LATROBE, Pa. – In the NFL, there is little as meaningless as what you did yesterday and looking in the rearview for significance based on what happened a week ago, especially during the training camp period when roster spots are being won and lost, is a complete waste of time.
As an example, the last time Coach Mike Tomlin had an installment of two-minute as part of the afternoon practice – on Aug. 10 – Mason Rudolph moved the offense right down the field and into the end zone on the first repetition, and rookie Kenny Pickett needed only two plays to do the same for a touchdown that looked remarkably easy.
Three days later, in the preseason opener, the defense again was exploited in a two-minute situation when quarterback Geno Smith moved the Seahawks 61 yards in nine plays and capped the drive off himself with a 2-yard run with 21 seconds left that cut the Steelers lead to 17-10 at halftime. And so it came to be during the first practice in pads after those results, Tomlin ordered another session of two-minute.
"I thought what we did (Monday) morning was probably one of the most significant exercises in team development – an opportunity to analyze our in-stadium tape to make some acknowledgments or some corrections to learn from the things that we've done and just gaining experience associated with combing through it," said Tomlin. "We took our time this morning and devoted our time completely to that, and this afternoon we came back out here and got back in the Steelers vs. Steelers training camp mentality. We'll use the lessons learned in-stadium as our guide as we get better, and I just think it's appropriate to do so.
"I thought our two-minute was not where it needed to be offensively and defensively at the end of the first half the other night vs. Seattle, and so as you can see in team today, we plugged in another two-minute segment, and I think that's what you do in team development. You have a hardcore plan, but you also remain light on your feet for the unforeseen for what the group might need in an effort to keep the train moving."
During Monday's two-minute period, the defense stopped the offense's train. Twice.
Based on the parameters set by Tomlin, the offense got the ball at its 32-yard line, had one timeout, and needed a touchdown to win.
To begin, Mitch Trubisky passed to Pat Freiermuth for 11 yards and a first down. After a false start penalty, Trubisky again went to Freiermuth for an 18-yard gain and another first down. Then came three straight incomplete passes – intended for George Pickens down the right sideline, behind Connor Heyward, and overthrown for Gunner Olszewski to set up a fourth-and-10.
Trubisky went back to Freiermuth for 10 yards and a first down, and then he hustled the unit to the line of scrimmage to spike the ball and stop the clock. Trubisky then scrambled for 16 yards and another first down at the 13-yard line.
Under pressure, Trubisky threw the ball at the feet of the nearest receiver to avoid a sack. A short completion then put the ball at the 11-yard line. Trubisky's next pass was incomplete to set up a fourth down and either score a touchdown or lose the drill. His pass for Diontae Johnson at the left pylon was broken up by Levi Wallace.
Next up was Pickett, the man who made it look so easy the last time this exercise was conducted on campus and the quarterback who led the drive that ended with the touchdown that gave the Steelers a 32-25 victory in their preseason opener on Saturday at Acrisure Stadium.
This time, though, Pickett looked more like what he is – a rookie.
His first pass was to Olszewski for a 7-yard gain, and then a handoff to Jaylen Warren picked up the first down and put the ball at the 49-yard line. A 13-yard pass to Olszewski moved the ball to the 36-yard line, but when Pickett went back to Olszewski on the next play, Arthur Maulet undercut the route and made the interception that ended the drill.
Victory for the defense. And maybe a bit of redemption as well.
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"From an injury standpoint, Miles Boykin has a rib injury that can be described as day-to-day. Karl Joseph has a foot (injury), and he has been evaluated and the injury is probably beyond day-to-day. Nothing new to add, other than what I acknowledged after the game or prior to it." Among the players not in pads on Monday and not participating included Marcus Allen, Alex Highsmith, Montravius Adams, Chaz Green, and Benny Snell. Najee Harris was in full pads and participated in some individual periods and some team periods on Monday. Kendrick Green appeared to injure a hand or a finger on the first snap of 7-Shots. He walked back to the locker room with trainer John Norwig, and then he subsequently returned to the field and finished the practice.
• The defense won 7-Shots, 4-3. Trubisky accounted for one touchdown on four snaps – on a pass to Diontae Johnson. Pickett threw a touchdown pass to Freiermuth, and then Master Teague took a handoff, bounced to the outside, escaped Genard Avery and got into the end zone. That made it 3-3, and Mason Rudolph's quick slant intended for Cody White was incomplete.
• Jaylen Warren, who has had some success running the football but had yet to establish himself on special teams, took some snaps as the personal protector on the punt team.
• On consecutive snaps during 7-on-7, Trubisky was almost intercepted by Cam Sutton, who couldn't complete the diving catch, before coming back and hitting Johnson with a perfect pass for a nice gain.
• Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepted Trubisky when he undercut a ball intended for Connor Heyward.