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Practice Report: July 31

Highlights from practice No. 9 of training camp, the Steelers' second consecutive day in shoulder pads:

  • QB Ben Roethlisberger's first shot at running a two-minute drill in training camp didn't last long.
  • Roethlisberger made quick work of the six-defensive backs "dime" defense that was tasked with preventing the offense from driving 44 yards for a touchdown in 52 seconds with one timeout at its disposal.
  • The first two plays were a 29-yard completion to WR Diontae Johnson and a 9-yard hookup with TE Pat Freiermuth.
  • RB Najee Harris dropped Roethlisberger's third pass and the fourth, a high fastball to the back of the end zone, went off Freiermuth's outstretched hands.
  • Following a timeout, Roethlisberger rolled right, cut back to his left and found Johnson running across the back of the end zone for a 6-yard score.
  • The personnel group on third-and-goal from the 6-yard line included Harris, Freiermuth and WRs Chase Claypool, Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Take a look at the Steelers training and preparing for the 2021 season at Heinz Field

VARIATION ON A THEME: The much-anticipated "Backs-on-'Backers" running game edition was finally staged.

It was much-anticipated because head coach Tomlin had called it "more revealing than any other little complementary drill we do," following the first "Backs-on-'Backers" pass rush/pass protection version conducted on Wednesday, the first practice of camp in shoulder pads.

Tomlin said the tight ends were included then mostly to give the outside linebackers some work.

The idea this time was to find out who can control the end of the line of scrimmage or set the edge in the running game.

The initial plan was to conduct the drill on Friday night, but with TE Eric Ebron (elbow) and TE Dax Raymond (waived) unavailable, the Steelers made a "common sense adjustment."

It was worth the wait.

Freiermuth went against OLB Alex Highsmith six times and first-year OLB Jamir Jones twice.

"No. 56 (Highsmith) is a guy that has big-time urgency in his play," Tomlin offered. "His motor runs hot. We're just trying to develop that in Pat, and so you partner those guys together to create that.

"That's the iron-on-iron principle. We like the finish of Alex and so we're gonna pit Pat in those circumstances."

TE Zach Gentry was tested on a pair of reps against OLB Melvin Ingram III. Gentry also engaged in six battles against rookie LB Jamar Watson.

Tomlin acknowledged Gentry had an appetite for the drill but added "we're gonna put him in more circumstances.

"The tight end position is a unique one because of the challenges they face week in and week out in the NFL," Tomlin continued. "Some weeks they're blocking outside linebackers. Some weeks they're blocking big men, 4-3 ends. That's why some tight ends look like Pat (6-foot-5, 258 pounds) and some tight ends look like Zach (6-8, 265).

"Zach is a guy that has a skill set and a body to match up with 4-3 people. He better distinguish himself in those circumstances."

SEVEN SHOTS: The defense dominated the signature two-point conversion/short-yardage drill, winning the first four reps in succession on the way to a 5-2 decision.

The offense helped.

WR Chase Claypool dropped what would have been a scoring/conversion pass on the first rep and WR Diontae Johnson had one glance off his hands on the third. Both were thrown by QB Mason Rudolph.

CB James Pierre had another interception, this one at the 3 on a pass thrown by QB Dwayne Haskins. Pierre could have taken this one to the other end zone (he had gone from one to the other on a "Seven Shots" interception on Friday) but stopped at midfield this time.

RB Kalen Ballage was the only player who crossed the goal line with the ball for the offense. He caught a short pass while wide open in the flat on the first such occasion and then ran through S Donovan Stiner after making a short reception on the second.

Both passes were from QB Josh Dobbs.

The reps for the last four practices (seven per) have been evenly split (14 for the offense, 14 for the defense).

MEDICAL FILE: Among those who either didn't participate or only took part in position drills or individual work due to a variety of reasons were WR Cody White (hamstring), RB Jaylen Samuels, OLB Cassius Marsh, OG Trai Turner, C J.C. Hassenauer, OL B.J. Finney, OG Kevin Dotson, OT Zach Banner, OT Chukwuma Okorafor, Ebron (elbow), OLB T.J. Watt and DE Stephon Tuitt.

Roethlisberger, Smith-Schuster and DT Cam Heyward were among those who returned to 11-on-11 work.

X's & O's: NFL Officials were on hand for practice again, as they had been on Friday at Heinz Field. The "crew" today included Line Judge Mike Dolce, Side Judge Dave Hawkshaw, Umpire Brian Neale, Back Judge Dino Paganelli, Field Judge Dyrol Prioleau and Referee Shawn Smith … Another snap from C Kendrick Green to Roethlisberger hit the ground, this one on the first play of "Team Run." An exchange was also botched between C John Leglue and Rudolph … CB Shakur Brown intercepted a well-thrown pass from Haskins that deflected off Gentry's hands in 11-on-11 play … OT Anthony Coyle replaced Turner at right guard with the first-team offense. When Coyle was lost to injury late in the practice, LG Rashaad Coward moved over and OT Brandon Walton took over for Coward. The offensive line at that juncture consisted of, from left to right, Dan Moore Jr., Walton, Green, Coward and Joe Haeg.