It's as much a part of a Mike Tomlin training camp as staging backs-on-backer during the first day in full pads. It's often given the title, "young guy emphasis," and it entails having a full practice and using the session to accomplish the twin goals of getting repetitions and the on-field experience that comes from it for the young players while not stressing the bodies of the older veterans.
"We rotated a few veteran players out today," said Tomlin. "We'll be doing that some throughout this camp, and we'll spread it out among the veteran group. It's not only about the preservation of the veteran player. It's probably more importantly about the accelerated maturation of the younger guys. When you give Eric Ebron a day off, you get to see more of some of the younger guys at the tight end position, for example. When you give Al Villanueva a day off, you get a chance to see more of the young tackles. We'll continue to do that. It serves a dual purpose. It's good for all parties involved, and it aids in the evaluation process for us."
In addition to Ebron and Villanueva, the other veteran given a day off was David DeCastro. James Washington was in shorts and caught passes but didn't participate in team drills. But one veteran who apparently did not see any reduction in his work load was Ben Roethlisberger.
"I have very little reservation about the approach (with Ben)," said Tomlin when asked about managing his veteran quarterback. "He has been given full clearance from the medical experts, so I don't look at him and distribute reps based on the fact he's coming off an injury. Really, we're taking the same rhythm in terms of preservation of his arm as we always have in a training camp setting in terms of the amount of work that he gets. There really hasn't been a lot of work as of yet for me to have a significant impression. I like his velocity. I acknowledge that I have seen his spiral tighter, but I also acknowledge that it's August and we have roughly a month before we have to step into a stadium."
Some of the highlights from the Steelers' second of 14 practices in full pads:
• Roethlisberger and WR JuJu Smith-Schuster rekindled their rapport, connecting multiple times in live team periods.
• Tomlin continued to show specific interest in the ability of his tight ends to be physical with their blocking at the point of attack. He monitored their sled work closely and then was especially vocal during an OLB-TE man-on-man blocking drill.
• Alex Highsmith, who was assigned multiple reps in Monday's backs-on-backers drill, showed well on Tuesday, and he earning praise from Tomlin - and some extra teaching on his footwork from teammate T.J. Watt.
• Watt energized his teammates with an especially quick and forceful tackle of RB Anthony McFarland behind the line of scrimmage in an early live period.
• During the 7-shots drill, the offense recorded four scoring plays with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, one of which was a quarterback draw. Mason Rudolph completed passes on two of his three plays at quarterback with Anthony McFarland breaking through the line of scrimmage on the other.
• The Steelers worked on setting the edge with the tight ends under the watchful eye of Tomlin. Zach Banner lined up for all his snaps in the drill as an extra tight end. He then went over to the one-on-one linemen drills and stymied DE Henry Mondeaux and DT Carlos Davis. In the same drill, Highsmith got the better of tight end Dax Raymond.
• McFarland was highly visible again, again showing burst through holes along the line of scrimmage and then finding more running room once he did.
• During a team period, Roethlisberger and WR Chase Claypool connected on a long pass down the left sideline in a team period. In another instance, Claypool then made a twisting catch on a back-shoulder fade, but he couldn't get his second foot down on the receiving end of another pass from Roethlisberger.
• Diontae Johnson, Ryan Switzer, and CB James Pierre fielded punts. WR Saeed Blacknall made an impressive special-teams stop that exciting Tomlin.
• Terrell Edmunds followed up Monday's nice day in the passing game with two big hits on running backs during the second drill of practice. When asked about the important of this season for Edmunds, Tomlin said, "It's a collective effort for us on the back end, much like offensive line play is a collection of the individuals. (Edmunds) is a significant component of that. We have to keep a lid on it collectively, and that unit has to operate as just that: a unit. It's good that he's making some plays, but from a unit standpoint we're challenging the secondary collectively."
Take a look at the Steelers preparing for the 2020 regular season at Heinz Field
A YOUNG ILB MAKES A PLAY
After practice Ulysees Gilbert was asked about a play he made vs. Kerrith Whyte when he wrestled the ball away from the running back for a takeaway.
"It's being patient, watching his hands, trying to break up the ball," said Gilbert in explaining what happened. "It's a drill geared more toward the running backs. Any type of drill like that helps us to be patient, helps us with our feet, with our hands, and also our vision for what to watch. Sometimes in a game situation … you never know what you are going to get. I feel like it's a great drill, and something I want to continue to work on."
About Gilbert's day, Tomlin said, "I wouldn't necessarily characterize him as a second-year player because he missed so much time in year one. Hopefully because he has been a part of the program and been in the building there are some residual benefits from it. But in terms of play or exposure to play, he hasn't experienced nearly as much as some of the others in his class because of injury."
A REVERSAL OF JOB DESCRIPTION
Usually, it's the offensive lineman's job to be there for his quarterback, but when guard Kevin Dotson was injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was there for him. Roethlisberger and one of the team's athletic trainers helped Dotson off the playing surface after the rookie injured a knee.
"He's a teammate," said Tomlin when asked what it meant for Roethlisberger to respond in that way. "Ben has been there. He has been down on the field before and knows the fear associated with that. Dotson is a young guy trying to make this football team, and often the fear of the injury is worse than the injury itself. Ben is just doing what thoughtful, considerate leaders do in terms of helping him work through that. The medical experts will handle the injury itself, but a guy in his position can relate to some of the things emotionally Dotson is feeling when faced with what he was faced with today."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"There were a couple of injuries for us today: Both guys are being evaluated and I don't know the extent of either. Kevin Dotson had a knee injury that's being evaluated. He was able to walk off, but he is being evaluated. And Dax Raymond looked like he rolled his ankle at the end of a competition period. He's being evaluated as well. Hopefully we'll get those guys back sooner rather than later, but we acknowledge that bumps and bruises unfortunately are a part of this process. We've got to work our tails off and try to be as professional as we can in an effort to minimize as much of that as we can."