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Practice Report: Aug. 2

LATROBE, Pa. – It's the nature of backs-on-backers. Tuesday's version of the drill was weighted heavily in favor of the defense, but on Wednesday afternoon the rules changed a little bit and all of a sudden the guys who were the nails suddenly became the hammers.

During the Steelers second day of practice in pads, the version of backs-on-backers that Coach Mike Tomlin dialed up had linebackers trying to cover running backs all over the field against a quarterback who was throwing the ball vs. no pass rush. If anyone felt bad for 193-pound Anthony McFarland when he was being asked to keep 240-pound inside linebacker Elandon Roberts off the imaginary quarterback after he was given a running start, well, Wednesday was time for some payback.

In a version of the drill that's made for a back of McFarland's particular skill-set, he was virtually unstoppable. He beat inside linebacker Kwon Alexander on a deep route and made the catch; he beat inside linebacker Tanner Muse deep and made the catch; and he beat linebacker Chapelle Russell on a deep post-corner-type route and made that catch, too.

And it wasn't just McFarland who stood out during the drill. Najee Harris got himself loose to make some catches, and Jaylen Warren not only ran some nice routes, but he also showed some short-area quickness after the catch to tack on more yards.

"He looks like a guy who's been in this environment, and he has," said Tomlin when asked about McFarland's afternoon. "Oftentimes we talk a lot about splash and splash gets a lot of attention. One of the points we're trying to drive home is that professionals make routine plays routinely. And I think that's been the thing that's gotten our attention regarding (McFarland). The routine plays – the option route, the ball in the flat, the flare and things of that nature – he is doing routine things very well, and that's important."

It was another win for the defense, and this time by a 5-2 margin.

The offense was unable to score on any of the four plays quarterbacked by Kenny Pickett. The first play was a pass off Diontae Johnson's hands. The second was a completion to George Pickens but he was ruled out of bounds by the NFL officials working the practice. The third play was a pass that sailed way over Pickens' head, and the fourth play had McFarland stuffed on a running play by linebackers Kwon Alexander and Chapelle Russell.

Mitch Trubisky came on and made things somewhat respectable with a high throw that Darnell Washington brought down for a touchdown, and that was followed by a quick pass to Gunner Olszewski for another touchdown on the next play. But the final play of the drill was an incomplete pass that sealed the defense's 5-2 margin.

Pickens had a rough day in terms of getting the benefit of the doubt from the group of officials, what with being ruled out of bounds along the back of the end zone after making a difficult catch during 7 shots, and then he was flagged for offensive pass interference after what appeared to be a benign shove of cornerback Patrick Peterson in a later competitive period.

After the second call, Allen Robinson tried to counsel Pickens, but it didn't look as though the young receiver was receptive to those efforts.

"There's are going to be calls that you don't like," said Tomlin, "but the calls are the calls, and there's an educational process that goes on in environments like this, whether the call is correct or not, whether you agree or disagree. We've got to move on because the call is the call. And so that's some of the learning that goes on for young people in an environment like this who are working their tails off to compete, and it becomes somewhat emotional. Calls are calls."

Earlier in the day, the Steelers made some roster moves, with rookie cornerback Cory Trice Jr. going on the injured reserve list as a result of Tuesday's non-contact knee injury and rookie running back Alfonso Graham waived with an injury designation as a result of his injured shoulder.

Taking those spots on the roster were safety Trenton Thompson and cornerback Isaiah Dunn.

In summing up the day, Tomlin said, "Just another good day for us acclimating not to the environment but acclimating to full pads, and we have to continue to be open to working toward seeking perfection in terms of the things we're trying to get accomplished … It's important that if we want to get the desired product we want in-stadium, then we have to work continually to perfect our preparation environment, and there's a lot of meat on that bone. We've got a long way to go, but I'm sure everybody does. But we have to have a lot of urgency in that regard."

Because Trice was placed on injured reserve before the roster was cut to 53, he cannot return at any time this season.

"From an injury perspective, Damontae Kazee is still out with an ankle. Cory Trice, he's got a significant knee injury. Keanu Neal is being evaluated. DeMarvin Leal had a minor ankle or something that caused him to miss a portion of time. With Diontae (Johnson), the normal bumps and bruises that occur this time of year. We'll work our tails off, keep the group up, and they work their tails off to keep themselves up. Availability is a big component of this."