UNITY TWP, Pa. – It’s finally game week.
On the 10th day of 2019 training camp, the Steelers practiced at Saint Vincent College following a much-needed day off. The team performed with a noticeable sense of urgency during the 2-and-a-half-hour session in anticipation of their first preseason game Friday night against the Buccaneers.
There were several players out of practice with bumps and bruises typical of this point in training camp, notably on the offensive line, where three starters in Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey and Alejandro Villanueva were sidelined. Matt Feiler moved to left guard in Foster’s place, Chukwuma Okorafor replaced Feiler at first-team right tackle and Jerald Hawkins repped second-team left tackle.
But nonetheless, the session was hard, physical and competitive – reflecting the harsh reality that comes along with the dog days of NFL training camp. Almost half of this group is competing for their job, with a roster spot – and their NFL future – on the line.
Mike Tomlin relayed that message at the start of individual drills this afternoon.
“Punch (in) that clock, or give your jersey up,” he said.
Check it out below:
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
Ben Roethlisberger was his usual self, directing the Steelers’ offense, most notably the young receiving core – with tips and adjustments as the day went on.
He was crisp and on target. On one play during 11-on-11, he escaped the pocket, rolled left and connected an off-balance throw to JuJu Smith-Schuster over Joe Haden that drew “ahhs” from the crowd.
But for as crisp as Roethlisberger was, there was a stretch during the team segment where his receivers/tight ends were anything but. It started with Vance McDonald, who dropped a wide open, would-be catch on a curl route. “You’re unconvered! No one’s there,” offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner quipped. However, McDonald later hauled in an impressive 20-yard catch across the middle later to make up for it.
Mason Rudolph (1st team) and Devlin Hodges (2nd team) were both efficient during the two-minute drill segment to conclude practice. Neither unit scored, though, as the defense bent but didn’t break in the red zone.
Trey Griffey made the best play of the afternoon with a diving grab on a beautifully placed ball from Hodges down the left seam.
The hardest hit of the day came from Trey Edmunds, who stepped up in pass protection and delivered a crack on Mike Hilton as he blitzed off the edge. The Steelers heavily rely on their RBs to block in blitz pickup (think Le’Veon Bell).
Every time Jordan Dangerfield made a play during team drills, he yelled to the sideline (likely the media) “Good morning!” or “Stop sleeping on me!” He performed well with a couple of notable pass breakups.
James Conner, Artie Burns, Sutton Smith, Trevor Wood, Justin Layne, Vince Williams, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, and Diontae Johnson either did not participate or exited early. Tomlin said all are being evaluated, but didn’t express immediate concern.
Villanueva, who exited midway through practice, was seen with an ice wrap on his right shoulder.
The offense won Tuesday’s red zone drill with ease, 6-1.
1st play: Roethlisberger put the offense up 1-0 on a connection to Eli Rogers.
2nd play: Xavier Grimble hauled in an inside slant in traffic on a tight ball from Roethlisberger.
3rd play: Ryan Switzer, who lined up next to Roethlisberger out the backfield, found the end zone on a short pass to the left.
4th play: Roethlisberger drew the defense off-side on a hard count.
5th play: Hodges found Switzer for the receiver’s second conversion of the drill.
6th play: The defense finally tallied a W on a pass breakup by Cameron Sutton.
7th play: Hodges found Tevin Jones on a curl route, who barely stretched the ball over the plane.
Highlights of Alex Highsmith at Steelers Practice 12/4/20
The Steelers take to the practice field for the first time in over a week to now prepare for their upcoming game against the Washington Football Team on Monday evening. This clip shows Alex Highsmith, who will see additional time with Bud Dupree out for the season, going through drills.
Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers
T.J. Watt Continues Torrid 2020 Season with AFC Defensive Player of the Month Award for November
Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt has been named the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Month for November, the NFL announced on Friday morning.
Watt was also AFC Player of the Month in September of this year and continues to be a top candidate for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.
In November, Watt recorded 18 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 17 quarterbacks and defended three passes. Throughout the entire season, he leads the NFL with 11 sacks and 19 tackles for loss, on pace to exceed all of his totals from his Pro Bowl season in 2019.
“He studies the game,” Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said on Friday. “He’s always up there looking at film, grabbing film when he can, getting in some of the coaches offices and looking at film on his on his opponents.”
The Steelers will need to lean on Watt even more after the loss of his cohort at outside linebacker, Bud Dupree, for the rest of the season, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy for other teams to key on No. 90 in black and gold.
“This guy studies the game and it’s a constant thing for him to do, because the game changes quite a bit,” Butler said. “It’s going to change from one week to the other. The more you do the same thing in this league, people are going to find you out. And so, he’s trying to, again, do stuff different and keep on top of his opponent. That’s probably the best thing that he does.
“I think he uses his mind as well as anybody.”
With Bud Dupree Out, Mike Tomlin ‘Comfortable and Confident’ with Rookie Alex Highsmith at OLB
One of the most enduring of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s famous saying has been “next man up.”
That mantra will be put to the test in a big way for the Steelers defense, as Tomlin confirmed on Thursday that outside linebacker Bud Dupree will miss the rest of the season with a “significant” knee injury suffered Wednesday evening against the Baltimore Ravens.
The next man up will be rookie outside linebacker Alex Highsmith. In 11 professional games since the Steelers drafted him out of UNC Charlotte in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Highsmith has recorded 20 tackles, three tackles for loss and one sack. Thus far, Highsmith has worked as a rotational backup to Dupree and T.J. Watt, and also as the fifth linebacker in a 2-5 package the Steelers have been using. Now, Tomlin is expecting him to step up into a starting role, and he’s confident he’ll be able to.
“I’m just as comfortable and confident as I was in Robert Spillane when we called upon him, or Kevin Dotson, when we called upon him on the other side of the ball,” Tomlin said on Thursday. “That’s life in this business. Those guys work behind the scenes every day, very diligently preparing themselves for these opportunities, not only in terms of knowing what to do, but just preparing themselves in terms of conditioning for when we ring their bell.
“And we are ringing Alex Highsmith’s bell now, so it will be exciting to watch him respond to it. But it’ll also be exciting to watch his growth, because growth is associated with experience, and no doubt in the upcoming weeks, he’s going to be gaining a lot of that.”
Part of Tomlin’s confidence stems from the fact that while Highsmith is a rookie, he’s an older, more experienced player than most NFL rookies.
“In the interview process, I was really impressed with his maturity,” Tomlin said. “But you know, that’s not surprising given that he was a fifth-year senior. Oftentimes, we’re not drafting a lot of fifth-year seniors these days, so he had a maturity level that was beyond where he is in this process. But he’s probably older than most rookies.”
At 23, Highsmith is older that fellow rookies Chase Claypool and Anthony McFarland Jr. and is even older than second-year players Justin Layne and Benny Snell and third-year players Ola Adeniyi and Chukwuma Okorafor.
So while the Steelers will be leaning on an inexperienced linebacker, they won’t necessarily be leaning on an immature one.