UNITY TWP, Pa. — One of Mike Tomlin’s favorite stops during Steelers practices is a defensive get-off drill.
The linebacker and linemen spread out across a yard line, and at the snap of a ball, charge up field. The first one to get to a certain point about three yards up field is the winner. It’s a regular staple of the team’s early period individual practice sessions.
But on Wednesday, Tomlin changed things up, bringing in speedy cornerback Mike Hilton to participate in the drill alongside the larger defensive players.
Perhaps surprisingly, Hilton got routed and never contended in any of his reps, with Bud Dupree, Cameron Heyward, J.T. Jones and Vince Williams earning wins instead.
“See what I mean, Mike Hilton?” Tomlin yelled. “These big jokers can get off.”
“Bring them down to my territory,” Hilton responded, referring to the agility drills the defensive backs were doing at the far end of the field.
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Wide receiver Ryan Switzer suffered a quad injury, tackle Derwin Gray had fatigue symptoms and cornerback Herb Waters has a shoulder injury. All are still being evaluated.
Linebacker Anthony Chickillo did not practice because he was being evaluated for a minor issue.
Safety Sean Davis (dislocated finger, left hand), linebacker T.J. Watt (left hamstring tightness), and wide receiver Donte Moncrief (dislocated finger) did not practice and are still day-to-day.
Wide receiver Johnny Holton (left hamstring) had a helmet and pads on, but did not participate in full-contract drills.
Offensive guard David DeCastro was given the day off.
Diontae Johnson and Tevin Jones replaced Moncrief on the first unit. Johnson also worked inside some, where Switzer usually plays, as did Eli Rogers. Ola Adeniyi switched sides to fill in for Watt and Chickillo. Kameron Kelly continued to work at free safety in place of Davis. B.J. Finney worked with the first team at left guard. He previously filled in for right guard Ramon Foster and center Maurkice Pouncey.
Tempers flared in the second team period, as offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva and defensive lineman Cameron Heyward got into a confrontation that turned violent when Villanueva threw a big overhand punch over the top of an intervening player. The fight was quickly broken up.
In a situational team period where the offense was playing from its own 2-yard line, Ben Roethlisberger called a silent snap and took the ball around the right end himself while the rest of the line stayed put, Statue of Liberty style. No one gave chase after the defense realized they’d been had, but Roethlisberger ran out the 98-yard play — with some help from JuJu Smith-Schuster — to the applause of the crowd.
Sutton Smith got his first work in during training camp at fullback after starting out exclusively at outside linebacker. He also played some fullback during OTAs and minicamp.
Roethlisberger was stymied on his first of seven red-zone plays when rookie linebacker Devin Bush broke up a pass intended for James Washington.
He countered with three touchdown passes to Xavier Grimble over Mark Barron, Vance McDonald in front of Kameron Kelly and a wide-open Johnson after a long scramble.
Josh Dobbs got the second-team reps. He picked on rookie safety P.J. Locke for two touchdowns, one to Washington and one to Jones. His other pass, also intended for Jones, was broken up by Brian Allen.
Rooney: Steelers Plan to Return to St. Vincent for 2021 Training Camp
There is plenty that remains up in the air about the 2021 NFL offseason, but the Pittsburgh Steelers still have plans to resume one of their enduring traditions that was broken by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
The Steelers were forced to forgo their trip to the campus of St. Vincent College near Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 2020 due to the NFL’s rules regarding keeping players isolated during the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s unclear how much those restrictions will change for the NFL teams this summer, but as things stand as of today, the Steelers are still making plans to return to the Laurel Highlands for the team’s annual training camp this summer.
“As we sit here today, our plan is to have training camp in Latrobe,” team president Art Rooney II said to Steelers.com on Friday. “We still have a ways to go to get there, but I think there’s a pretty good chance that’s going to be able to happen. We’re still hopeful we’re going to have some form of offseason program, and it’s probably not going to start on time but I think it’s important particularly for the young players that we get back to having an offseason program and then a full training camp and preseason games. I think we need to have that to help the young players continue to develop.”
Displaced from their usual bucolic summer home and from UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side due to capacity limitations, the Steelers spent the 2020 training camp and preseason at Heinz Field.
NFL Network Analysts Call Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger 3rd-Best in AFC North
It appears that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is likely to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers, with both Roethlisberger’s agent and team president Art Rooney II making public statements that each party desires a return for 2021 this week.
But how much of a difference-maker will Roethlisberger be? That depends on his level of play this coming season.
NFL Network analysts and former NFL players Willie McGinest and LaDainian Tomlinson each ranked the quarterbacks of the AFC North and both said they think Roethlisberger is the third-best quarterback in the division, behind Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield.
“I’m not taking anything away from Ben,” McGinest said. “Lamar Jackson is special and I put Baker in front of Ben because of what we’ve seen in the progression of Baker the last couple of years. … I see him getting better and Ben fighting father time, with the skills diminishing just a little bit.”
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) February 25, 2021
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Tomlinson said. “We’ve seen, in spurts, Big Ben play well. He started out hot. But he didn’t finish so well. … He looked old and beat up toward the end of the season. I’m just not sure that improves.”
Statistically, Roethlisberger finished first amongst the four AFC North passers in completion percentage, but he was fourth in yards per attempt and third in passer rating and QBR. Pro Football Focus ranked Roethlisberger last of the division’s four starters in 2020.
NFL Head Coach: Bud Dupree’s Injury Cause for Uncertainty Entering Free Agency
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree is set to hit free agency in a matter of weeks, but one head coach believes he could be waiting a while to sign.
Speaking with FanSided’s Matt Lombardo, an NFL head coach, speaking anonymously, said Dupree’s season-ending knee injury has made his free agency outlook uncertain.
“Bud Dupree is someone that is a real question mark for me,” the head coach told FanSided. “If he was healthy, he’s easily the top pass-rusher hitting the open market, and teams would pay a king’s ransom to sign him. But, with him coming off a torn ACL, what exactly are you committing to? Does he want to go back to Pittsburgh? Who knows, but he’s someone that I think will wind up having to wait a while to sign.”
Lombardo compares Dupree’s situation to Tennessee Titans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney last offseason.
While he had not suffered a significant injury the season prior with the Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks, Clowney signed with Tennessee on just a one-year, $12-million deal. He had been expected to be paid handsomely on a lengthier contract, which obviously did not come to fruition.
Clowney was virtually invisible for the Titans, recording no sacks in eight games before being placed on injured reserve in November.
Due to his torn ACL, Dupree could find himself having to settle on a cheaper, one-year “prove it” deal as well. Ideally he would then cash in during the 2022 free agency period is all goes as planned.
Dupree was having another stellar season before tearing his ACL in the Steelers’ Week 12 win over the Baltimore Ravens. He had eight sacks, eight tackles for loss, 15 quarterback hits and a pair of forced fumbles through eleven games.
After playing last season under the franchise tag, which paid Dupree $15.828 million, the Steelers’ dire salary cap situation will most likely prevent them from bringing him back. Still, the brass of the organization has expressed their desire to do so if circumstances were different.
While the knee injury remains a concern, Dupree shared he was ahead of schedule in his recovery when he joined NFL Network’s Good Morning Football late last month.