LATROBE, Pa. – This was neither a corporate Friday nor a corporate Monday, and Coach Mike Tomlin was pleased with what he got from his team during what was the final practice of this training camp on a weekend.
This Sunday practice at Saint Vincent College fell in between the players having Saturday off because it was the day after Friday night's preseason opener vs. the Buccaneers in Tampa, and a Monday off as their mandated day off throughout camp. A previous situation where the Steelers had a scheduled practice sandwiched between a couple of off days was when Tomlin first had made the reference to corporate Fridays and Mondays.
But in both instances of having a practice between two off days, Tomlin came out of it saying he was pleased with how the team handled things.
"Man, it was a significant day for us," said Tomlin when the practice ended. "We had an opportunity to review the tape (of the Buccaneers game), analyze our performance in a professional way, allow that to set a trajectory for this upcoming week's work individually and collectively, and then we came out and worked on the grass. And so it's a significant day, just the process, the cycle of getting better on prep, play, analysis, and then plan and move forward. And so we're very much in the midst of that. Days like today are really significant because they kind of set a trajectory for the upcoming week, and when we do a good job of that we have a chance to have consistent performance. And that's what we seek.
"We're just trying to build, not only skill but also that understanding of professionally how we go about it. I thought we had really good energy and competition today in getting back out here. But we were not afforded an opportunity to warm up to it, because we had an off day yesterday and we've got an off day tomorrow. You can't waste days like today. In the midst of (those off days) there's a nugget that's called today, and I just thought that they really got after it and took advantage of it. And I'm appreciative."
In the first on-field exposure since the preseason opener in Tampa, Kenny Pickett and the first-team offense didn't enjoy the same degree of success as they did during that opening possession against the Buccaneers.
On the first snap of the drill, Pickett quickly identified Diontae Johnson and delivered the ball to him. Johnson had a step on the defender in coverage, but Minkah Fitzpatrick flashed over from the center of the field and knocked the ball down. The lead then grew to 2-0 for the defense when Pickett's pass for Johnson, who was being covered by Joey Porter Jr., was way over his head. When Pickett's next pass was incomplete, the defense held a 3-0 lead.
The offense got the ball into the end zone on the fourth snap when Anthony McFarland took a handoff from Pickett and knifed into the end zone.
Mitch Trubisky came in at quarterback, and his first attempt was a touchdown throw to Calvin Austin III with Kenny Robinson in coverage. On the sixth snap, the defense clinched the win in the drill when cornerback Luq Barcoo broke up a pass intended for Dez Fitzpatrick. On the last play, Trubisky came back to Fitzpatrick, who was wide open in the end zone to make the final score a 4-3 win for the defense.
• Even though the defense won 7-Shots, the offense scored touchdowns on both of its repetitions of the 2-minute period. For this installment, the ball was placed on the 50-yard line, there was 1:38 on the clock, and the offense had 1 timeout and needed a touchdown.
Pickett started things off with a 5-yard scramble, and then he got a first down at the 38-yard line with an 11-yard completion to Allen Robinson. After a 6-yard completion to Najee Harris followed by an incompletion, the offense faced a third-and-4 from the 32-yard line.
Pickett and Pickens converted that with an 18-yard play in which the receiver also was able to get out of bounds to stop the clock. On the next play, Pickett threw over the middle and into the end zone, where Robinson made a diving catch for the touchdown. On the play, Robinson was horizontal to the ground and caught the ball about a foot off the grass.
• For the second repetition, Trubisky came on to quarterback the offense, and the drill was again conducted under the same parameters in terms of distance, time, and number of timeouts.
Trubisky completed a 5-yard pass to Darnell Washington, and then an 18-yarder to Gunner Olszewski for a first down at the 27-yard line. After an incomplete pass stopped the clock, Trubisky completed a 3-yard pass to Olszewski and then another for 21-yards for a first-and-goal from the 3-yard line, and the offense called its timeout.
On the next play, Trubisky spotted Washington about 5 yards deep in the end zone, and the rookie tight end went up and twisted his body to make the catch for the touchdown.
OTHER NOTABLE PLAYS
• Rookie defensive lineman Keeanu Benton, injured in the game against the Buccaneers, did not practice on Sunday, but he was on the field, wearing his jersey, and without any visible wrap or boot on his injured ankle. Benton participated in light warmups with the other defensive linemen and then stood and watched the rest of practice.
• On the final play of the live-tackling session, cornerback Madre Harper fired into the backfield and dropped the running back for a loss.
• Cornerback James Pierre had an active and productive afternoon. He intercepted a pass that was intended for Austin, and then a few plays later he had a chance at a second when the ball popped off Olszewski's hands, but he couldn't control it. In a later period, Pierre was in close coverage of Dez Fitzpatrick, and he knocked the ball out before the catch was secured.
• In addition to Minkah Fitzpatrick participating fully on Sunday, so did Damontae Kazee, and he was involved in a play where Pickett threw back to the middle where Pickens was running across the field. Both Pickens and Kazee got their hands on the ball, but Pickens wrestled it away for a nice gain.
• Cody White made a one-handed catch deep down the sideline on a throw from Mason Rudolph with Elijah Riley in very tight coverage.
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"Nate Herbig went down with a shoulder (injury) in practice, and he's going to be evaluated. Obviously we had bumps and bruises associated with play. Keeanu Benton went down in the game (with an ankle injury) that could be described as day to day, and we'll see how that leads us. Some other guys obviously were limited or did not participate. Cam Heyward is not here today. He's sick, and so we thought we would allow him to get right and maybe protect some of the others in the process."