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Practice report: July 30

LATROBE, Pa. – It was a big day at Saint Vincent College. With the NFL observing a league-wide initiative titled "Training Camp: Back Together Saturday" the Steelers opened their version of the festivities by announcing on campus that Myron Cope, Sam Davis, Ray Mathews, and Heath Miller will make up the 2022 Class of inductees for the team's Hall of Honor. And then before the start of the day's scheduled 1:55 p.m. practice, Coach Mike Tomlin addressed what was the biggest crowd so far this summer to watch the team practice.

"As we work to be a team that we all want to be this year, we got this league initiative called, Back Together Saturday, and we just wanted to take a pause not only as the Pittsburgh Steelers but as members of the National Football League to thank all of you who put so much energy and passion into supporting us," Tomlin said into a microphone from the 50-yard line at Chuck Noll Field. "You are a driving force for us. Hopefully we entertain you today and get better, make a few plays, and have some fun."

After the two-hour session ended, Tomlin met the media, and it was clear he still was energized by the crowd that turned out for a weekend practice on a perfect summer day to watch the Steelers in their return to their long-time summer home after a two-year absence because of the pandemic.

"We're just so excited to be back in this environment and to feel supported by the fans. I'd be remiss if I didn't open up with that," Tomlin told the media. "We had an opportunity to get better today. Thankfully, today is the last day of acclimation (practice in helmets and shorts), and so we're pushing more towards some real football. Next time you guys see us we'll be carrying full pads, and that's just a significant component. of this process. Now we'll get an opportunity to stop speculating and started looking at the realities of play."

"We talked about Chase Claypool the last time, that he wasn't able to finish practice with a shoulder injury. That can be characterized as day-to-day. Pat Freiermuth has a hamstring that can be characterized as day-to-day. Marcus Allen went down with a hamstring injury in practice today that needs to be evaluated before we describe the extent of that."

"Like I always mention this time of year, bumps and bruises occur along the way and it's an unfortunate component of the game. But that's also an opportunity for others," said Tomlin. "We were running a little short at tight end today because of Freiermuth's injury, and it gave a guy like Connor Hayward an opportunity to put his skills on display. I thought he stepped up and made some plays today."

In fact, it would be reasonable to label Connor Heyward and T.J. Watt as being a couple of the guys who lived up to Tomlin's mandate to entertain and excite the crowd.

Heyward scored the offense's first touchdown in 7-Shots, and he might end up with two touchdowns once the video is watched and graded, because on another play he came down with a ball that was batted around in the air and appeared to some that Heyward then got across the goal line before being down by contact.

Another development in Saturday's 7-Shots was that Kenny Pickett made his first appearance in the drill, and his fade pass to the back corner of the end zone was grabbed by Tyler Vaughns, who appeared to come down in bounds for the score. Even if Heyward is judged to have scored twice and Vaughns' catch is ruled a touchdown, the defense again won the drill, 4-3.

Here's a suggestion to the Steelers for the rest of training camp and to their opponents in every game for the rest of this year: Quit trying to run those quick wide receiver screens to T.J. Watt's side. During an 11-on-11 period where the purpose of the drill was to work on third-down situations, the Steelers tried one of those quick wide receiver screens to Watt's side.

Previously in the same practice, Watt had blown up a play by "sacking" Mitch Trubisky, and on another occasion, he penetrated on his pass rush and got his hands up as the ball was delivered. Watt batted the ball into the air, and when it carried just a little too far for him to run it down for an interception, he kicked at the bouncing ball in frustration, and it flew into the stands.

But this time, on the ill-fated wide receiver screen Watt finished the play and it became a pick-six. Watt got himself into the throwing lane quicker than the screen could form, timed his jump perfectly, and managed to catch/control the ball when it hit his hands. His sprint into the end zone completed the impressive athletic play and delighted the crowd.

"TJ has been TJ, and we appreciate that," said Tomlin. "He loves football. He loves to work. He loves to compete. It's guys like him that you really want the young guys to pay close attention to, watch them day to day, and you see why they were able to build the resumes they have."

The Steelers are off on Sunday, and then their 1:55 p.m. practice on Monday will be their first in full pads.