LATROBE, Pa. – Several times during his media sessions after recent practices, Coach Mike Tomlin would refer to "leaning into" the end of this week because Saturday would mark the occasion of the preseason opener, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. against Seattle at Acrisure Stadium.
For the first time this week, the Steelers got the better of Doppler and were able to hold their practice as it originally was scheduled – at 1:55 p.m. at Saint Vincent College. Because of either rain or the soggy fields that resulted from that rain, the Steelers either had to move their practice (to Latrobe Stadium on Monday) or adjust the time (to 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday on campus).
But on Thursday, things went off as scheduled, and the team responded with the kind of session Tomlin likely had in mind when he was referring to leaning into the end of this week. The players were engaged, there was a general energy that permeated the session, and the pads were popping, all of which should bode well for Saturday night.
"Man, is it exciting to kind of be at this point of development," said Tomlin. "It's time to get this group in the stadium and compete against some unfamiliar guys, to be in game-like circumstances and have to deal with some of the transitional things associated with play. In practices, game-like drills are coordinated and organized. Just to see their ability to move and function fluidly in the midst of actual play is a significant step. No question, the performances under those circumstances are weighted more heavily than they are under these circumstances (at training camp), so we're really excited about that."
One day after the defense had dominated this period in posting a 5-2 win, the offense returned the favor, and returned it by the exact same margin.
Mitch Trubisky, who had gone 0-for-4 on Wednesday, went 4-for-4 on Thursday, which the Steelers have to hope will serve as a harbinger for his start against the Seahawks on Saturday night.
On the first play, Trubisky tossed a jump-ball at George Pickens, who went up over Cam Sutton and came down with the combat catch in the end zone. Offense, 1-0.
The next play was a run that began with Trubisky faking the ball on jet sweep action to the right and flipping a pitch to Anthony McFarland Jr., who ran to the left and got into the end zone. Offense, 2-0.
The third play was a quick screen to wide receiver Anthony Miller, who was aligned in a bunch formation to the left. Using the blocks from the other players in the bunch, Miller was able to break the plane of the goal line. Offense, 3-0.
Trubisky's final play was an almost exact replica of the first, only this time he threw it to Pickens on the right side. Pickens came down with another combat catch. Offense, 4-0.
Kenny Pickett was next up, and his first play was a jet sweep to Gunner Olszewski, who was coming from right to left. Olszewski took the handoff and then cut up the field once he cleared left tackle Dan Moore Jr. and got into the end zone. Offense, 5-0.
Pickett next attempted a pass into the end zone that was broken up by James Pierre. Offense, 5-1.
On came Mason Rudolph, and his pass for Cody White was off his hands and fell incomplete. Offense, 5-2.
DBs VS. WRs
Usually when defensive backs match up with wide receivers in a training camp drill, the purpose is to have the receivers run routes and the defensive backs try to cover them, but Tomlin put a little twist on that to make it a physical, live tackling exercise.
A patch of grass that was about 15 yards long and five yards wide served as the playing field. The offensive player was on one end and took a flip of the ball from running backs coach Eddie Faulkner, and the designated defensive player started on the other end. The idea for the offensive player was to run by, around, or over the defensive player while staying in the designated area, while the defensive player was to prevent that from happening.
The drill was physical and energetic, and the players got into the spirit of the competition and the fans in attendance loved the pace of it.
A couple of the standouts on defense were Minkah Fitzpatrick and Arthur Maulet, and on offense it was Calvin Austin III and Master Teague.
Fitzpatrick led the Steelers with 124 tackles during the 2021 regular season, and nobody got by him in the repetitions he took. And on one of those, Fitzpatrick delivered a big hit on Olszewski to stop him in his tracks.
Tomlin personally officiated the drill and set the matchups, and it was supposed to end with Teague vs. rookie ILB Mark Robinson. Teague lowered his shoulder and ran over Robinson to the delight of the offensive players, but Robinson petitioned Tomlin and was granted a rematch.
Robinson stopped Teague in the rematch, and then that meant there had to be a third repetition to break the tie. Robinson went low on this one and got a good hold on Teague's lower legs, but as the running back was going down he put his hand down to steady himself, but there is still a chance his knee hit the ground. But Teague then regained his balance and completed the run
Najee Harris was pleading the case for the offense, while several defensive players made their opinions known to Tomlin that Teague's knee was down. We might never know the truth about whether Teague's knee was down or not, but Tomlin then gathered all of the participants and the teammates all participated in an adult version of a handshake line and practice continued.
• Jaylen Warren had a couple of nice runs during the 11-on-11 live tackling session, and Teague got a lot of carries and got vertical and lowered his shoulder on every one of them. Both of those guys should end up getting a heavy workload Saturday night.
• Later in a non-tackling drill, Warren busted a run up the middle and broke into the clear, but maybe more impressive was the work of wide receiver Cody White downfield, who stayed with his block the whole time and eventually allowed Warren to cut off that block and complete the play for a "touchdown."