Weathering the storm

LATROBE, Pa. _ The Steelers returned to the practice fields at Saint Vincent College this afternoon, temporarily, as it turned out, with heavy hearts and a grasp of their circumstances.

They had no alternative.

“We have professional obligations,” head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged this morning in his first public comments since the death of wide receivers coach Darryl Drake on Sunday. “We intend to march.”

They made it through about half of their scheduled practice.

Inclement weather forced the team to the locker room at approximately 4:15.

Practice was eventually called for the day about 10 minutes later.

MEDICAL FILE: Cornerback Joe Haden, tight end Christian Scotland-Williamson, center Maurkice Pouncey, guard David DeCastro and inside linebacker Vince Williams were among those who didn’t participate in the non-padded practice either due to injury or a coach’s decision.

FILLING THE VOID: The Steelers, Tomlin said, are “in the process of developing a plan” regarding how the wide receivers will be coached.

“It’s in place, I just don’t wish to discuss the intimate details,” Tomlin said. “I just don’t believe that’s appropriate at this time.”

Veteran college and NFL assistant coach Ray Sherman was among those working with the wide receivers. Sherman, who has been observing since the opening of training camp, was the Steelers’ offensive coordinator in 1998 under head coach Bill Cowher.

Sherman, 67, began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at San Jose State in 1974. He worked at Cal, Michigan State, Wake Forest, Cal again, Purdue and Georgia before joining the staff of the NFL’s Houston Oilers in 1988.

Sherman also coached in the NFL in Atlanta, San Francisco, New York (Jets), Minnesota (two tours of duty around his one season with the Steelers), Green Bay, Tennessee, Dallas and St. Louis. He was also an offensive coordinator for the Falcons (1990), Jets (1994) and Vikings (1999). Sherman coached wide receivers for the Packers (2000-04), Titans (2005-06), Cowboys (2007-11) and Rams (2012-15) over his last 16 NFL seasons.

“Drop that shoulder,” Sherman instructed during wide receivers position drills. “Rip, club, swim, do what you gotta do,” and “keep those eyes up,” were likewise passed along to the players.

Sherman was at Purdue (1982-85) when Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was a defensive back and then a student assistant for the Boilermakers.

Blaine Stewart, who is in his second season as a coaching assistant with the Steelers, was also working with the wide receivers.

“Run through it,” and “tuck those hands,” and “don’t slow down,” were among the coaching points emphasized to the wide receivers by Stewart, the son of former West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart.

William Gay, a cornerback with the Steelers from 2007-11 and 2013-17, has been working with the wide receivers since the start of training camp as one of the coaching interns for 2019.

Take a look at photos from the Pittsburgh Steelers 12th day of training camp

SEVEN SHOTS: The practice-opening, short-yardage/two-point conversion drill went on uninterrupted by the weather and briefly turned into the Vance McDonald Show.

The Steelers’ starting tight end crossed the goal line on a rushing attempt after lining up in the backfield and also caught a conversion/scoring pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger’s first two attempts ended on a pass defensed by cornerback Artie Burns on an under-thrown fade to wide receiver Donte Moncrief and an interception by outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who returned the ball all the way to the opposite end zone for a pick-six/pick-two.

Mason Rudolph replaced Roethlisberger at quarterback and threw incomplete for fifth-round tight end Zach Gentry, incomplete for first-year tight end Kevin Rader and incomplete for Gentry again on a fade (Gentry got his hands on the ball but couldn’t come down with the catch in a crowd).

The defense won the drill, 5-2.

EXTRA POINTS: Safety Sean Davis was back with the first-team defense … The first-team offensive line was comprised, left to right, by tackle Alejandro Villanueva, guard Ramon Foster, center B.J. Finney, guard Matt Feiler and tackle Chukwuma Okorafor … The weather may have been a factor in the ball being difficult to catch. Safety Terrell Edmunds failed to finish and interception and wide receiver James Washington subsequently couldn’t come up with the catch on the same play in 1-on-1 work … Edmunds successfully defended a deep-ball flea-flicker from running back James Conner to Roethlisberger to Moncrief in 11-on-11 play … The last play was a drop by wide receiver Tevin Jones on a pass from quarterback Josh Dobbs on the first snap of what was supposed to be an 11-on-11 no-huddle period … Tomlin tried to coax the players through the conditions. “The weather does not matter,” he insisted. Ultimately, it did.

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