Practice Report: Sept. 2

It might seem like something players should understand inherently and therefore should happen automatically. See what you're supposed to see and be where you're supposed to be is not as simplistic as it sounds when it relates to an NFL regular season game, and there have been teams that lost because of an inability to follow that very directive and players who lost their jobs because they turned out to be the culprit.

And so during a run-up to a regular season that hasn't included any preseason games, or dress rehearsals as they might be termed in other occupations, the Steelers have incorporated a lot of seemingly mundane tasks into their daily practice sessions at Heinz Field.

"We had a good mock in-season Wednesday today," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "I wanted to take them through the structure of a day that's in-season Wednesday-like in terms of some presentation of base game plan materials. Talking about significant matchups vs. a potential opponent. We did drills that we normally do on Wednesdays, and we added to that. We did more transitional things.

"We felt like we need additional work between getting the offensive and defensive units off the field and special teams units on the field. That's a big component of preseason football, gaining fluidity in that area. So we're paying respect to these unusual circumstances by getting additional work in that area in a practice setting. We'll continue to do that. We don't want to get into stadiums in regular season football and have issues relative to having 11 on the field as we transition from group to group."

One of the standard elements of a regular season Wednesday is the introduction of the game plan for the upcoming opponent, and that plan then is implemented over the course of the rest of the week's practices.

"We weren't necessarily focused specifically on the Giants, even though we went through a mock structured regular season game Wednesday," said Tomlin about the opponent the Steelers will face in 12 days. "We were still just focused on our high-volume things, things we can execute in all circumstances. There are a lot of unknowns about the Giants. It's a first game. There's no preseason. They have new staffs. So the things that we focus on in environments like this better be things we can execute regardless of circumstance, and really that was our focus. It was more about us and our ability to perform."

• Diontae Johnson, Ryan Switzer and newly signed DeAndre Thompkins were the punt returners — at least until Thompkins struggled catching a couple on a windy, rainy day.

• They started 7-shots with Ben Roethlisberger connecting with JuJu Smith-Schuster, first on a quick throw and then on a slant. Eric Ebron was wide open on a cross but the ball was just out of his reach. The first-team offense went 3-1 when Benny Snell followed the pancake block of Zach Banner off the right side. Mason Rudolph got sacked in his first repetition with the second group, which prompted Tomlin to say, "You know you have to hurry, Mason." Rudolph came back with a conversion to tight end Kevin Rader and a handoff to Amara Darboh for another score.

• Ray-Ray McCloud had a nice catch of a deep ball against veteran corner Cam Sutton.

• The defense really gave Marcus Allen a good look at inside linebacker on Wednesday in team and in 7-on-7. He made a couple of stops against the run, and he also broke up a pass for Zach Gentry in 7-on-7.

• Ben Roethlisberger had a maintenance day, and only took part in 7-shots and 7-on-7 late in practice.

• Chuks Okorafor was at right tackle with the first-team offense during the first 11-on-11 period of practice.

• During a kickoff return period, Ryan Switzer was the main return guy with Benny Snell and Chase Claypool as the up-backs.

• Kevin Rader made a leaping grab over a defender in an 11-on-11 period, and then followed that up with a catch between two defenders.

• Cornerback James Pierre made a leaping interception of a Paxton Lynch pass deep down the left sideline.

• James Conner got a lot of work in the offensive script periods against the show team. At one point, he ran the ball three straight times and caught a pass out of the backfield. Later in practice, he ran it four more times. More often than not, he gained significant yards albeit against the second unit.

"James has had a good camp and has done good work," said Tomlin. "We have removed him from some of the tackle football in terms of the team run period, but that's not about him. That's just to get more exposure to some of the younger guys we know less about – to check the evolution of Benny Snell, to get to know Anthony McFarland. That's been our focus. It has been a good preseason for (Conner), and we expect that guy to be ready to go. He came in highly conditioned and he's a professional. We're excited about getting him the ball."

• Terrell Edmunds made plays down the field in coverage, first running stride for stride with a receiver angling him toward the sidelines and out of bounds. A couple of plays later, he knocked the ball out of Rader's hands on a crossing pattern.

• The best pass rush of the day came from Alex Highsmith during OL/DL one-on-one. Highsmith did a quick inside spin move on right tackle Chuks Okorafor. Tomlin called for a re-do. Highsmith tried a bull-rush and Okorafor stood his ground.

• In the final defensive script with the first team, the first three plays were: a tackle-for-loss by Bud Dupree, a sack by T.J. Watt, and a tackle-for-loss by Vince Williams.

"We're continuing to get some guys back who were missing for a short-term, day-to-day like standpoint. Anthony McFarland was back at work today. Cam Sutton wasn't able to finish. He's being evaluated, but we don't expect that to be anything significant. And others are just continuing to push forward."

• David DeCastro (lower body) was still missing from practice Wednesday. He left Friday's scrimmage early.
• Also not participating was offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski.
• Long-snapper Kameron Canaday was a partial participant as he works his way back from a knee injury.
• Defensive end Chris Wormley (shoulder) was a full participant.