LATROBE, Pa. – Sunday's practice marked the Steelers' final one of the camp-opening acclimation period, and under sunny skies and pleasant temperatures at Saint Vincent College, Coach Mike Tomlin used the session as an opportunity to get some extended exposure to his younger players. With Cam Heyward and Isaac Seumalo and Patrick Peterson and T.J. Watt and Mitch Trubisky among a group of veteran players who were watching but not participating, Tomlin took advantage of the situation.
"A really significant day's work today," said Tomlin, "because we gave some veteran guys a day off in some instances, we minimized the reps of some others, but it's not about them. It's about the elevated reps of the younger people under those circumstances. A guy like Broderick (Jones) got an opportunity to get more reps, and Nick Herbig on the defensive side of the ball being another example of that, and also Joey Porter. So it's just really good days. Often times these guys are going through the learning process, but they don't get an opportunity or as many opportunities as they would like to display that learning. So some days we thoughtfully shorten the lines and increase their reps in an effort to gain exposure; then they get an opportunity to put up or shut up; and then we plan the next week accordingly. If guys make good use of those reps, then we'll continue to look at them and continue on with this developmental process."
Using Porter as just one example, he broke up one pass because he was in tight coverage and able to reach around wide receiver Dan Chisena, and he also used his speed to make up some lost ground and get a hand on a deep pass intended for Calvin Austin III. But in another situation, matched up against Diontae Johnson, Porter was victimized by the veteran receiver's short-area quickness that was used to create space to create a completion.
Take a look at the Steelers training and preparing for the 2023 season at Saint Vincent College
Give-and-take, ebb-and-flow. However you choose to describe it, one of the characteristics of a truly competitive training camp is the way one unit or one position group might respond to being bested by another unit or position group from one practice to the next. So it has been with 7-shots, because after the offense posted a 5-2 win in the first installment on Friday, the defense has responded with consecutive wins on Saturday and Sunday.
On the first snap, Kenny Pickett attempted a back-shoulder-type throw to Pat Freiermuth, but it fell incomplete. On the next play, there might have been a miscommunication in the secondary, because the coverage turned George Pickens loose who was alone to catch Pickett's pass in the right corner of the end zone. After Pickett was flushed out of the pocket to the right and found Zach Gentry in the end zone on the third play, and then threw a quick strike to Freiermuth in the end zone, the offense had a 3-1 lead.
Mason Rudolph replaced Pickett, and his first throw into the end zone was intercepted by safety Kenny Robinson, his first of two on the afternoon. Connor Heyward then dropped a pass from Rudolph, and the score was tied, 3-3, going into the final play. Rudolph's pass fell incomplete with wide receivers Gunner Olszewski and Ja'Marcus Bradley in the area, and the defense had a come-from-behind 4-3 victory in the period.
HITTING THE GROUND RUNNING
At 10 a.m. the Steelers announced the signing of veteran inside linebacker Kwon Alexander, and when the team took the field at 1:55 p.m. for its final padless practice of this acclimation period Alexander was on the field and working with his new teammates.
"A couple of months ago we started talking, and then they contacted me a couple of days ago to get me out here, and I was ready to go," said Alexander after the day's practice. "It's a legendary environment."
Listed at 6-foot-1, 227 pounds, Alexander is in his ninth NFL season and will celebrate his 29th birthday in just a few days on the Saint Vincent College campus. And after listening to him talk, Alexander's new best friend is inside linebackers coach Aaron Curry.
"I got straight to work trying to learn the playbook as fast as I can," said Alexander, "and like I said, getting some reps at practice made it a lot easier. So, I'm just ready to put the pads on."
The Steelers players are off Monday, and then Tuesday's afternoon practice will be their first in full pads for the training camp. Alexander promised to make good use of the time between now and then.
"I can't take no minutes (off), because I'm trying to catch up," said Alexander. "I wish we had the pads on today."
OTHER PLAYS OF NOTE
• Undrafted rookie quarterback Tanner Morgan saw his most extensive action with Trubisky given the afternoon off. His first pass was for wide receiver Hakeem Butler and was incomplete, but he came back shortly after that to duck outside the pass rush and roll to the right where he found wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick at the sideline for a nice gain.
• After recording an interception during 7 shots, safety Kenny Robinson got his second of the day on a deep ball down the middle of the field during the final period of the practice.
Following the players' day off on Monday, the Steelers will return to the field for a scheduled 1:55 p.m. practice on Tuesday, which will be the team's first work in full pads. Typically, Tomlin uses an installment of backs-on-backers to set the tone for the day.
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
Two players who sustained injuries during Saturday's practice were on the field on Sunday, but neither participated in the workout. Running back Alfonzo Graham had his injured shoulder in a sling, and safety Damontae Kazee had his foot in a protective boot. "I'll probably give you more information when I get it," said Tomlin, "but in environments like this, we don't always have immediate answers in that regard."