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Practice Report: Aug. 8

LATROBE, Pa. – They may be in a union, but there were no coffee breaks or hanging around the water-cooler at Saint Vincent College on Tuesday afternoon, and that's exactly the way Coach Mike Tomlin wanted it.

"The thing I was looking for was I didn't want to warm up to our work week," said Tomlin when the Steelers' two-hour practice in pads concluded following an installment of goal-line. "We've got to be a group that works going into off days and works coming out of off days. We don't need to waste time. We don't need to have the corporate Monday morning or the corporate Friday afternoon, if you will, in terms of our progress. And so I like what I saw in that regard. I thought they brought energy and enthusiasm and urgency to this work today. They didn't warm up to it. It helps because of the things that we were focused on today. It was a physical day today, short yardage and goal line. Really good, stiff competition."

Monday had been the players' day off, and Tomlin had been pleased with the work he had seen from his team during that padless practice on Sunday, and after that work-day he had said he wanted to see the same kind of enthusiasm and urgency in the practice following the day off. Apparently, he got what he was seeking in that regard.

The practice ended with a live goal-line drill where the ball was placed at the 1-yard line, and the offense and defense got after it, But earlier in the afternoon, there was the daily dose of 7-Shots, a third-and-1 period, and something called the "flat & now tackle drill."

"It was important that we hit some of those things before we get into a stadium this weekend, so that they're duly prepared and have that experience under their belt. It's also a great platform for guys to show capabilities, and we're interested in seeing guys do a variety of things and provide versatility. You saw Kendrick Green moving around a little bit, you saw Connor Hayward moving around a little bit. You saw (DeMarvin) Leal on defense being a bigger guy who moves around some, Isaiahh Loudermilk and some others. It just adds value to their cause and ours when they're capable of absorbing assignments, particularly as it pertains to situational ball, And so I like some of the things we saw, and we'll just continue on from there."

In this installment, the offense took control early and maintained it throughout on the way to a 6-1 win, its most decisive of training camp.

It started with a touchdown run by Najee Harris, who followed Connor Heyward over the left side of the line of scrimmage. When Kenny Pickett followed with a quick pass to Pat Freiermuth in the end zone, the offense had a 2-0 lead.

Pickett's next pass was another quick attempt, but this one to George Pickens was incomplete with Patrick Peterson in close coverage. But Pickett went right back to Pickens with a quick throw to the sideline, and the second-year receiver dove inside the pylon for the touchdown and a 3-1 lead for the offense.

Mitch Trubisky came on and threw a quick touchdown pass to tight end Rodney Williams to clinch the drill, 4-1, but the offense was far from finished. Trubisky next threw a jump ball to Darnell Washington to came down with it close to the pylon for a 5-1 lead, and then a pass to Myles Boykin in the end zone completed the scoring in the 6-1 victory.

This drill is designed to test the ability of running backs and wide receivers to create yardage with the ball in the open field, while linebackers and defensive backs are charged with coming up and making the tackle. It's one-on-one, the drill is conducted in a limited area, and the player with the ball is to be tackled to the ground.

Tomlin orchestrated the matchups in the drill, and he often had the same players engage in a rematch to give the "loser" a chance at immediate payback. Wide receiver Hakeem Butler was successful on a number of his repetitions, as was Gunner Olszewski, but it's also worth noting that each of those players was stuffed on a repetition. For the most part the drill included the kind of give-and-take that is a hallmark of a competitive offense vs. a competitive defense.

After a few practices in a row where Joey Porter Jr. was making some nice plays in coverage, he looked a little bit rusty in the run-support component of cornerback play.

"That is one of the reasons why we did that today," said Tomlin about what essentially was an open-field tackle drill for the defense. "We need to know more about (Porter) and others, not only what they're capable of, but for teaching, and so we got a lot of ball in front of us, and he'll have an opportunity to show his consistent capabilities in that area. I don't want to draw conclusions on one day's work."

During the half-dozen or so plays during this drill, the Steelers used a lot of multiple-tight-end formations, a lot of formations with Kendrick Green in the backfield, and the offense did a lot of different things from those sets.

On the first play, Najee Harris took the handoff from Pickett and powered into the end zone helped by blocking from Zach Gentry, Darnell Washington, and Connor Heyward. Then with Pat Freiermuth, Gentry, and Washington on the field, and with Green lined up as the fullback in an I-formation, Pickett ran a play-action fake and tossed the ball to Jaylen Warren in the end zone.

Another multiple-tight-end set had a play where Freiermuth came back toward the quarterback and took an inside handoff, but the defense stopped him short of the goal line. Another play with Green as the fullback in the I-formation was a handoff to Harris, who powered across the goal line.

With Trubisky in at quarterback, Connor Heyward came in motion toward Trubisky and was handed the ball, only to be dumped in the backfield. Trubisky used play-action to get a pass to a wide open Gentry in the back of the end zone, and then the offense ran what looked to be the same play where Connor Heyward had just been dumped for a loss, but this time he lofted a pass to Gentry for another touchdown.

"Adding that extra layer specifically for (Kendrick Green) – so far so good," said Tomlin about the usage of multiple tight ends and H-backs and fullbacks. "With Connor, it's probably less of a discussion because that's in his background. He was an H-back at Michigan State, he was a running back at Michigan State, and so usually some of them have it in their background in some form or fashion. It's not a completely new exposure when they get to this level and we're asking them to do some things."

Overall, though, there was a lot of back-and-forth, ebb-and-flow during the practice, especially during the competition periods, and Tomlin was pleased with that.

"You know, I win on all of these days, to be quite honest with you," said Tomlin. "I don't care who wins. It's a platform for teaching and learning. And that's just my mindset at this stage of the game."

• During a third-and-1 drill, Kendrick Green lined up in the backfield, took a straight handoff and powered into the middle of the line for the necessary yardage for the first down.
• In the same drill, the offense used a formation that had Gentry line up tight to the line of scrimmage and receive the snap directly from the center. But Elandon Roberts diagnosed the play immediately and stuffed Gentry behind the line to gain.
• Cornerback Luq Barcoo continued a recent pattern of being around the football when he intercepted Mason Rudolph on a play-action pass during the live tackling team run drill.