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Camp Blog: Week 1 recap

Sunday, July 25

Sutton is a starter ... somewhere: During the 2021 offseason, at the height of free agency, there was some sense within the Steelers organization that they already had signed the best cornerback on the market. Fast forward to the first few days of training camp at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, and the opinion about Cam Sutton hasn't changed.

The discussion with senior defensive assistant/secondary coach Teryl Austin began with a question about the health of second-year player Antoine Brooks Jr., who left Sunday's practice early. "I think the preliminary (assessment) is that he's going to be fine," said Austin. "Probably just got nicked up a little bit and (will) be back soon."

Brooks is a prime contender for the slot cornerback job, along with Arthur Maulet and some others, which makes his availability for practice worth watching. Austin mentioned the progress Brooks and Maulet have made since minicamp, and then Sutton was mentioned.

"We know Cam Sutton can always play in there," said Austin. "I don't doubt Cam, but that's not where we want Cam right now. I want to make sure we get those two guys (ready) and see if we can strengthen our team by having a guy in there."

Where the Steelers want Sutton is at outside cornerback opposite Joe Haden, and so the coaching staff is working with Brooks and Maulet right now – and Coach Mike Tomlin mentioned on Saturday that rookie Tre Norwood, currently playing safety, could get a turn moving into the slot – to find someone to make the slot cornerback position his own.

"I don't think there's a date in mind," said Austin about a possible deadline to make that decision. "I think it'll shake itself out. Those things usually do once you see them play a couple of preseason games and you see them in a competitive situation. One guy usually separates himself from the others. It'll work itself out. I'm not worried about it, and I'm not worried if it doesn't work out with either one of them and we have to move Cam back inside. I'm not worried about that. Cam can get himself ready for that with a week's worth of repetitions."

Justin Layne and James Pierre currently are listed on the depth chart as the backups to Haden and Sutton, respectively, and Austin didn't rule out the possibility that if one of those current backups plays better than any of the potential candidates for the slot cornerback spot …

"That scenario is always there, because we want to put our best guys on the field," said Austin. "Right now what we're working with is we know Cam can play nickel, but he's playing outside now as a starter. We don't know what we have inside at nickel, so we want to make sure of what we have there. And we know if James Pierre really has an outstanding camp, or if Justin Layne, who has been doing well, continues to do well – if those guys play lights out in the preseason – whoever the five best are, those are the guys we want on the field."

What doesn't seem to be a question is that Sutton will be among the "five best."

"Cam is an extremely, extremely bright person. A bright football player," said Austin. "He sees things that happen, and he's really good in terms of route recognition. He's another guy who has been steadily improving since I got here, and I've had a chance to be with him for a couple of years. You can really see the improvement. He's going to be fine outside. He has great ball skills, a solid tackler, good quickness, great awareness, so he's got the things you need to be able to play corner."

Blog entry by Bob Labriola

Tomlin on Troy: General Manager Kevin Colbert was there to make the trade up in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft to pick him, and Bill Cowher was the coach when he began the transformation from an inexperienced rookie to dynamic playmaker.

But in terms of time spent together, Coach Mike Tomlin's relationship with Troy Polamalu spanned eight seasons while Cowher's lasted half that long. With Polamalu set to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame – along with Cowher – as part of the Class of 2020 on Saturday, Aug. 7, Tomlin was asked following Sunday's training camp practice at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex how he might sum up Polamalu's career.

"Spectacular. Gold jacket worthy," said Tomlin. "It makes you smile because you think back to stories, and you get an opportunity to share some of those stories with the guys who play here now. And I think that's what you think about when you think about those guys who are going to be honored in Canton. Just the great standard-bearers that they are, not only in terms of their play but also what it means to be a Steeler, the way they embraced that and represented us in this community, the way they played the game, the way they lived their lives. I think Troy exemplifies all of that."

Tomlin didn't offer any particular stories about Polamalu, but if he had he could have started with the one where Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco lost track of Polamalu, according to Flacco's teammate Ray Lewis, in the fourth quarter of the 2008 AFC Championship Game and then threw a pass that turned into the pick-six that clinched a berth in Super Bowl XLIII for the Steelers.

Asked next about his relationship with Polamalu off the field, Tomlin said, "Very natural. He is a deep guy, but also a very warm and welcoming guy. We had good talks about football and about life. Like a lot of these relationships, it was very normal."

During the 2019 season, the Steelers made an in-season trade to acquire Minkah Fitzpatrick, who has shown an innate knack for finding the football that already has resulted in nine interceptions, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, 20 passes defensed, and two defensive touchdowns in fewer than two full NFL regular seasons.

Is Fitzpatrick a potential Polamalu?

"I don't want to put that on Minkah," said Tomlin. "I'm not even starting that discussion. Minkah is a really good, emerging player. His resume reads that way. But I'm not getting into that."

- Blog entry by Bob Labriola

Next Man Up: Veteran Trai Turner's first media session as a Steelers' offensive lineman included an acknowledgement of the franchise's history at the guard position.

Turner, an eighth-year pro, has been listed on the first depth chart of training camp as the starting right guard, the position that used to be occupied by David DeCastro.

"I just look at it like there's always a new era at different times in different places," Turner maintained. "Everything has an expiration date at some point.

"DeCastro's a great player, not to necessarily say I'm replacing him. I'm just the new right guard."

Turner's a product of LSU, so he has that in common with Steelers Hall-of-Fame guard Alan Faneca.

"That's a living legend," Turner said of Faneca. "I have noting but a ton of respect for Mr. Faneca. I admire his game. I've been knowing about him since I got to LSU in 2011.

"Hopefully, he can come to a couple games and I can just make him proud."

Turner, a Pro Bowler for five consecutive seasons with Carolina from 2015 through 2019, emphasized he won't be trying to emulate DeCastro, Faneca or anyone else once he starts playing games for the Steelers.

"I'm gonna be the best Trai Turner I can be," he said. "I've been that since I was born on June 14, 1993, that'll never change. I'm not trying to emulate or be somebody else, I'm not taking the place of nobody else and I'm not replacing anything.

"I'm coming in and I'm setting the tone for who I am and what I do."

- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta

The more the merrier: Count Alex Highsmith, who's penciled in at Bud Dupree's old outside linebacker spot opposite T.J. Watt, among the Steelers excited about the signing of veteran outside linebacker Melvin Ingram III.

"It was awesome," Highsmith said. "So far Melvin has been great for us here. He's been a guy that I've been able to ask questions and be able to learn from. He's a veteran, Pro Bowl guy. All of us were excited whenever we brought him in. He's going to be a great addition to our D-line and our outside 'backer room.

"I'm really excited for the pass rush we're gonna have this year. He's been great so far, works hard. He has a lot of knowledge. I'm excited to just continue to work with him."

Watt starts at left outside linebacker.

Highsmith, as Ingram had on Saturday, expressed no expectations regarding who will start on the other side and who will sub in as the third member of an outside linebacker rotation that has yet to be defined.

"I just know it's gonna be a good one," Highsmith said. "All three of us, I think, are definitely going to be a force to be reckoned with. I'm excited to work with him and T.J. this year, it's gonna be awesome.

"I'm just gonna go in and whatever role I play, that's what I play. I'm gonna have that starter mindset, of course. But whatever role that I have, that's the role I want to play. My role is to be the best player I can be for this team."

- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta

Take a look at the Steelers training and preparing for the 2021 season at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex

Saturday, July 24

Getting easier in Year 2: For Chase Claypool, Year 2 in the NFL is already off to a good start, with the young receiver feeling more comfortable than he did a season ago.

"Just like my college years, I always progress," said Claypool after practice on Saturday. "Things got easier for me in college and things are getting easier for me in the NFL. I know what to expect. And I know how to prepare now."

Among those things that are getting easier are just the ins and outs of the offense, and how defenses come at him.

"Recognizing coverages, knowing your plays, knowing how to run a route, releases," said Claypool. "I've always done route running and releases. That's kind of the two things that I've focused on. The game slows down."

Claypool made a splash his rookie season, stepping up big for the offense with 62 receptions for 873 yards, a 14.1-yard average, and nine receiving touchdowns, while adding 10 carries for 16 yards and two rushing touchdowns.

He opened plenty of eyes, especially in Week 4 when he scored four touchdowns in the Steelers 38-29 win over the Philadelphia Eagles at Heinz Field and was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week. Claypool had seven receptions for 110 yards, three of those seven catches were touchdowns, and also rushed for a two-yard score.

Claypool became the first rookie in team history to score four touchdowns in a game, and only the third player in team history to do so, the last one when Roy Jefferson caught four touchdown passes against Atlanta on Nov. 3, 1968, while also becoming only the third player in team history to score 24 points in a game. Claypool also became the first Steelers rookie with a receiving and rushing touchdown in the same game since Franco Harris did it at Buffalo in 1972.

And now in Year 2, he has more confidence that can do nothing but help him.

"Just confidence, don't let anything get into my head," said Claypool. "Always have the same routine, preparing for each game, confidence."

Good competition: Another day, another stamp of approval from Coach Mike Tomlin on what he saw from his team on the field on Saturday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

"Good competition," said Tomlin. "It looked like less errors on both sides of the ball. And that's reasonable to expect.

"We're not doing a lot of different things really. This is the third day in a row of some of the things that we've done so you expect execution to be improving over the course of that and it was today. We'll roll the ball out tomorrow and see what see what that day holds."

Center of attention: The Steelers found themselves thin at center at practice with Kendrick Green excused for a personal matter and J.C. Hassenauer and B.J. Finney both leaving practice with injuries Tomlin deemed as not significant.

"Had some challenges that the journey presents from time to time," said Tomlin following practice. "We ran into a little pain at the offensive line. Kendrick Green, I gave a day off for a personal matter. He'll be back tomorrow. But also, within that, and that's usually the case, we had a few guys go down that will be evaluated. Don't know the nature of those injuries, don't expect it to be significant. B.J. Finney left under his own power. J.C. (Hassenauer) did as well. So, it created some challenges for those that remain.

"But that's the nature of this thing. It kind of exemplifies the battles, and the challenges that the season provides us. So just a small sample size of that. I thought the offensive line largely did a nice job of adjusting and allowing us to finish the work and just really appreciative of that."

The team released the first depth chart of the preseason shortly after practice ended, with Hassenauer currently listed as the starter, followed by Green and Finney. So they went to the bullpen.

"We've always got little projects going on the side," said Tomlin. "We've got guys prepared to play. If you're not working four or five snappers, you're less than professional."

Running the drill: One of the most entertaining things on a daily basis at camp is watching the drills running backs coach Eddie Faulkner takes his unit through. On Saturday that included using a football that made beeping sounds.

"It's just a ball security piece of equipment," said Tomlin. "We've got a bunch of equipment out here that helps us make key points relative to fundamentals. We got water balls that are heavier than normal balls. We got balls like you mentioned that highlight pressure points. It's the use of technology in an effort to teach."

Getting feisty: Tomlin was asked after practice about a few skirmishes in practice, one with rookie tackle Dan Moore Jr. and Cam Heyward, and the other with Moore Jr. and Isaiah Buggs.

"We work our tails off to compete, but keep it professional," said Tomlin. "We acknowledge sometimes tempers are going to flare and those things are going happen. We're here to put together a rough and tumble football group, not an MMA squad, so we're not coaching that."

He said it: Tomlin on linebacker Robert Spillane, who had a nice interception in practice:

"Rob is a guy that ascended over the course of last year and had an opportunity to make some plays for us," said Tomlin. "Hopefully that's a springboard for him to continue to do some of the things that you saw him do today and beyond. Like his attitude. He came ready to go."

Take a look at the Steelers training and preparing for the 2021 season at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex

Welcome to Pittsburgh: Outside linebacker Melvin Ingram III's introduction to the Pittsburgh media sent a direct and emphatic message about how happy the free agent addition is to have signed on with the Steelers.

"It's just great to be playing with all these guys, like a kid in a candy store," Ingram maintained.

There was a shoot-from-the-hip, look-the-questioner-in-the-eye vibe throughout the session.

Other subjects addressed by Ingram following Saturday's practice included:

-How the Steelers envision he'll fit in with T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith at outside linebacker: "We never really discussed roles. We talked about coming in and working hard and letting everything take care of itself."

-Whether he's regained his signature burst and bend after knee issues contributed to his playing in just seven games and recording zero sacks with the Chargers last season: "For sure, I knew I had that before I came here. That's why I shut it down last year, to let my knee heal. I'm back to being me."

-Why he wanted a one-year contract after spending nine seasons with the Chargers: "I want to come back and show people I'm still me. I understand it's a business."

-And, where he prefers to line up and from where he likes to rush: "Everywhere, I like to go everywhere. As long as I'm on the field, boss." 

-- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta

Spotlight on QBs: Day 3 of training camp afforded an opportunity for Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins and Josh Dobbs to play more prominent roles as Ben Roethlisberger took on the role of observer.

"Ben's had this schedule, from my understanding, seven or eight years," offensive coordinator Matt Canada said of the full-go, half-go, no-go three-day routine that has become commonplace for Roethlisberger in training camps in recent seasons. "This schedule allows for Mason to get reps with the No. 1s, for Dwayne to go with the No. 2s, Josh and Dwayne the No. 2s and No. 3s. The more reps the better.

"This is the schedule Ben's had for a long time and been very productive with."

Canada was asked about Rudolph and Haskins, in particular.

"Mason's working hard," Canada said. "Obviously, he has a real high expectation of himself and I think, like everybody, three days in, good days and bad days, good plays and bad plays. But we're happy with where Mason's at, gotta keep getting better."

As for Haskins, "We're happy with where Dwayne's at as far as the way he's working," Canada said. "I think he's come in and really worked very hard to learn our system, spent a lot of time studying what we do, how we do it, what Ben's done.

"(Haskins is) doing everything he can. His work ethic, his time in the office has been awesome, so really happy with where he's at. Gotta keep getting better, like we all do."

Canada also emerged impressed with veteran guard Trai Turner's reaction to a missed assignment during today's practice, and with Turner.

"He had a mistake today that I didn't see on the side as we worked," Canada explained. "He came up and knew what it was and said it right away.

"Obviously, a veteran like him who has played as well as he has, I think we're very fortunate to have him and really like where he's at. He's worked really hard to not have those mistakes and to be as efficient as he's been for three days is really a real positive for us and him, big fan of his."

-- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta

Friday, July 23

Tomlin on Day 2: It doesn't become real football until the pads go on, and the pads don't go on for another five days. After Friday's practice at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, the second of this training camp's acclimation period, defensive coordinator Keith Butler made the point a couple of different times in a couple of different ways that real evaluations and the decisions that can result from those evaluations cannot begin until the players begin practicing in pads.

On a different patch of grass in front of a different group of media, Coach Mike Tomlin didn't disagree, but he did explain what can be happening to prepare the players for those practices in pads.

"Another good day for us," said Tomlin following a nearly two-hour session under cloudless skies. "All of these are good days anytime when we get an opportunity to come together and lay down some foundational things and teach and learn and go through this process that is team development. I appreciate the energy and attention to detail. We're far from perfect at this juncture, but that is what these days are for. We're chipping away at it. I like the attitude. I like the communication, and that's something we're really stressing at this point. Communication shows that you understand, and it helps those who don't.

"We've been working in those areas. I like the efforts we have gotten along those lines. Guys have made some plays, and guys have missed some plays. That's just part of this process. We'll just keep rolling that ball out, and we'll gain clarity as we continue to do that."

Preseason prep is already starting: With the Steelers set to open their preseason less than two weeks from now vs. Dallas in the Hall of Fame Game, Tomlin explained how the proximity of that game will impact the division of labor between now and then.

"We want to see more of the other guys. Some of these guys we know a lot about, and some of those guys we know a lot about might not play in the Hall of Fame Game," said Tomlin. "So, we've got to get to know some others. We've got to prepare some others. Just the nature of how this preseason is constructed now with today's guidelines, we don't have a lot of time before we're going to be in a stadium. So, those guys we're preparing to play (against the Cowboys) in Canton, we want to see more of than maybe some of those guys we don't intend to (play)."

For the last several summers, Ben Roethlisberger has not played in the preseason opener, and Tomlin talked about how that was related to the light workload his starting quarterback got on Friday.

"(Dwayne Haskins) is one of the guys who gets additional reps when you dial Ben back. Today was the first day we dialed Ben back, so Haskins got more exposure," said Tomlin. "We'll take a look at the tape, and he'll learn from it and continue to move forward. I like his approach to business. It's been really positive."

Playing OL together as a group: Even though it was just the second day of practice, and in shorts and helmets at that, the offensive line is and will continue to be a focus this summer. Tomlin was asked whether he believed it was important to settle on a group of five and then work them together in order to build the type of cohesion that particular unit needs to be successful.

"We've got a lot of time, particularly relative to those we compete against," said Tomlin. "Most people have three preseason games. We have four. That's not something that's a big concern on our radar right now. We'll appreciate the additional time we have, and we'll utilize it."

A revolving door at slot CB: With Mike Hilton having departed during free agency, the Steelers have a hole to fill at the position he used to man. Tomlin warned not to jump to any conclusions about which guys happen to get the first looks for that job.

"Right now, we're working Art (Maulet) and (Antoine) Brooks there. But there will be times when you'll see other guys, but right now we're focused on those two," said Tomlin. "Right now, we're working (rookie) Tre Norwood at safety. He could be a guy who could roll down and play in there. He did that in college, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Right now, we don't want to give too many people too many things to focus on. We're keeping them locked down and letting them work there for a couple of days. We'll have a meeting of the minds and then determine who'll work (the slot) for the next couple of days

What he's seeing from the rookies: At the close of minicamp back in June, the message Tomlin delivered to the players was to utilize the time between then and the start of training camp to get themselves into top condition. Being in top condition typically allows players to stay away from the kind of soft tissue injuries that can prevent a guy from practicing on a regular basis. And then missing practice slows the development.

When asked what he has seen from the rookies in this small sample of training camp, Tomlin said, "Probably not a lot to speak of. I appreciate their level of conditioning, I will say that. In a short period of time, it looks like a lot of these guys have come prepared to work, and that's a great place to begin."

It's not always complicated: Tomlin on the rotation at running back: "We're not micromanaging it at this juncture. We're rolling those guys through. Najee (Harris) is getting a lot of work and getting a lot of work with the first group, because that's where we (drafted) him."

Tomlin's injury update: "No injuries to speak of. With some guys, we're just exercising precaution, and Chuks (Okorafor) is one of them. But nothing of any significance that would result in any significant time missed."

Blog entry by Bob Labriola

Support for Stephon: Defensive end Stephon Tuitt is among the handful of Steelers easing their way into training camp for a variety of reasons.

His teammates and coaches have his back as Tuitt continues to work his way through a personal tragedy.

"I think for us, we just want to make sure we keep him around," defensive tackle Cam Heyward explained. "It's not easy losing a loved one, especially the way it happened."

Tuitt's younger brother, Richard Bartlett III, was killed in a hit-and-run accident in early June in Georgia.

Defensive coordinator Keith Butler also expressed heartfelt support for Tuitt and what he's dealing with following today's practice.

"I feel bad for him in terms of what happened to his mother and him, that's horrible," Butler said.

"My brother died four years ago and it's always tough to lose a member of your family. Stephon handled it probably like I'd handle it, very tough, very hard. He's's gotta take care of his mom, I mean, she lost a son."

Butler said Tuitt has done "everything we've asked him to do" over the first two days of camp.

"Can he go out there and can he play right now? I don't know," Butler added. "We'll have to wait and see.

"I'm not worried about him. I think he'll be OK. When the time comes to play, he'll be ready to play. He's handled it mentally. He wants to play ball. He's getting along well with his teammates. He's a good teammate, always has been a good teammate.

"I think he'll be OK."

Added Heyward: "Tuitt's just getting back up to speed. Everybody's moving at their own pace but we understand it's been a bit of a grieving process. We just want to make sure we take him under our wing.

"He's getting better but that's not something that happens overnight and something that ever goes away. It's up to us to just be there for him, be someone he can talk to.

"As a teammate, as a D-Linemate, I think Tuitt's one of my real good friends on the team. I look at it as, I gotta take him under my wing and make sure he's doing OK."

Blog entry by Mike Prisuta

Take a look at the Steelers training and preparing for the 2021 season at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex

Sorting it out: Among the other subjects addressed by Butler was the importance of performing in pads when it comes to deciding who makes the team and who gets to see the field upon doing so.

"I'm a guy that likes to see people hit," Butler said. "If they're not gonna hit, they're gonna play for someone else."

Rivalry not forgotten: Heyward, an Ohio State Buckeye, had some fun when asked if inside linebacker Devin Bush, a Michigan man, appears to be back up to speed after suffering a season-ending knee injury last October.

"It's been a while, so I don't know," Heyward said with a laugh.

The follow-up question to Heyward was, you remember him in college, right?

"No, I didn't play against that guy."

But did Heyward watch Bush play in college?

"We beat him all the time, so I don't remember that."

Taking the next step: Linebacker T.J. Watt kicked off his fifth NFL season with training camp this week, a season where he wants to take the next step in his career. That includes doing his part as a leader in the locker room and on the field.

"I think every year I am trying to take that next step, whether it's on the field or off the field as a leader," said Watt. "Every single guy in this locker room better have that same attitude. We've got plenty of guys that can step up and we're always talking about having that next man up mentality. And when you talk about next man up mentality and having a full offseason to prepare for those slots. It just means there's going to be a lot of competition in camp and that's what makes things exciting."

Watt is coming off the best season of his career, leading the NFL in sacks with a career-high 15, quarterback hits with 41 and tackles for a loss with 23, while adding 53 tackles, 43 of them solo stops, seven pass defenses, two forced fumbles and an interception. He was voted Steelers team MVP, was selected first-team Associated Press All-Pro, elected to the Pro Bowl, was voted 101 Awards AFC Defensive Player of the Year and won the Deacon Jones Award. 

But there is more to come.

"I just want to continue to practice and get better each and every day," said Watt. "There's so much meat left on the bone and knowing there's a lot of reps and a lot of situations that I wish I could've got back and performed better. Just trying to put the work in day in and day out and hope it pays off."

Watt was in the running for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, but came up just short, something that is behind him now.

"Winning the Super Bowl is all that really matters in the grand scheme of things," said Watt. "I love football and I still love it. I am trying to get better each and every day. There are so many aspects of my game that need work and to have guys like Melvin (Ingram III) and new guys that come in and I can continue to learn from them and improve my game so that's what I'm most excited about this season."

Thursday, July 22

Welcome aboard: The Steelers got their first look at linebacker Melvin Ingram III during the team's first training camp practice on Thursday, and they already like what they see from the veteran pass rusher.

Ingram, who signed with the Steelers on July 20, spent his entire nine-year career with the Los Angeles Chargers and played with fullback Derek Watt while there.

"I am excited," said linebacker T.J. Watt. "I worked with him during the Pro Bowl and I used to watch Chargers games when Derek was playing in San Diego and Los Angeles. He's just a player that has a lot of burst off the line of scrimmage. He's got a phenomenal spin move and just seeing him in person, he is a colorful guy and I am excited to work with him."
Ingram, a two-time Pro Bowl selection (2017 and 2018 seasons), has 49 career sacks, including career highs of 10.5 in 2015 and 2017.

He started 96 of the 113 games he has played in and recorded 326 tackles, including 231 solo stops, 29 pass defenses, 13 forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and three interceptions.

"I watched him a lot," said Watt. "I was able to watch a lot of their games. He's one of the premier rushers in the league and I've watched a lot of his film and we connected at the Pro Bowl two or three years ago. He's a great guy and a great player. I am excited to have him here.

"I am excited to have more depth, have a guy like Melvin in our rotation, in our room. A guy that I've watched a lot of over the years. A guy that I can learn a lot from too. Excited to have more depth, excited for our team."