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Camp Blog: Continually improving

Thursday, August 18

Continually improving: Since arriving at Saint Vincent College, rookie tight end Connor Heyward has seen growth. It's something that comes naturally for every rookie in their first NFL training camp, and he notices it.

"I would say from a conditioning standpoint I have gotten in better condition with all of the special teams, all of the offense, going from each team period to the next," said Heyward. "My conditioning overall is better. Coach (Mike) Tomlin always talks about us being used on offense and defense in college, but I played special teams in college. The game is so much faster now, so you always have to be ready to go 100%."

The Steelers hold their final public practice of training camp on Thursday, before heading to Jacksonville for the team's second preseason game. It's a camp that has been beneficial for Heyward in more ways than one.

"Each day I continue to get better, mentally and physically," said Heyward. "Just being able to go out there and work and push myself. A lot of it was getting the details down. I knew what to do, but still trying to perfect that every day. Coach Fredo (tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts) and the tight ends have done a good job.

"I love working with Pat (Freiermuth), Zach (Gentry) and the other guys. Fredo is a really good coach. He understands us. He understands how to have fun. But we are here for our job and at the end of the day it's business. We all know that.

"Our tight end room is really strong. Everybody has a really good relationship. We don't care who is out there, we just want that guy to make the play. Whether it's a block, catch, little things. Every play we want to do our job."

Standing out: Receiver Steven Sims finds himself in a crowded receivers room, but he is definitely doing his part to stand out.

Sims has spent time with Buffalo and Washington, before landing on the Steelers practice squad last season. In two seasons in Washington, he had 61 receptions for 575 yards and a total of seven touchdowns. He also added to Washington's special teams, one of his touchdowns coming on a kickoff return.

Now he is battling for a spot on the 53-man roster, something he knows will only come with hard work.

"I just have to keep working," said Sims. "Every day keep working, stack days and let everything else handle itself. Control what I can control, and I think I will be alright.

"I just have to continue to make plays when the ball comes to me. Continue to block. Do whatever (special teams coordinator) Danny (Smith) asks me to do."

While the competition is strong in the receiver room, the one thing it is doing is bringing out the best in everyone, including Sims.

"It's a tough room," said Sims. "A lot of good guys in the room. We bring the best out of each other. We push each other. We all compete. We know we are all competing, but it's fun. we are still working hard, helping each other be better."

Sims will have another shot to show he is working to win one of the coveted spots on Saturday night in Jacksonville when the Steelers take on the Jaguars, and he knows what is expected.

"(I have to show) my capability with the ball in my hands," said Sims. "That I can make plays with the ball in my hands and try to be better without the ball.

"I have to keep going. I just have to continue to do what I am doing."

Leading the way: Second-year back Najee Harris showed last year what type of leader he can be on the field, carrying the load for the ground game.

Harris was named to the Pro Bowl after finishing the regular season with 1,667 yards from scrimmage, which included 1,200 yards rushing and 467 yards receiving. Harris, who led all rookies in yards from scrimmage, was second in the NFL among rookies with 10 touchdowns, which includes seven rushing and three receiving.

He is taking it to another level this year, though.

Harris has become more of a leader on the offense, not just by his play and non-stop on-field work ethic, but what he does away from the field as well, a role he continues to grow into.

"Najee is a heck of a dude," said Cameron Heyward. "The great thing is he is a great football player first. Every guy believes he can be that leader because he leads by example. I just try and tell him to be more vocal. Don't be afraid to challenge guys. It's one thing to be liked, it's another to be respected.

"He is vocal and loves to have fun, but it comes down to understanding what the offense needs. If they need a kick in the butt, sometimes you have to give it to them. Patting guys on the back, making sure they know we are doing a great job. Make sure the momentum builds the right way.

"The sky is the limit with Najee. He can be the best leader here because he carries himself well on and off the field."

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Wednesday, August 17

Open arms: After signing with the Steelers in late June, and missing all of the offseason program, defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi is feeling right at home with his new teammates.

Ogunjobi, who is familiar with the Steelers after spending his entire career in the AFC North (Cleveland 2017-20 and Cincinnati in 2021), felt the brotherhood from the time he arrived at Saint Vincent College for training camp, and it's continued to grow.

"They have welcomed me with open arms," said Ogunjobi. "I am really excited to be welcomed into the fold. For me personally, getting to know the guys and then playing with them on the field, everything is cohesive now."

Ogunjobi has played in 76 games in his first five seasons in the league, registering 229 tackles, 21.5 sacks, one pass defensed and two forced fumbles.

He has seen one side of the rivalry the Steelers have with the other AFC North teams and now he is loving what he sees from the Steelers side of things.

"Playing against them you understand why they have been so good for a long time," said Ogunjobi. "Coach (Mike) Tomlin does an amazing job of just rallying the guys. Making them understand all the aspects of football and I think that is very important.

"You see it when you are not a part of it, but when you are a part of it, you see why you come to Latrobe, you see the camaraderie, the team building, and just what is asked of you. It all makes sense." 

While he missed some practice time early in camp, he is now a full go and said he learned a lot watching, observing and now being knee deep into it.

"The first couple of weeks when I got here, I wasn't able to practice yet," said Ogunjobi. "Watching the environment, how you practice, how you perform, being comfortable with competing. I think that is the biggest. We are all brothers at the end of the day, but when we are on the field we are competing and trying to be the best. That is the energy (Coach) wants us to bring every day."

Ogunjobi has an obvious passion for how Tomlin runs things, the approach he takes, and he has bought into it 100 percent.

"Anytime you are given an opportunity by a team like this, a franchise like this, you have a responsibility," said Ogunjobi. "(Coach) talks about it every day. You have to pay your dues to the people that came before you. I have been watching the Steelers since I was a kid, so I know the level of intensity, the level of respect you have to put in to make this thing work. As a player, as a person, I pride myself on my work ethic and my consistency in trying to be great and every day I am going to bring that intensity and work ethic."

Booming it: It's not often that the punting game is a highlight of training camp practice, but that was the case on Tuesday when Pressley Harvin III was booming punts, with six going 60 yards or more.

"It was a good day, it felt good," said Harvin. "I got back to where I need to be. It felt really good.

"I was trying to put a lot of hard work in this offseason. Put myself in a position to let muscle memory take over when I need it to. The hard work is starting to show. I have to continue to get better. Continue to keep progressing.

"That is the biggest thing about punting, to make sure you have the muscle memory built in so you don't have to think when you are out there on the field to make it easier on yourself. That is all punting is at this point. Be repetitious, be consistent, have the same ball every single time, put it in the place it needs to go, get the job done."

Harvin's punts resulted in plenty of cheers from the crowd, but more than that it satisfied himself and his teammates.

"I am showing myself more than anybody else that you can get through what you need to get through in life and just keep going, make it positive," said Harvin. "That is what motivates me.

"It's always good to have the fans engaged. I want the team to know I am putting them in their best position. When you have a good play like that, you know you did a good job for the defense. I am out here to set the defense up."

It's a hit: The Steelers held their annual Home Run Derby on Tuesday night at Saint Vincent College, something that has been put on hold the last few years because of the pandemic and other circumstances.

It was a full slate of players taking part, some showing off their skills better than others, while teammates gathered on the hillside outside their dorm to watch.

The early leader was receiver Tyler Snead, who took the barefoot approach at bat.

But it would be the quarterbacks who literally stepped to the plate in the end, with the final coming down to Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett.

While Trubisky wanted to win the custom trophy bat badly, it was Pickett who put it out of the Saint Vincent College field the most, taking home the hardware.

Tune in: Steelers Nation, NFL+ is here, which means you can now watch your Steelers live and on the go! Watch live out-of-market preseason games across devices and live local and primetime regular season games on your phone or tablet. Start your free trial today here.

Take a look at the Steelers training and preparing for the 2022 season at Saint Vincent College

Tuesday, August 16

Gap sound: After watching film of the Steelers win over the Seattle Seahawks, Coach Mike Tomlin came away wanting more from his players on both sides of the ball, with gap integrity a point of emphasis for the defense.

"We have to have better gap integrity, but we talked about that after the game," said Tomlin. "We won't grade on the curve based on who's available or who's playing. The 11 on the field represent us, the standards that we live by, and we weren't strong enough particularly against the run. We didn't tee up our situational ball well enough because we were weak against the run at times in game."

Cameron Heyward, who was among the starters who didn't play against Seattle, agreed with his coach's assessment.

"That is what it comes down to, gap integrity, one-on-one blocks and getting multiple guys running to the ball," said Heyward. "To do that you have to communicate and line up right."

The defense is working with a new staff of sorts this season, with Teryl Austin in his first season as defensive coordinator, although he has been a staple on the defensive coaching staff since 2019. He took over for Keith Butler, who retired in the offseason.

"I think they are very positive coaches, very detailed oriented," said Heyward of comparing the two. "As much as TA has come in, we are still taking some of the things Butts has installed over the years and just trying to improve on it. Trying to make sure everybody has the same amount of communication. Everybody understands what we are doing. We are just trying to clean up stuff from last year."


Taking a step inside: The inside linebacker spot is one where the competition has been spirited during training camp, with Myles Jack listed as the starter at right inside linebacker and Devin Bush and Robert Spillane both listed as the starter at left inside linebacker on a depth chart Coach Mike Tomlin said was done because it's 'mandatory.'

Regardless of how he is listed, Bush is attacking camp with everything he has, not bothered any longer by the ACL injury he dealt with in 2020.

"I am out here working," said Bush. "I have been working since the season ended last year.

"(The injury) is behind me now. Now it's getting accustomed to the new defensive coordinator we've got. Brian Flores (senior defensive assistant/linebackers) is in. He has some new ideas. It's more adjusting to them and being able to understand them.

"(Brian) has been doing a good job. He breaks things down. He has those football conversations. His experience being a head coach and being on both sides of the ball, he gives you perspective on offensive mentality. That is one of the good things he brings to the table."

And what Bush is hoping to do is bring more to the table himself. He said one of the main things he needs right now is 'more reps, more experience' as they prepare for the regular season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 11, but so far likes what they have done as a unit.

"I think we got some good things on tape," said Bush. "A lot of things to build off of. We have a lot of things to learn from. I think it was a good thing for us to get out there and put it to the test.

"(Communication) has been good. We have been trying some things. We have some new things we are trying. I just need to get more reps."

While he wants more reps, he also said the rotation at inside linebacker has its benefits.

"It's keeping me fresh," said Bush. "It's keeping me well rested to get to the first game. It's giving me that time to recover well. All of us getting that experience will help the team out in the long run."

Good decisions: Quarterback Kenny Pickett had a strong outing in his Steelers debut, completing 13 of 15 passes for 95 yards, two touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 132.6.

While overall the team's No. 1 pick liked what he did, he knows there are some things he wants to improve on.

"I was happy with the decisions I made," said Pickett. "I thought I played fast. I got the ball out of my hand. Some ball placement things I wish I had back, but it's a good first game to build off."

Pickett isn't sure yet what his playing time will be like this week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but knows whatever amount of playing time he gets, one thing will remain the same.

"I am just hoping to go out there and put points on the board and move the offense," said Pickett.

Moves made: The Steelers made multiple roster moves on Tuesday, including claiming center Ryan McCollum off waivers from Detroit and waiving center Nate Gilliam following practice.

Earlier in the day the team signed guard William Dunkle.

Dunkle originally signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted rookie free agent in May, but was released by them in mid-June.

Dunkle played college football at San Diego State (2018-21) where he started at right guard in 30 of his 32 games played. In 2021 he earned All-America honors from the Associated Press, Phil Steele, Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Network.

In addition, with all teams required to reduce their roster to 85 players by 4 p.m., the team placed safety Karl Joseph and receiver Anthony Miller on the Reserve/Injured List.

The team also waived four players, including defensive tackle Doug Costin, offensive tackle Jake Dixon, punter Cameron Nizialek and center Chris Owens.

The next roster move is to 80 players by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 23. Teams will have to cut their rosters to 53 players by Tuesday, Aug. 30.

Tune in: Steelers Nation, NFL+ is here, which means you can now watch your Steelers live and on the go! Watch live out-of-market preseason games across devices and live local and primetime regular season games on your phone or tablet. Start your free trial today here.

Take a closer look at scenes from the Steelers' Preseason Week 1 game against the Seattle Seahawks

Final week at SVC: The Steelers are embarking on their final week of training camp at Saint Vincent College.

Practice is scheduled for Tuesday-Thursday, with each practice scheduled to begin at 1:55 p.m.

Over the past week, Mother Nature has had an impact on the practice schedule, so please be sure to check, the team's official mobile app, as well as the team's social media @steelers for practice updates.

Monday, August 15

Looking to improve: Following the Steelers preseason win over the Seattle Seahawks at Acrisure Stadium on Saturday night, Coach Mike Tomlin was asked about the performance of the offense line, one infused with new faces this year.

Tomlin's first reaction was they have to be better in pass protection, keeping the quarterback upright more.

"We've got to keep them cleaner. We're capable of that," said Tomlin. "They brought some pressures and that was good. We had an opportunity to see some pressures and have our protection from an assignment standpoint be tested, but I'd like to see our quarterbacks cleaner than they were.

"But we made some plays, particularly at that position with our legs and so forth, and I'm appreciative of that, also. Some of those things were able to be revealed because of it."

With that comment has come a focus on pass protection this week at training camp from the offensive line, something that is kicking right into high gear.

"We have to do better," said left tackle Dan Moore Jr. "Not make the mental errors. We have to do better communicating and following up with technique. Trusting our technique and then just executing and keeping our quarterbacks off the ground."

The starting five against Seattle were Moore at left tackle, Kendrick Green at left guard, Mason Cole at center, James Daniels at right guard and Chukwuma Okorafor at right tackle. It was the first game the unit worked together after both Cole and Daniels signed this offseason as unrestricted free agents, and they all know there is work to still do.

"Keeping our quarterbacks off the ground, not getting our quarterbacks hit," said Moore. "There was a lot in the first quarter. We want to make that a point of emphasis moving forward."

Feeling more comfortable: Kendrick Green is currently in a competition with Kevin Dotson for the starting left guard job, and with Dotson out injured, Green got the start against the Seahawks.

Green made the switch from starting at center last year to guard this season, a switch he said has him feeling more comfortable and the more reps he gets with the starters, the better he feels.

"I just feel way more comfortable playing guard," said Green. "I felt more natural. More back at home. And going against the ones more, going against Cam (Heyward), that is going to help me getting better."

He isn't the only one who notices that comfort level with the switch from center to guard.

"He is a lot more (comfortable)," said left tackle Dan Moore Jr.
"He even says it. He talks about how much he loves playing guard, how much more comfortable he is. It shows on field.

"He is a huge help. Not many people know how smart he is. Him playing center last year, having a really good grasp of the offense, helps a lot."

Green knows there is work to do from his standpoint, and across the line, and is ready to dive headfirst into this week in practice.

"Just some things, technique things, getting back to being used to playing the position," said Green. "That is the one thing I am going to work on today and throughout this week." 

He also indicated working on communication as a unit is something that must be a focus in practice this week.

"We still have some things we need to clean communication-wise. That is some of the issues we had. You might think one person gets beat, but it's a communication issue, we aren't all on the same page. Those are the things we are going to work on today and correct.

"It's simple, not easy. When the bullets are out there flying you have a million things going on you have to look for, but we have to still stay on the same page. That is something we have to push though."

Added on: The Steelers signed linebacker James Vaughters and waived/injured linebacker Tuzar Skipper, it was announced today.

Vaughters has played in 27games (no starts) over his three years in the NFL(Chicago 2019-20; Atlanta 2021). He has registered 29 tackles (19 solo), six quarterback hits, 2.5 sacks, two tackles for loss and one forced fumble. Vaughters, an undrafted free agent out of Stanford in 2015, has also spent time in the League with Green Bay, New England and L.A. Chargers

Tune in: Steelers Nation, NFL+ is here, which means you can now watch your Steelers live and on the go! Watch live out-of-market preseason games across devices and live local and primetime regular season games on your phone or tablet. Start your free trial today here.

Final week at SVC: The Steelers are embarking on their final week of training camp at Saint Vincent College.

Practice is scheduled for Monday-Thursday, with each practice scheduled to begin at 1:55 p.m.

Over the past week, Mother Nature has had an impact on the practice schedule, so please be sure to check, the team's official mobile app, as well as the team's social media @steelers for practice updates.