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Steelers Camp Takeaways: Larry Ogunjobi Makes Physical Statement (+)

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Steelers Training Camp

LATROBE, Pa. —  The Pittsburgh Steelers had their annual Friday Night Lights training camp practice at Latrobe Memorial Stadium on Friday canceled because of rain and thunderstorms, but head coach Mike Tomlin was looking to go right back to that well as soon as he could, so he moved the team’s practice Monday afternoon.

The fans of Latrobe responded by flooding the gates in downtown Latrobe, despite the short notice, and those fans brought the energy that led to one of the most physical practices of training camp.

“Really appreciative of the atmosphere,” Tomlin said. “Glad that we had an opportunity to come back over here to this venue and entertain the fans, they’re a source of energy for us.”

With the team dressed in full pads, there were plenty of big hits, including Larry Ogunjobi wrecking the very first run snap of team drills and Minkah Fitzpatrick blowing up Benny Snell in the hole on a goal line drill to stop a touchdown, but the most emblematic play of the day came farther down the depth chart.

The offense was winning a short yardage drill, 6-0 and needed one more victory for a clean sweep. The play call was a handoff to the left for rookie running back Mateo Durant, who broke one tackle that would have stopped him well short, and fought through another, losing his helmet in the process, but not giving up until he earned the offense another first down.

LARRY O MAKES STATEMENT

Ogunjobi took his first team reps of training camp on Monday, as the team has been easing him into action after foot surgery that ended his 2021 season with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Tomlin called out Ogunjobi before the first team, looking for what the big free agent acquisition could do for his defense. Ogunjobi pushed back new center Mason Cole and helped create a tackle for loss in the backfield.

“It didn’t take long for his presence to be felt,” Tomlin said. “He’s a big man, he comes off blocks, I’m glad to have him out there and we look forward to him just getting better and better.”

Ogunjobi took reps with the first-team Nickel defense alongside Cam Heyward during team periods, but during defensive line only drills, Tyson Alaulu, who had his first practice of training camp after coming off the pup list, was with the starters.

The Steelers have three quality, veteran defensive linemen for two spots, and with Ogunjobi now fully participating and Alualu close behind, the battle between those two for playing time can really begin.

“It felt great to just get out there,” Ogunjobi said. “I’ve been waiting for a while to get out there and do it. So I was super excited to get out there. When they give you the opportunity to get back to doing what you love, you’ve got to take advantage of it.”

PICKENS SHOWS BULLDOG MENTALITY

The physicality didn’t just end with the play in the trenches. Rookie wide receiver George Pickens was knows as something of a bully in his time with the Georgia Bulldogs, including his block/fight/rag-dolling of Georgia Tech DB Tre Swilling last year.

In an early 1-on-1 red zone rep at camp on Monday, Second-year defensive back Tre Norwood got the best of Pickens, but manhandled the rookie. Pickens came up and gestured, looking for a flag. Wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson told Pickens to not worry about pass interference and play the game.

The next rep, Pickens put two hands on Karl Joseph, knocking him to the ground and making an easy catch. Pickens then fought through more contact from Levi Wallace to make a contested grab, and then smoked Norwood to the corner in a rematch.

 

MORE SITUATIONAL FOOTBALL

The Steelers start almost very practice with their seven shots goal line drill, but on Monday, there was even more situational play. There was the aforementioned seven tries on a 3rd-and-1 near midfield that Warren gave the offense a sweep with. They closed practice with another seven goal-line plays from the one. That was when Fitzpatrick rang up Snell, but the offense got the best of that drill, as well.

“It’s a big day for us, just hitting some elements of situational football,” Tomlin said. “We have to continue to introduce those components of the game to them and teach and learn. We’ll be in the stadium at the end of the week, that’s just the reality of it. There needs to be a certain level of preparedness.”

SEVEN SHOTS

In the traditional drill at the start of practice, the defense had a good day.

1️⃣ The Steelers lined up with an empty set and three tight ends on the field. Mitch Trubisky had time and found running back Anthony McFarland, who had started to his left, all the way across the formation on his right, just inside the goal line. Damontae Kazee was beaten in coverage.

2️⃣ This time with a more balanced look, Diontae Johnson ran Ahkello Witherspoon off toward the corner, and then cut back to the right pylon to haul in a precise throw by Trubisky.

3️⃣ The third rep was a miscommunication on the part of the offense, as Trubisky threw well behind Johnson on a slant that ended up hitting the foot of a defender.

4️⃣ The Steelers went multiple tight ends again, an Trubisky had Connor Heyward breaking toward the right pylon, but the rookie tight end bobbled it and then stepped out of bounds before he was able to regain possession.

5️⃣ Mason Rudolph looked for Gunner Olszewski out of the slot to his left, but linebacker Genard Avery had excellent coverage and broke up the pass.

6️⃣ Rudolph looked to his right for tight end Kevin Rader, who got in behind rookie linebacker Mark Robinson. Rudolph elevated the ball, and Rader went up to get it, but couldn’t hang on when he hit the ground.

7️⃣ Kenny Pickett got one shot to make a mark, and couldn’t do it as he threw to his right for Olszewski, but Joseph had excellent coverage and broke up the pass.

OBLIGATORY QB UPDATE

Kenny Pickett looked the best I’ve seen him during Monday’s practice. One of the things I grew to appreciate about Pickett during my time covering him at Pitt is that he’s more of a football player than a quarterback. He doesn’t shy away from contact, he doesn’t get flustered (even though he could improve his pocket skills) and he’s cool, calm and collected when the pressure ratchets up.

He’s not built for walkthroughs, and I think in the more intense environment like Monday’s ratcheted-up session, he can show more of who he really is.

Pickett got a couple reps with the second team after Mason Rudolph had rolled through, but otherwise, the pecking order was status quo.

QUICK HITS

🏈 Steven Sims scored on a jet sweep during the goal-line drill, going untouched around the left side while the defense stuffed the middle. He said the Steelers have made a slight change to the alignment on the play to add some more deception compared to last year.

🏈 Rookie cornerback Chris Steele was wearing a set of red pads on his hands during 1 on 1 receiver drills, looking to get some of the handsiness out of his game. Defensive backs coach Grady Brown made the suggestion to Steele.

🏈 I don’t know what Chuks Okorafor wanted for his birthday, but I bet it wasn’t a bunch of 1 on 1 reps against T.J. Watt. Okorafor won a couple and was left shaking his head a couple other times. No one wants to face a different opponent more than Okorafor right now. The good news for him is that it gets easier no matter what.

🏈 Rookie defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal continues to impress, particularly with his ability to flow to the ball against the run and defeat blockers.

🏈 The Steelers depth at inside linebacker is getting tested, with Marcus Allen and Ulysses Gilbert III both banged up with what seem like medium-term injuries. Buddy Johnson seems to be taking advantage of the extra reps.

🏈 Connor Heyward played some fullback with Derek Watt sidelined.

🏈 New edge rusher Ron’Dell Carter is a really big dude for an outside linebacker.

🏈 Derek and T.J. Watt signed so many autographs after practice that they missed the player buses and had to ride back to St. Vincent on the media bus.

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