LATROBE, Pa. – It was back to work for the Steelers on Wednesday, after a day off on Tuesday that seemed to get some guys energized.
“We were really excited to get back out there today,” said Coach Mike Tomlin. “In many ways the process we went through today reflects the process of the regular season, Tuesday being a player’s day off and Wednesday having to get back into the grind of preparation and work. I thought the guys did a nice job with that.
“Just great to roll the ball out and feed the development process. Good day’s work.”
The defense seemed energized to be back on the field, right off the bat winning seven shots, 6-1. Artie Burns set the tone when he broke up a pass to Justin Hunter. Steven Johnson closed it out when he leveled Marcus Tucker over the middle.
The defense continued their menacing ways when linebackers and tight ends went against each other, with T.J. Watt batting away a pass attempt to Jesse James. It was one of many plays where Watt stood out on the day.
L.J. Fort drew praise from Joey Porter, who kept yelling ‘hold down the Fort,’ as he was making play after play.
“It felt great out there,” said Fort. “You have to keep doing the little things. Eventually it’s going to pay off. I made mistakes too. You learn from it. You make the plays you visualize yourself making in the game. It’s great to make them and builds your confidence.
“Hearing Joey saying good job on a play means a lot.”
Injury Update: Rookie James Conner is still sidelined with an AC sprain that Tomlin said, ‘appears to be minor.’ He isn’t expected to miss much more time. In addition to Smith-Schuster returning, Vince Williams practiced in pads for the first time.
Antonio Brown and Cameron Heyward were both excused from practice for the birth of their children. Brown welcomed son Apollo, while Heyward and his wife Allie welcomed daughter, Chloe.
JuJu on the beat: Rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster was back at practice on Wednesday after missing time with an ankle injury, and was happy to get back to work.
“It was frustrating,” said Smith-Schuster. “I stayed positive. God has a plan for everybody. I stayed that way and it feels good to be back out here in pads and to run with the guys.”
His timing couldn’t have been any better. Hines Ward joined the team at training camp on Wednesday, and will be working with the receivers as a coaching intern during camp.
One of the first players Ward worked with was Smith-Schuster.
“I was asking about what he did to get to his level, how he was to be one of the greatest guys to come through this organization,” said Smith-Schuster. “He told me do extra stuff after practice, conditioning, stuff like that.
“It’s super valuable. You take a guy like that and you just keep picking at his brain. What should I do? He tells us great information. It’s more motivation for me to be out there. It’s my first day back, but when you have him out here and we are doing blocking, which he is known for, you put it all on the line.”
The receivers spent time working on a blocking drill against the defensive backs, and Ward watched closely.
“He said I am good, but I am not close to where he was,” said Smith-Schuster. “After every rep he told me what I can do better, the little things.”
Coach Ward: And speaking of Ward, he was all smiles back on the field at Saint Vincent College. Ward, who works for CNN and is a regular on HLN’s Morning Express, will be with the team for a good portion of training camp, working with the wide receivers.
“I am teaching guys things I have done my whole life,” said Ward. “I love football. I have always loved football. Why not give these guys all of the knowledge of the game that I have. I did that when I was here with younger guys. Why not come back and see what this was like. I didn’t know what went on behind the scenes. This gives me good experience to learn things, from meetings to how to run a practice and everything else.”
Ward said he gravitated toward Smith-Schuster because he sees parallels between him and the young receiver.
“I see me in him. It’s crazy,” said Ward. “I see the way he attacks it. Why not help this kid as much as I can. Helping my organization, helping him prosper and do stuff. I get enjoyment out of it.”
Ward reported for work at CNN first thing on Wednesday morning, then made his way to Latrobe and it brought back a lot of memories.
“This is where the foundation is started,” said Ward. “Fans are excited about football. The players are bonding. Coming back brought back so many memories. Being here working today, working with the young guys, it’s a great start.”
Tomlin welcomes having Steelers’ alumni at camp, as Ward, Kendall Simmons, Ike Taylor, Alan Faneca and Charlie Batch are all helping and learning with the coaches and scouts.
“It’s an awesome thing we have going on with some of our alumni players,” said Tomlin. “I am fortunate enough to have been here long enough that I have coached some of those guys. We embrace the tradition that is Steelers football. It’s great to see oral history be shared from older to younger and the teachings. It’s one of the interesting things about having been here and it’s fun to watch it develop.”
The Moore the merrier: It’s pretty common to see Steelers’ alumni at camp, but you don’t often see players from other NFL teams, especially when they are dressed in black and gold.
Former Detroit Lions star receiver Herman Moore was at camp, visiting with General Manager Kevin Colbert, who was with the Lions when Moore was, and watching the team he grew up a fan of.
“The Steelers were my childhood team,” said Moore. “As a former player I can go to the Lions camp any time. This is really big because it’s a team I grew up watching and loved. This is awesome.
“I love Pittsburgh and John Stallworth was my favorite player. In high school I got No. 82 because of him. It’s a dynasty, a great organization. When I watched (Lynn) Swann, (Terry) Bradshaw, Stallworth, (Rocky) Bleier, and (Franco) Harris, that was the group. I used to emulate them when I started out playing football. You latch on to a team and luckily I latched on to a winner.”