LATROBE, Pa. – At least this time they didn't have to travel to a different Zip Code, but for the third straight practice, the Steelers had to board buses and go for a ride instead of leaving their locker room at Saint Vincent College, go down a set of steps, and then walk maybe an additional 100 yards to be ready for the day's work.
On Friday the Steelers had boarded buses with the thought of enjoying the atmosphere and excitement that's long been a part of Friday Night Lights, but a thunderstorm and flooding downpours cancelled that. Even so, the Steelers simply changed their shoes from cleats to sneakers, got back on the buses, and conducted a walkthrough inside a gymnasium.
On Saturday, the remnants of the storm had rendered the fields at Saint Vincent College too waterlogged for a full football practice, and so it was back on the road for a trip to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex in Pittsburgh where the grass fields were in perfect condition for an NFL practice.
Monday was supposed to be a "home game" of sorts, with the only travel necessary to get to work being that short walk from the locker room, but again things were too soggy on campus, and so the Steelers got back on the yellow school buses and did what they had wanted to do on Friday night.
It wasn't Friday Night Lights, to be certain, but rather just an ordinary practice with a bit more interaction with the fans in attendance. Maybe it was the setting, and maybe it was the fans' unrelenting enthusiasm for seeing their favorite players, because while there weren't the same numbers in the stands that would turn out for Friday Night Lights, those who did find some free time on a Monday afternoon were engaged from start to finish.
"Oh man, really appreciate the atmosphere," said Coach Mike Tomlin at the conclusion of the session. "Glad that we had an opportunity to come back over here to this venue and entertain the fans who are such a source of energy for us.
"It was big day for us, you know, just hitting some elements of situational football. We've got to continue to introduce those components of the game and continue to teach and learn. We will be in a stadium (for our preseason opener) at the end of the week, that's just the reality of it, and there needs to be a certain level of preparedness."
The Steelers were in full pads for Monday's practice, and they're also scheduled to practice that way on Tuesday and Thursday in advance of their preseason opener vs. the Seattle Seahawks at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 13 at Acrisure Stadium.
The highlights of the day were the ones that opened and closed the session: 7-Shots and goal-line.
In 7-Shots, Mitch Trubisky got the offense out to a 2-0 lead with a touchdown pass to Anthony McFarland Jr. on the first snap and then followed that with a comeback pattern to the pylon to Diontae Johnson, who made the play for the second touchdown.
On the third play, Trubisky's quick pass over the middle was incomplete, and then on his fourth play his completion to Connor Heyward along the sideline was ruled out of bounds. With that it was tied, 2-2.
On came Mason Rudolph, and the play called for a fake shovel pass followed by a throw to Heyward, but the pass was knocked away. Defense, 3-2.
The next play was a pass from Rudolph to Jace Sternberger in a crowd, and with the NFL officials having moved on to their next camp visit, there was no definitive call as to whether it was a touchdown or incomplete.
That became a moot point, when Kenny Pickett's pass for Gunner Olszewski on the seventh snap was raked out by safety Karl Joseph. Defense wins, at least 4-3 and maybe 5-2.
What the first goal-line drill of this camp showed was that the Steelers offense isn't capable of lining up and powering the ball into the end zone, at least not vs. the Steelers defense and definitely not when the unit is without Najee Harris.
On the first play of the drill, Benny Snell took the handoff and was met by Minkah Fitzpatrick who drove him back and prevented him from falling forward across the goal line.
The next three plays were two passes and a jet sweep, and while the offense scored on two of those, fans who wanted to see the offense muscle it into the end zone, or go down trying, were disappointed.
Just a couple:
• Kenny Pickett made at least two big-time NFL throws on Monday – 18-to-20-yard completions toward the sideline where the ball had to be delivered on time and with some zip. It was impressive.
• Larry Ogunjobi is going to help the Steelers run defense in 2022, and maybe more than a little bit. As Tomlin said about his return to full practice: "It didn't take long for his presence to be felt. He's a big man. He comes off blocks. Glad to have him out there, and we look forward to him just getting better and better."
PHOTO OP SCHEDULE FINALIZED
The Steelers have been hosting a photo opportunity for fans each day the team has a practice open to the public at Saint Vincent College. The photo op always is from noon-1 p.m., and the schedule of player appearances has been completed. Starting with today's practice (Tuesday, Aug. 9) here is a list of the remaining appearances: Aug. 9 – Tim Worley; Aug. 10 – Merril Hoge; Aug. 11 – Doug Legursky; Aug. 15 – Jeff Reed; Aug. 16 – Charlie Batch; Aug. 17 – J.T. Thomas; Aug. 18 – Mel Blount.
PRE-PRACTICE ROSTER MOVES
Before Monday's practice, the Steelers signed OLB Ron'dell Carter and waived/injured OLB T.D. Moultry. The team also activated defensive lineman Tyson Alualu from the PUP list.
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"Tyson Alualu came off the PUP list today and was able to begin his process. Many of the others are starting to work in a partial capacity, and the key is for us not to take any steps backward as we move forward with these guys and keep pushing them back to full participation. And so from that standpoint, I thought it was good. We've got a couple of new bumps and bruises to manage and deal with: Alex Highsmith (ribs), Diontae Johnson (hip flexor), Genard Avery (groin) – all things associated with this time of year – plus Kevin Dotson (ankle). We'll get those guys evaluated and hopefully those can be described as day-to-day, and we'll continue this process."