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Work in progress

LATROBE _ It's been tough sledding for the most part for the running game at Saint Vincent College, even when the conditions haven't been soggy.

But from Maurkice Pouncey's perspective at center, any success the defense has in such 11-on-11, live-tackling sessions deserves an asterisk.

"They know it's a run period," Pouncey maintained. "If you can't stop the run knowing it's a run period, something's wrong."

Everything went right for the offense on Monday when running back James Conner found room up the middle, made a move in open space, broke to the outside and was gone on the way to a 55-yard touchdown jaunt.

"He did a great job, hit it really fast and got right up in there," Pouncey said. "We ran right into the blitz, so it kinda worked out in our favor."

The big splash was representative of what's been on display from Conner in training camp.

"Conner looks good because he's getting a lot more of the (first-team) reps," Pouncey said. "He just looks in great shape. He's blocking really well in the pass game. Hopefully, he keeps building on that and we'll see how things go.

"He's just more used to it. When you first come in you don't know a lot of the things that are going to happen. The expectations now are a lot more for him and he's handling it well."

As for the running game as a whole, "We keep building on it every single day," Pouncey said.

MEDICAL FILE: Safety Sean Davis (groin), cornerback Artie Burns (groin), safety Morgan Burnett (hamstring), tight end Vance McDonald (foot) and outside linebacker T.J. Watt (hamstring) were among those who didn't take part in any 11-on-11 work today.

Wide receiver Antonio Brown took a rare practice off (undisclosed injury). Brown did some stretching beforehand and stayed on the sideline throughout.

Chukwuma Okorafor got a long look working with the first-team offense at left tackle in place of Alejandro Villanueva (undisclosed injury). Villanueva also remained on the sideline.

Wide receiver James Washington James Washington also left practice early (undisclosed injury).

Head coach Mike Tomlin said Brown, Villanueva and Washington could "probably be characterized as day-to-day."

Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster returned to practice.

CATCH OF THE DAY: Washington climbed the ladder between defensive backs Cameron Sutton and Brian Allen and came down with the ball along the sideline.

GETTING THEIR KICKS: Wide receiver Quadree Henderson, Washington, wide receiver Justin Thomas, Smith-Schuster and Sutton worked on settling under kickoffs launched by a JUGS machine.

SEVEN SHOTS: The defense ran its winning streak to five in a row in the practice-opening, two-point conversion/short-yardage drill, 5-2. The highlight for the offense was a diving catch by wide receiver Marcus Tucker despite tight coverage from cornerback Mike Hilton on a pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The lowlight was a drop by wide receiver Damoun Patterson on a ball from quarterback Josh Dobbs (Patterson also dropped a deep pass from Dobbs in an 11-on-11 "Pass Under Pressure" period).

SNEAK ATTACK: Monday's practice also included Roethlisberger running a quarterback sneak one during an 11-on-11 "Backed Up" period (the offense working its way away from the goal line).

"We'll see how much he likes that, hitting it up in the inside like that," Pouncey said. "Coach (Tomlin) told (the defense) we were doing the sneak. They kinda know 'don't touch Ben.'"

The play was noteworthy because it had been awhile, and then some.

"In practice? I don't think we ever did it in practice," Pouncey said. "In the games, a couple years ago.

"It's not a problem. He's 6-foot-5, he can get a yard."

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