LATROBE, Pa. – Coach Mike Tomlin sees his job as being one where he's responsible for giving the team what it needs at a particular point in time. On Thursday here – a day when the temperature was hovering in the mid-80s but the bright sunshine made just standing at field level feel like lying on the bottom of a frying pan – he decided what the team needed was a padless practice.
"We took the pads off for today, but I still thought the work was highly productive," said Tomlin. "Such is life during this process. Sometimes we'll carry pads, and sometimes we won't. They have to be able to adjust to both and still find ways to be productive, and I thought largely we did a good job of that today."
With the players wearing just helmets and shells, the afternoon's agenda read very much like that of an early-June OTA session, but even so it still began with seven-shots. Ben Roethlisberger completed three passes on his four snaps, with touchdowns to Xavier Grimble and Jesse James. Roethlisberger's other completion was to Antonio Brown, but he was upended and stopped short of the goal line.
Joshua Dobbs was next, and during his three snaps he completed a pass to Landry Jones for a touchdown and scrambled up the middle for another score.
RED ZONE PASSING**
The Steelers also worked on red zone passing/pass defense during today's session, with the first series of plays being run from the 2-yard line, and then the next series moved back to the 15-yard line. For the offense, wide receiver Justin Hunter continued to make some plays while working with Roethlisberger, but there also seemed to be a couple of instances of miscommunication between Roethlisberger and Eli Rogers.
On defense, Coty Sensabaugh and Mike Hilton represented themselves well, and Artie Burns defended a pass that was intended for Antonio Brown.
"(Hunter) is making a lot of plays and doing a good job, and as you mentioned (in your question) he's a veteran football player," said Tomlin. "I think we remember that although he's new to us, he's going into his fifth year in the National Football League. It shows from time to time."
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS ON TAP
Friday, Aug. 4 will mark the Steelers annual trip to Latrobe Stadium for a night practice that has become a phenomenon in its own right. For the second straight summer, ESPN will broadcast live from the site, and the stands typically are filled to capacity.
Follow the receiving corps through a training camp practice.
"We'll put the pads back on tomorrow night, and that'll be an exciting element of it," said Tomlin. "It's just the atmosphere. That's an awesome atmosphere, even the ride as you approach the stadium. We just appreciate our relationship with this community and the atmosphere they provide."
ZEBRAS ROAMING THE GRASS
A group of NFL officials visit every training camp site each year, and a contingent led by referee Gene Steratore worked today's practice and also figure to be on hand for tomorrow night in Latrobe Stadium.
"The rules are ever-changing, and not just in terms of the black-and-white rules, the rules changes, but also the points of emphasis," said Tomlin. "That's where the relationship gets fostered in a positive way – the points of emphasis for this year. Those officials come into this setting and are able to interact with guys during the training process and they're able to educate them. It's extremely helpful to us, but in communicating with them it's also helpful to the officials in terms of getting them up to speed. It's really helpful for both sides."
Mike Mitchell, James Conner, Senquez Golson, and Landry Jones did not practice. Ryan Shazier began the practice wearing jersey No. 92 as a tribute to William Gay, but he ended the day on the sideline after it appeared he may have tweaked a hamstring during a coverage drill. It also looked like Roethlisberger may have turned an ankle or stepped on somebody's foot, but when asked about it, Tomlin said, "It's nothing."