LATROBE, Pa. – During every padded practice at Saint Vincent College this summer, the Steelers hold a competition period known as Team Run. It's 11-on-11, live tackling, and while throwing the football isn't expressly prohibited, it's definitely not encouraged. As Coach Mike Tomlin often says, "If you want to box, you have to spar," and Team Run is his version of sparring.
In planning for Wednesday's padded practice, the penultimate one on campus this summer, Tomlin decided Team Run wasn't enough.
"Another really good day of work," said Tomlin in assessing the practice. "I just wanted to focus on physicality in the line of scrimmage run game. We did so in the early portions of practice, Team Run and so forth. Just really appreciate the competes. We got some late comers, new running backs and so forth, and want to give them an environment where they can show what they're capable of while at the same time readying themselves for the stadium opportunity this weekend. But a really good day. Another good training camp Steelers vs. Steelers day."
Tomlin's summary of the two hours spent on the fields on campus makes perfect sense, because the first competition period of practice that's known as 7-Shots almost required a name change to 7-Runs.
The first snap of the drill had Najee Harris take a handoff from Kenny Pickett, but Kwon Alexander blew up the play before it had a chance to get started, and he was quickly joined by Alex Highsmith and Cam Heyward in preventing the touchdown. On the second snap it was more of the same, with Harris again getting the ball, but this time it was Cole Holcomb and some others who prevented the touchdown to give the defense a 2-0 lead.
If anyone was thinking that consecutive running plays were sufficient in this drill, they were mistaken, because the third snap was a handoff to Jaylen Warren, who got into the end zone to slice the defense's lead to 2-1. Pickett got to attempt a pass on the fourth snap, but after rolling to his right and throwing back toward the center of the end zone the ball was high and out of the reach of Diontae Johnson. The defense led, 3-1.
As happened on Tuesday, Mitch Trubisky was the next quarterback onto the field, and he got the ball into the end zone on his first two snaps to forge a 3-3 tie. The first of those came on a run by Anthony McFarland where he kept churning his legs and finally got across the goal line, and the second came on a quick pass into the flat to Warren as he was flaring out of the backfield.
And as also happened on Tuesday, Tomlin sent the first units back onto the field for the tiebreaker. With the defense packed into the box, George Pickens ran a quick slant, and with Patrick Peterson in man coverage with no inside help, it was simple pitch-and-catch. The offense had itself a 4-3 win.
MOVE THE BALL
This drill that was introduced on Tuesday was back as the finale again on Wednesday. This time, the ball was placed on the defense's 25-yard line with the offense getting a short field to try to get it into the end zone.
The first repetition began with Pickett hitting Diontae Johnson for a 22-yard gain with Levi Wallace in coverage, and that repetition ended on the next snap with a handoff to Harris who muscled in from the 3-yard line for the touchdown.
Trubisky came on for the second repetition, and threw incomplete for Darnell Washington on first down, but then he completed a quick pass to Warren for a 9-yard gain to set up a third-and-1. Another quick pass to Warren was good for 5 yards and a first down at the 11-yard line.
A first down pass to Zach Gentry was incomplete when Kenny Robinson cut off the route in the end zone, and then it was back to the ground game again but McFarland was stopped for no gain. On third down, Trubisky found tight end Rodney Williams 1-yard deep in the end zone and got him the ball for the touchdown.
• NT Breiden Fehoko made a nuisance of himself when the offense was trying to run the ball during a different period. Over the course of a few snaps, he either occupied a couple of blockers or was penetrating into the backfield and messing up the timing of the play.
• Kendrick Green was taking all the snaps as the No. 2 center during 11-on-11 drills, what with Nate Herbig sidelined because of his shoulder injury and with Spencer Anderson working primarily at right tackle.
• During a special teams period, McFarland and Gunner Olszewski were handling kickoff returns, while Calvin Austin III, Jordan Byrd, and Olszewski were alternating as the punt returners.
• The offense's lone turnover of the afternoon came when Miles Killebrew intercepted a Mason Rudolph pass that was intended for Miles Boykin.
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"Things are progressing from an injury standpoint, getting a lot of guys at least working their way back to us in some capacity. I think Tre Norwood is one in particular who got some partial work today. I think Larry Ogunjobi is moving back closer to participation, and Nate Herbig probably just needs a few days. We'll get him back out here as well."