Making a Powerful Statement: Coach Mike Tomlin and the entire Steelers team stood together as one, and prayed as one, before Friday night's practice as they addressed social injustice. Read More ->> Making a powerful statement
There are no preseason games this summer, and so Coach Mike Tomlin has found it necessary to manufacture some of the circumstances and procedures his team has missed as a result. There has been more live tackling, as an example. Yesterday, there was live special teams. On Friday, there was practice being the visiting team.
"We had some really good, spirited work tonight," said Tomlin about a practice that didn't begin until around 6:45 p.m., which was close to the typical 7:30 p.m. kickoff time of a preseason game. "We chose tonight as an opportunity to give us a mock game at a road venue. We were the visiting team, we came through the visiting tunnel, we were on the visiting sideline. It was a good atmosphere to get better. There were some more live special teams periods, and I think that's important in order to give these guys an opportunity to show what they're capable of in that area. Let's be honest – that's the most significant area of needed evaluation as you fill out the roster. It was really good to give guys an opportunity, some of them young and new to us, to show what they're capable of and give them an opportunity to execute with great detail in that area."
Take a look at the Steelers preparing for the 2020 regular season at Heinz Field
• The practice included only team drills because it was a simulated scrimmage. A number of the team's scouts served as officials because actual NFL officials are not permitted to attend any team's practices during this 2020 training camp period. Also, a lot of the starters didn't take a lot of reps by design, including James Conner and Ben Roethlisberger. It rained throughout most of the practice, but because there was no lightning, the Steelers never left the field.
"The offense and defense really focused on in-game things – the play clock and formational things, situational ball, areas of the field," said Tomlin. "We'll continue to work and grow in terms of our understanding so we can execute in those moments. The rules are somewhat different – things happen faster and so forth in situational ball, and we want to pay respect to that through preparation.
"It was a big night for us, and it was good to get the work in in some inclement weather. That's a big part of the game. We play an outside game. Ball security and things of that nature were tested tonight, and it was a good atmosphere from that perspective. We didn't run away from the weather. In fact, we embraced the weather. We need to be a team that takes care of the ball and hunts the ball regardless of circumstance. Inclement weather is a great circumstance to focus on those two skill-sets."
• Benny Snell got plenty of work. He showed some nifty moves when he bounced one run to the outside and raced past Ola Adeniyi and then put a shoulder into Justin Layne. Later, Roethlisberger hit Snell for a big play.
"Really that's a snapshot of what we want to see from everyone," said Tomlin. "We want to do drills that are football-like, where we get an opportunity to work on certain aspects of play and display certain skills. But it's only relevant if they can take those skills and talents to 11-on-11 football. So we sharpen our sword in the drill work, and we display what we learned or what we're capable of in 11-on-11 action. That's just an example of it – Benny showing those talents in drill work but it showing up more importantly on the 11-on-11 stage."
• Joe Haden closed on an out pattern by JuJu Smith-Schuster but missed the ball as he dove. It resulted in a 30-plus yard gain. Haden did get his revenge on a bubble screen when he blew up the play, which was a Mason Rudolph throw to Smith-Schuster.
• Rudolph hit Smith-Schuster in the red zone period for a touchdown, with Smith-Schuster beating Steven Nelson on the play. Two plays later, Nelson got revenge by breaking up a back-shoulder throw to Chase Claypool.
• After Smith-Schuster came up short of a first-down in the red zone, Chris Boswell and the field goal team raced onto the field for a 38-yard field goal, which was good.
• Rookie guard Kevin Dotson returned to the field and looked strong. He blew up Henry Mondeaux on one play and then flattened a defensive linemen as Jaylen Samuels walked into the end zone for a red-zone touchdown. Later, Snell hit a cut-back run when Zach Banner and Dotson cleared the right side of the line. Also, Dotson showed some speed getting to the second level to get to linebacker Robert Spillane.
"He has been a part of us and he has participated quite a bit through this process," said Tomlin after Dotson's first extended action in pads since injuring his knee. "He has missed a lot of padded work, and hopefully that exposure has been helpful to him during the time he was down. He hasn't missed any meetings or mental preparation. I'm sure there has been an adjustment, it has probably been more of an adjustment given the fact he has very little resume to speak of, but such is life."
• During a backed-up punt situation, a Jordan Berry kick traveled 45 yards out of the end zone. It was returned for 15 yards by Anthony McFarland.
• After practice, T.J. and Derek Watt were doing live blocking drills. Derek has been out with an undisclosed injury but was dressed on Friday night.
• Paxton Lynch didn't take any scrimmage reps.
• During 7-shots, Ben Roethlisberger looked to the left and rolled to his right before throwing late into the end zone for Smith-Schuster, but the ball was intercepted by Mike Hilton and returned 100 yards. Maurkice Pouncey tried to run him down but was blocked by Minkah Fitzpatrick.
A SHOW OF UNITY AND COMPASSION
The Steelers have said they will be united in their approach to recognizing social injustice, and they put those words to action at the start of Friday night's practice. After taking the field as the visiting team, Steelers President Art Rooney II, General Manager Kevin Colbert, the players and on-field staff linked arms and lined up behind Tomlin, who spoke for the organization. When Tomlin concluded his remarks, everyone on the field formed a circle and spent some time in prayer.
After the practice, Tomlin explained why the Steelers chose that method to express themselves and how it all came about.
"Like I stated yesterday and like we stated before, we have social justice committees that are actively engaged in processes that we're going to participate in – voter registration, police education and understanding, and other things that put us out in the community," said Tomlin. "But tonight more than anything, we wanted to take the small platform that we have, as small as it is, just a scrimmage, just to state that we stand united with those who are suffering and we see them and hear them. And regardless of our privilege, we're sensitive to the hurt and the pain and the struggle that's going on around us.
"We meet routinely with the social justice committee. We met informally this morning, and we thought the scrimmage was an opportunity to make the statement. We felt like the statement was needed given the platform, although it was a small one we thought it was very necessary that we make the statement we made. I was chosen to represent the thoughts and the feelings of the men, and I did so humbly."
NO STARTER AT RIGHT TACKLE YET
"I don't know that we really have intentions of doing so," said Tomlin when asked for a timetable regarding when Chuks Okorafor or Zach Banner will be named the starting right tackle. "We have to sort it out and sort it out by game time, but there is no timetable from my perspective in terms of naming a starting right tackle."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"David DeCastro was injured in the practice. He is in the process of being evaluated. I'll have some information for you guys, I'd imagine, the next time we get together. Other than that, not a lot to report. Guys are continuing to work their way back, those guys who have missed time with what can be described as day-to-day things. It was good to get Kevin Dotson (knee) back out there, a young guy who has missed some time."
Kam Canaday, Ryan Switzer, Vance McDonald, and Chris Wormley did not dress for Friday's practice.