LATROBE, Pa. – The Mike Tomlin "Light on Your Feet" Training Camp Tour continued on Tuesday, not with a bus ride but with a time change.
Since the forecast called for a 90 percent chance of rain in the afternoon, the Steelers adjusted their schedule by moving practice up to 10:30 a.m. It might not have been as hot at that time of the day as Tomlin prefers, but the entire practice was completed before a drop fell from the sky. In fact, at 1:47 p.m., the first round of showers already had moved through the area, but practice had been completed and the field cleared 45 minutes before that.
"We had a minor change to the schedule today. We just thought it was very necessary to get our work in, and when we looked at the Doppler, we thought this afternoon might be questionable at best," said Tomlin. "And so, we made the necessary changes. It is our preference to practice in the heat of the day. We believe it aids in team development, particularly from a conditioning standpoint, but while we have a hardcore plan, we remain light on our feet and do what it is that we need to do in an effort to get the work done."
Normally, the Steelers begin their practices at Saint Vincent College at 1:55 p.m., and the first rumbles of thunder began at 2:07 p.m.
"Often times there are going to be things outside of our control that we have to adjust to, such as flight delays, lightning etc., but at the same time when it's time to play, we're gonna be responsible for the play," said Tomlin. "So we always approach subtle changes and adjustments we have to make in that spirit, understanding that it is preparing us for the journey. It was a good day's work today."
The Steelers got their work done, and for those hardy souls who got up early to come to campus and watch, there were some interesting things to see.
Much more ebb and flow has developed in this drill lately, in terms of which unit comes out on top. The defense won on Monday, and on Tuesday the offense came back to even the score.
The first two snaps of the drill were running plays to Benny Snell. On the first of those, Snell was stopped short of the goal line by Terrell Edmunds, but he got into the end zone on the second. Tied, 1-1.
Mitch Trubisky's pass to Chase Claypool in the back of the end zone gave the offense a 2-1 lead when the third-year receiver did a nifty toe-tap just inside the end line.
On the next play, Trubisky rolled to his left and when he saw a clear lane into the end zone he took it, and the offense had a 3-1 lead.
Kenny Pickett was the second quarterback in the rotation on Wednesday, and on his first play, he overthrew Gunner Olszewski in the back of the end zone. Offense, 3-2.
Pickett then rolled to his right and threw to a wide-open Jaylen Warren in the flat for the touchdown that clinched the drill for the offense. Offense, 4-2.
Mason Rudolph came in for the final snap and threw an accurate pass to a slanting Miles Boykin. Offense, 5-2.
LIVE TACKLING PERIOD
There were around a dozen running plays in Wednesday's version, and there seemed to be some overall improvement in the push being provided by the offensive line, which at the start of the period was made up of (from left) Dan Moore Jr., Kendrick Green, Mason Cole, James Daniels, and Chuks Okorafor.
• It began with an 11-yard gain on a jet sweep by Pickens, who was aided by a nice block by Moore to get around the edge.
• One of the elements missing from the Steelers' run defense in 2021 was the absence of slot cornerback Mike Hilton coming off the edge and attacking the ballcarrier in the backfield. Hilton is still in Cincinnati, but on two separate plays, first it was Arthur Maulet and then Carlins Platel making Hilton-like plays to stop the runner at or behind the line of scrimmage.
• Warren and Master Teague got the bulk of the carries, and it was Warren who turned in the longest run of the period when he took the handoff, found a nice crease in the middle, and after getting to the second level of the defense, made a nice cut to get into the open for what ended up being about a 15-yard gain.
• OLB Delontae Scott made a couple of tackles for little-to-no-gain, and rookie ILB Mark Robinson found a crease and shot into the backfield to drop Teague for a 1-yard loss.
• Kenny Pickett made a couple of legitimate NFL throws in Monday's practice, and he continued that trend on Tuesday with some on-time and accurate throws in tight quarters close to the goal line. But Pickett also was intercepted a couple of times, one of those by James Pierre when Pickett attempted a long out-route to the right sideline. His other interception came when the ball was tipped into the air and caught by defensive back Chris Steele.
• Devin Bush had a couple of passes defensed during practice, one coming when he was close in trail coverage and raked the ball out after the receiver had his hands on it, and another coming when he was standing at the goal line in zone coverage and batted a ball down that was intended for a receiver behind him.
• It's difficult for anyone not named Devin Hester to make an NFL roster as a returner, and Gunner Olszewski is showing he is more than that. In fact, so far in this camp he's showing himself to be more than Ray-Ray McCloud, who was targeted 66 times during the 2021 regular season and finished with 39 receptions. Olszewski has shown himself to be a a reliable receiver who runs decent routes and has dependable hands. He especially has been effective in red zone drills in multiple-receiver formations.
• Robert Spillane no longer deserves to be viewed as a liability in coverage, and he offered evidence of that with some nice plays in a drill that had linebackers in one-on-one coverage vs. tight ends.
• Minkah Fitzpatrick's activation off the NFI list and his return to practice wasn't that long ago, but he does things that make you notice him every day. On Wednesday, Fitzpatrick was in on the tackle of Snell on the first play of 7-Shots to make sure he didn't get into the end zone, and he made a solo tackle to keep another offensive player from crossing the goal line. Then during the red zone drill, Trubisky threw a perfect pass to Pickens on a crossing route just over the goal line, but the ball arrived at the same time as Fitzpatrick flashed by at high speed from the other direction. Had that been a game, George Pickens might have had a difficult time completing the catch following the inevitable hit Fitzpatrick would have delivered as the ball arrived.
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"Montravius Adams went down during practice with an ankle injury. He's being evaluated. There are countless guys who are working themselves back to us in a variety of levels of participation. That's important, because it's good for them and good for us, particularly with what awaits us at the end of the week. Stepping into a stadium is a big component of development and in dividing the labor to get a sense of really where we are."
Other players who did not participate in the practice were Marcus Allen, Ulysees Gilbert III, Mataeo Durant, Najee Harris, and Diontae Johnson.
Wednesday's practice is scheduled for 1:55 p.m. on campus (weather permitting, of course) with the team to participate in helmets and shells. The noon-1 p.m. photo op for fans in attendance will feature Merril Hoge.