LATROBE, Pa. _ Outside linebacker T.J. Watt (hamstring) opened training camp on the Active/PUP List (physically unable to perform), which gave the Steelers a glimpse of what life might look like without 2017’s first-round selection.
It wouldn’t be ideal, but nor should such a scenario be a deal-breaker should it occur in the regular season.
“We don’t like life without him,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler emphasized after practice this afternoon at Saint Vincent College. “I don’t like life without him, we need him.
“There are other guys behind him that can play, I think. ‘Chick’ can play. ‘Chick’ is in good shape.”
Fifth-year pro Anthony Chickillo filled Watt’s starting left outside linebacker position with the first-team defense.
Also reassuring for Butler was 2015 No. 1 pick Bud Dupree’s continued presence at right outside linebacker.
“I think the key for us is how Bud does this year,” Butler said. “I think he knows the defense a little bit better than he has the last four years. You get that experience and stuff like that, and then doing the little things. Once he starts doing the little things he’s going to be better.
“We think he’ll be better.”
FINISH STRONG: Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster failed to finish a catch over the middle early in practice. But Smith-Schuster subsequently beat cornerback Steve Nelson and hauled in a deep ball down the left sideline and then beat cornerback Joe Haden on another deep pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger down the right sideline.
In between the drop and the deep balls, Smith-Schuster made a difficult catch despite contact from “nickel” cornerback Mike Hilton on a crossing route.
Roethlisberger looked as if he had wanted to go deep to Smith-Schuster on the play that preceded the long pass to Nelson, but Nelson had the coverage and Roethlisberger eventually settled for a check-down to a running back. He came back to Smith-Schuster on the next play.
Smith-Schuster made a tumbling catch along the sideline, then got up and patted Nelson on the back of the helmet.
Take a look at photos from the Pittsburgh Steelers 1st day of training camp
FORMATION IDENTIFICATION: No. 1 pick Devin Bush not only started the first play of “Seven Shots,” the Steelers’ traditional practice-opening, short-yardage/two-point conversion drill, he was the only inside linebacker on the field.
The formation deployed against a five-wide receivers look from the offense included cornerback Cam Sutton playing a linebacker-type role, starting cornerbacks Haden and Nelson, Hilton, and starting safeties Terrell Edmunds and Sean Davis.
Bush and Vince Williams were the inside linebackers in the base defense on the first snap of the first 11-on-11 period that didn’t occur in “Seven Shots.” Mark Barron replaced Bush after a couple of snaps.
Bush and Barron also saw time together in the base defense.
Barron and Williams played together in the five-defensive backs “nickel.”
“There’s competition at inside linebacker,” Butler said. “That’s what we wanted to create as much as we could.”
EXTRA POINTS: Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Donte Moncrief, Eli Rogers and Ryan Switzer were the five wide receivers in the first five-wide receivers set … The defense won “Seven Shots,” 4-3. Roethlisberger hit Smith-Schuster, running back James Conner and tight end Vance McDonald for scores/conversions (McDonald made a one-handed grab along the sideline in the end zone at Nelson’s expense, perhaps the catch of the day). Roethlisberger was also “sacked” by defensive end Cam Heyward when the pocket collapsed. Josh Dobbs replaced Roethlisberger at quarterback and threw interceptions on his first two passes (to cornerback Brian Allen and to Sutton, who would have had a pick-six/pick-two return) … Third-round wide receivers Diontae Johnson and wide receiver Trey Griffey also had drops … Fourth-round running back Benny Snell Jr. got a look with the first-team offense … Special teams work included double-vice techniques against a gunner on punt coverage. “Our object is to get four hands on him,” special teams coordinator Danny Smith barked.