LATROBE, Pa. – The Steelers practiced in pads for the final time before they open their preseason at 7 p.m. on Friday in Tampa against the Buccaneers, with the session at Saint Vincent College showing the defense rebound from its defeat in 7-Shots and generally having more success than it did the previous day.
But that shouldn't be taken to mean that the offense was stymied throughout, because second-year wide receiver George Pickens get into the end zone twice via passes from Kenny Pickett, and tight ends Rodney Williams and Darnell Washington both caught touchdown passes during the red zone drill.
During his news conference that was held before the team took the field on Wednesday afternoon, Coach Mike Tomlin indicated that all players who are healthy are scheduled to play against the Buccaneers. The day's practice continued along the line of Steelers vs. Steelers, but Thursday's light workout before the team heads to the airport will be utilized to hammer out some of the things having to do with player rotations in and out of the game.
Included in the "those who are healthy" category would include both Kenny Pickett and Minkah Fitzpatrick, but it might not include cornerback Joey Porter Jr. who was seen standing on the sideline during practice with what looked to be a situation of having his hamstrings iced, and he did not return.
This version of the drill began with the defense winning the first two repetitions, with Pickett's pass on the first snap falling incomplete and his attempted pass on the second snap being batted at the line of scrimmage by inside linebacker Kwon Alexander.
But the next two plays had the offense tying the score, 2-2, when Pickens cradled a pass in his midsection for a touchdown, and then Allen Robinson made a nice play in the back of the end zone for a second score.
Then Mitch Trubisky took over at quarterback, and the defense took advantage of Calvin Austin III juggling a pass that ultimately fell incomplete, and then a high throw intended for Washington sealed the outcome for the defense.
The final play had Trubisky complete a pass to wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick in the end zone for the touchdown that made the final score, 4-3, in favor of the defense.
OTHER NOTABLE PLAYS
• During a later 11-on-11 competition period, Pickett made chicken salad out of a bad situation when he bounced out of the pocket and made a nice throw to Diontae Johnson for a gain of about 15 yards, but Alex Highsmith had the quarterback dead to rights at the start of the scramble but simply pulled up and stopped to avoid any accidental contact.
• Safety Damontae Kazee, who has been working his way back from injury, participated for the defense in 7-on-7.
• During the red zone period, Pickett did a nice job of freezing cornerback Chandon Sullivan, which then allowed Pickens to run past him and catch a pass down the sideline for a touchdown.
• Najee Harris took advantage of a crease created by Chuks Okorafor and James Daniels for a nice gain during red zone.
• In what could qualify as the highlight play of the practice, Trubisky threw into the end zone for Rodney Williams only to have the ball tipped by safety Trenton Thompson, but Williams stayed with it and made the catch in the end zone before the ball hit the ground.
"Just really excited about taking a step and the tape it's going to produce and the teaching opportunities that will result," said Tomlin about moving from the initial stage of training camp into the preseason game stage, "and then it's reasonable to expect when we come back (to Latrobe), we've got a better focus on areas that we are capable of doing well in, things we need to improve on, and let that be our guide."
The Steelers will be off on Saturday and then return to campus for a scheduled 1:55 p.m. practice on Sunday. Then after a mandated day off on Monday, the team will practice on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, before breaking camp on Friday, Aug. 18 before the preseason home opener at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 19 vs. Buffalo at Acrisure Stadium. Thursday will be the final practice of this training camp that's open to the public, and it's scheduled for 10:30 a.m.