Work ethic, an emerging weapon, chess in the secondary

LATROBE, Pa. _ What we learned during Week Two at Saint Vincent College:

DOING THEIR HOMEWORK: The new players on defense have gotten outside linebacker T.J. Watt's attention because of their preparedness and their performance.

"You need to know what you're doing in order to show who you are," Watt maintained. "The new guys have done a great job of studying as best as they possibly can and not being afraid to let it loose on the practice field to earn that respect."

Rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. has clearly been one example of what Watt was referencing, a player willing to put in the necessary work with the playbook and with honing the proper techniques on the field.

Porter ended the first-team portion of the first two-minute drill of training camp on Thursday when he intercepted quarterback Kenny Pickett.

Wide receiver Cody White ran a comeback route along the sideline. Pickett stepped up in the pocket and fired on the run but in response Porter knew what to do and how to do it and ended up with his second interception in three days.

"I work on that basically every day before and after practice, coming back to the ball, finishing, toe-tapping," Porter explained. "We were in a Cover 3 situation, it was scramble rules. I saw the guy he was looking down.

"I just trusted my instincts and went after it and I got my two feet in."

Porter had just one interception in 34 career games at Penn State.

He's getting his hands on the ball with regularity with the Steelers because "they're trying me a little bit more," Porter noted.

Another factor, in Porter's estimation, has been "coaches letting me play.

"They trust what I can do," he continued. "They grabbed me for a reason and they just let me ball out. Obviously, they coach me on little stuff and techniques I need to get right.

"But other than that, they just let me be me, and that's what I love."

NOT JUST A BLOCKER: Rookie tight end Darnell Washington's reputation as a blocker preceded him on campus.

Washington put that aspect of his game on display when he got the best of Watt twice in two tries in "Backs-on-'Backers," the pass rush/pass protection drill the Steelers unveiled for the first time this summer on Tuesday, the first day in pads.

But Washington has since established he's also capable of catching passes, something he wasn't often asked to do at Georgia.

First there was a lob in the red zone that turned into a touchdown, and then the next day another. And finally, there was a 20-yard strike from quarterback Mitch Trubisky that produced the touchdown that won the second-team portion of Thursday's two-minute drill for the offense.

"When you're that tall, you'd expect that," Trubisky noted. "He's so tall, he has strong hands, they're gonna have to double-cover him to probably stop that. We just gotta keep working on that, keep giving him opportunities to make plays.

"He's gonna be a big red zone threat for us. He's picking up this offense quick so he's definitely gonna be a dynamic threat for us."

Washington only caught 45 passes for 774 yards and three touchdowns in three seasons at Georgia. But Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin "didn't see any deficiency in that area of his game" during pre-draft study of Washington and cited a one-handed catch Washington had made on his Pro Day as attention-getting confirmation.

He's an inviting target.

Still, Washington's No. 1 asset remains his ability to block.

"I feel like if Darnell would come practice with the O-Line for about a week he could probably play right tackle," left tackle and former Georgia teammate Broderick Jones insisted.

INTERCHANGEABLE PARTS: A number of players continue to play a number of positions in the secondary, in part because of time missed by Minkah Fitzpatrick and it part because that's how the Steelers are apparently planning to play it on the back end.

"I think it's gonna be a lot of moving pieces," safety Keanu Neal offered. "It benefits us, it helps us out.

"It's playing chess, not checkers."

The idea is to induce doubt and confusion in opposing quarterbacks pre- and post-snap.

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is confident the secondary can execute what it intends to without miscommunication potentially adversely affecting the on-field results.

"No, I don't worry about that," Austin emphasized. "If we put multiple groups out there to do different things, then it's our job to make sure they're taught well and they understand what the communication issues are, what has to be done, what has to be said.

"I don't worry about that one bit."

Check out the best black and white photos from the first week of the 2023 Steelers training camp

HIT THE GROUND RUNNING: Wide receiver Diontae Johnson is anticipating a fast start for the offense this season based on what he's seen on the practice field.

"Last year we had a problem with that but this year you can see it at practice, we're moving the ball way better than last year," he observed. "The chemistry is there with all the guys. We're moving as one unit, that's what you need.

"We do that as one, nobody can stop us."

Check out the best photos from the first week of the 2023 Steelers training camp

MAN WITH A PLAN: Washington wasn't expecting to get matched up against Watt repeatedly in the first "Backs-on-'Backs" drill of camp, but emerged with an understanding as to why Tomlin orchestrated things as he had, pitting a rookie against a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year and letting everybody know about it in the process.

"He's gonna put you on the spot," Washington observed. "Kinda how he did me, 'No. 80,' he called me out there, in front of everybody, and all eyes on me at that point. I feel like Coach 'Mike T,' probably just his way, getting all eyes on you, just singling people out, just seeing where their head is.

"If they lose, just see how they react. Or if they win, just see how they react and just go from there."

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