LATROBE, Pa. _ It was another scorcher this afternoon at Saint Vincent College _ the heat index reached 98 degrees _ but no one, apparently, is as hot as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“He’s on fire,” tight end Vance McDonald assessed. “He’s the best, the best there is. I believe when he says that he’s going to be the best he’s ever been this year, I believe it to be true.
“This is only the second camp that I’ve been to here with him and just his whole approach and demeanor is completely different this year.”
It’s Roethlisberger’s deeds as well as his words that have resonated, McDonald maintained.
“It wasn’t just that first day that he addressed the offense, it’s everything about how he’s going through his day,” McDonald said. “I think it’s different.
“I can’t speak for the guy, I just think he’s ready and willing to do everything it takes to win another championship.”
McDonald also addressed how the Steelers can best follow Roethlisberger’s lead toward that end.
“It’s not dropping a tennis ball and staying on his good side in practice,” McDonald explained. “And then going from there, it’s just being ready and being open. That’s the one thing that he wants more than anything, just open dialogue and communication, not even necessarily with him but with all guys. It’s not even worth waking up and going though the day mad or angry about a situation or about a guy. And so you just get all that into open air and just let it go.
“I like what we’re doing as an offense, as a group this year coming into this. It’s impossible to explain. It feels very open and free and fun, that’s where I leave it. I can’t say anything else about it, it’s just fun.”
MEDICAL FILE: Head coach Mike Tomlin said wide receiver Ryan Switzer (quad), seventh-round offensive tackle Derwin Gray (fatigue-like issues) and first-year cornerback Herb Waters (shoulder) started but didn’t finish practice. Wide receiver Donte Moncrief (finger), safety Sean Davis (finger), outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo (undisclosed), guard David DeCastro (day off) and outside linebacker T.J. Watt (Active/PUP list, hamstring) were among those who did not practice. Tomlin said Chickillo was “being evaluated but I don’t expect it to be anything significant.”
TEMPORARY PROMOTIONS: Third-round wide receiver Diontae Johnson worked with the first-team offense for the first time (Moncrief didn’t practice) and first-year outside linebacker Ola Adeniyi got his first snaps with the first-team defense (Watt and Chickillo didn’t practice).
“I wouldn’t read too much into the groups at this juncture,” Tomlin said. “We’re looking for certain match-ups. The closer we get to in-stadium play we’ll start worrying about depth charts and such.
“Right now we just want to challenge people. We want to see them in a variety of groups versus a variety of competition from an experience standpoint.”
VARIETY AT INSIDE LINEBACKER: During no-huddle, 11-on-11 work first-round pick Devin Bush and Mark Barron played together in five-defensive backs formations and Bush was the lone inside linebacker when six-defensive backs were deployed.
In “Backed Up” (the offense working from its 1-yard line), it was Bush and Barron in a four-defensive backs alignment on the first snap and then Bush and Vince Williams the following three snaps. Barron and Williams also played together when four defensive backs were on the field.
ALL THE WAY: Roethlisberger kept the ball on a read/option on the first play of “Backed Up” and continued running the length of the field even though none of the defenders chased him. He eventually tossed the ball back to wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster after covering about 80 yards and Smith-Schuster took it the final 20 or so into the end zone.
EXTRA POINTS: The offense won “Seven Shots,” the Steelers’ practice-opening, short-yardage/two-point conversion drill, 5-2. Wide receiver James Washington was denied a conversion/scoring catch thanks to a pass defensed by Bush on a throw from Roethlisberger but subsequently caught one from quarterback Josh Dobbs. Tight end Xavier Grimble, McDonald, Johnson and wide receiver Tevin Jones also caught the ball in the end zone (Jones did so one snap after a ball bounced off his hands and wasn’t retrieved until he was out of bounds) … Waters had an interception in 1-on-1 wide receiver-defensive back work … B.J. Finney handled DeCastro’s right guard position … A shoving match between defensive end Cam Heyward and offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva almost led to a fracas before order was restored … “Nickel” (five-defensive backs) cornerback Mike Hilton got a look at safety in a secondary that included cornerbacks Brian Allen and third-round pick Justin Layne and rookie safety Dravon Askew-Henry.