Robert Spillane. Spillane won with some ease. Snell bounced back, though, which was no surprise.
Najee Harris vs. Marcus Allen was the show to watch, though. And truthfully, it looked like Harris had some work to do in the beginning.
Allen came out strong with two wins back-to-back. The two got in each other's face after the second rep and things got a little heated. On the next rep, Harris one. Then they took a break.
When they faced off again, it went Allen, then Harris. Tensions were high.
Harris earned his stripes on the final battle, and the two hugged it out and went on. A good move for two teammates, and a good win for the rookie.
"His demeanor was telling," head coach Mike Tomlin said on Harris. "It was exciting that he had an appetite for that action."
Can Pat Freiermuth Block?
That question is still up for debate. While Freiermuth did show some blocking ability during backs-on-backers, he also lost his fair share of reps.
The tight end won two impressive goes with Alex Highsmith. Then, Highsmith came back later in the drill and beat Freiermuth win an impressive bull rush.
Mike Tomlin asks Freiermuth every time he catches a ball if he can block. I guess we'll wait and see.
Kallen Ballage Continues to Make a Case
Ballage bounced outside during team drills (that were not live) and found a hole for a pretty big gain. Whenever the defense isn't tackling to the ground, it's easy to say a runner made a good cut, but this isn't the first time Ballage has done so.
The NFL journeyman is fighting for a roster spot, and he's making a case. He stopped Buddy Johnson in backs-on-backers and then found himself in open field during a few runs.
Ballage is someone worth watching these next two weeks.
Jaylen Samuels Might Not Make The Roster
On the other hand, Samuels looks like he's given up. Maybe that's harsh, but until the energy is back from this fourth-year runner, he's a player that's on the outside looking in for this roster.
Samuels was beaten by Ulysees Gilbert III on backs-on-backers. Then, he virtually disappeared. Literally.
At one point, I was asked if Samuels was even playing today; that's how unnoticeable he was on Wednesday. It was the same during OTAs and minicamp.
Right now, he's just not someone who looks like he's making this team better.
Having Fans Back is Fun
Man, having fans back in the building was incredible. Walking into the seats and hearing the roar of fans was more bone-chilling than I remembered.
And that was just with 6,000.
Steelers Nation, get excited. If you haven't bought your tickets yet, do so. Football being played with fans is actual football - and there's nothing like it.
Interior Line - Okay. Backup Tackles - Not Okay.
The Steelers continue to wait for Zach Banner and Chuks Okorafor to return to the field. Meanwhile, they're working with Joe Haeg and Dan Moore Jr. at left and right tackle.
It's been rough.
The Steelers need Banner and Okorafor back, but they also need to find reliable backups. Haeg and Moore might be their only options, but they aren't starter-worthy.
Working with two players who are coming into training camp with injuries, that's concerning.
On the inside, Kendrick Green, Trai Turner and Rashaad Coward are playing well. Coward is earning himself a backup job. Green and Turner are creating hope that maybe this offensive line will be okay.
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