LATROBE, PA. – If he doesn't get the competition he's looking for during a particular training camp practice at Saint Vincent College, Coach Mike Tomlin isn't opposed to creating some on the fly. And so it was on Tuesday that Tomlin added a new wrinkle to 7-Shots and also added something to the practice script called "Move the Ball."
"Really good day for us to come out of an off day, and I thought they did that," said Tomlin when it was over. "I thought they brought energy and urgency. We've got some coaching and teaching and learning to do as far as execution and detail, at times a little bit sloppy on both sides, but that's a component of it, too.
"You know, more importantly is that when that (sloppiness) happens, I'm looking at our ability to rally in the midst of it. Can we flip it in the middle of practice? Because that's kind of reflective of the way things transpire in stadiums. If things aren't going our way, what is our ability to flip it in-stadium as opposed to acknowledging it and fixing it in the upcoming week. And so, sometimes we have a day like that. It's good to make that point. It's good to challenge them in those ways, players and coaches, to make necessary schematic adjustments to gather ourselves to refocus in an effort to finish practice in the way that we desire, and I saw semblances of that, and so that's good."
This is referred to as a competition period, and in this installment Tomlin decided he wanted to get his money's worth.
The first snap of the drill was a handoff to Najee Harris, who burst off right tackle and into the end zone for a touchdown. But after that, the offense hit a dry spell.
Kenny Pickett's first attempt was just out of Pat Freiermuth's reach and fell incomplete. On the next play, Harris did a nice job to slide over and pick up a blitz, but Pickett's back shoulder throw for Allen Robinson was incomplete with Levi Wallace in coverage. Pickett's third pass attempt was intended for George Pickens, but Joey Porter Jr. raked the ball out to give the defense a 3-1 lead.
Mitch Trubisky came on, and on his first attempt, he passed to Connor Heyward in the end zone for a touchdown, and then on the next snap he threw to Darnell Washington for another touchdown, and the drill was tied, 3-3.
That's when Tomlin did something he rarely does – he ordered the first team offense and the first team defense back onto the field for the decisive snap of the drill.
On this one, Pickett went to Diontae Johnson, who made the catch for the touchdown with Porter in coverage.
"It was 3-3, just to stoke the competition," said Tomlin when asked about his reasoning in that situation. "Get those guys back out there and let them compete and be leaders for the other groups. You hate to have the drill riding on the pups, and so we put the starters back out there."
MOVE THE BALL
The day's practice concluded with the aforementioned "Move the Ball" period, which had the ball placed on the 30-yard line. There was no clock, and the offense needed to get a first down to maintain possession, whereas the defense had to prevent that from happening to end the repetition.
On the first repetition, the offense went three-and-out, with Pickett throwing incomplete on third-and-2 from the 38-yard line.
On the second repetition, Trubisky moved the offense to a couple of first downs without facing a third-down situation, but starting with a first-and-10 from the defense's 39-yard line, Jaylen Warren gained 1 yard, and then Trubisky threw two incomplete passes – the first coming when he had to get rid of the ball early for Miles Boykin and the second coming when pressure from outside linebacker David Perales forced the incompletion.
On the third repetition, the first units were back on the field. Pickett opened with an attempted pass to Pickens cutting toward the sideline, but Minkah Fitzpatrick flashed over and tipped the ball away. On second-and-10, Pickett's pass went through Johnson's hands and was incomplete, and on third-and-10, Keanu Neal came through on a blitz and forced a throw toward Johnson that was batted away by Levi Wallace.
"We do some things to stimulate competition," said Tomlin. "Fun stuff."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"Those who are not healthy enough to participate, things are moving in the right direction. We're getting more participation from some of those guys who have missed time. Keeanu Benton, Joey Porter Jr., the two safeties – Damontae Kazee and Keanu Neal – and so it's reasonable to expect those things to continue. And as we get closer to the game time, we'll look closer then at how we divide the labor up and who plays and how much they play. But right now we're just appreciating these days, the work that's here, this atmosphere, the support we get from Steelers nation. Just appreciate it all." When asked about two players who did not participate on Tuesday, Tomlin said he "took care" of veteran Markus Golden, and that Larry Ogunjobi is "moving closer."