UNITY TWP., Pa. — The Steelers returned to the practice fields at St. Vincent College on Tuesday under dreary skies and an subdued mood as the team worked out for the first time since the death of wide receivers coach Darryl Drake.
The offensive players that worst the most closely with Drake have obviously been hit hardest by his loss.
As the backs and receivers gathered for their individual drills, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger knelt down and gathered the group around him in a prayer circle for a moment of reflection.
Throughout the day, the trademarked smiles of players like JuJu Smith-Schuster were noticeably missing as the team went through their pads-free workout.
The rain, and eventually lightning and thunder, shortened practice after just an hour and 20 minutes and there were few complaints as the Steelers quietly jogged off the practice field.
The receivers dutifully performed their workouts, with two new supervisors to help replace Drake. Coaching assistant Blaine Stewart, who is in his second season with the team and was a wide receiver at Division II Charleston (W.Va.) spent his entire day with the receivers.
Also supervising on-field drills for the first time was Ray Sherman, the former Steelers offensive coordinator and longtime NFL wide receivers coach that has been a guest coach at training for the Steelers.
Sherman was the Steelers’ offensive coordinator under Bill Cowher in 1998. His last full-time NFL position was as receives coach with the St. Louis Rams from 2012-15. He also worked with the Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons and Houston Oilers.
Head coach Mike Tomlin said earlier in the day that the team has identified a plan going forward to replace Drake, but did not wish to make it public at this time.
Here’s more from the sights and sounds of the soggy practice:
As advertised, cornerback Joe Haden, offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro and tight end Christian Scotland-Williamson did not practice. Linebacker Vince Williams (hamstring) also did not participate in any team drills.
With the minimal-contact practice, several players were able to return to full participation, mostly notably, starting free safety Sean Davis, cornerback Artie Burns and wide receiver Diontae Johnson.
B.J. Finney played center in place of Pouncey. Matt Feiler shifted from tackle to guard and Chukwuma Okorafor filled in at right tackle. Burns started in place of Haden.
The defense was a decisive victor, allowing only two touchdowns while scoring one.
Roethlisberger’s first pass attempt was a fade to Donte Moncrief that was broken up by Burns, who had excellent position on the play. His second pass was headed for Eli Rogers over the middle, but T.J. Watt leapt up to make an interception and returned it for six the other way.
The offense got on the board when Vance McDonald scored on a nifty tight end jet sweep and then Roethlisberger found McDonald inside the right pylon over Kameron Kelly.
But the second team offense, run by Mason Rudolph, got shut out after he made three attempts at tight ends and none of them found the mark. Brian Allen had good coverage on Zach Gentry on the first pass, Rudolph missed Kevin Rader high on the second one, and Gentry couldn’t come down with the third one in double coverage between Kelly and Marcus Allen.
Steelers Honor 2020 Graduates at Heinz Field
The Pittsburgh Steelers are showing love to the 2020 graduates that had their senior years cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The team honored this year’s graduating class by displaying a congratulatory message on the scoreboard at Heinz Field Friday night.
You worked hard.— Heinz Field (@heinzfield) May 30, 2020
You did your best.
You gave it your all.
You earned this.
Congratulations to the class of 2020! pic.twitter.com/bzykmUF6u7
A few current and former Steelers players also voiced their support on social media, including running back James Conner, defensive end Cam Heyward and retired defensive end Brett Keisel.
“Keep focused, keep chasing your dreams,” Conner said. “I know 2020’s been a wild year, but just stay focused, stay locked in. I know you guys are all going to go and accomplish great things.”
Congratulations to the graduates of the Class of 2020!— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 29, 2020
Tonight at 8:20 pm, we honor you by displaying a special congratulatory message on the videoboard at @HeinzField!@JamesConner_ | @CamHeyward | @bkeisel99 pic.twitter.com/HaG5SVofNi
Students across the Pittsburgh area have been forced to finish the school year from home, and have unfortunately had to miss out on some of life’s biggest milestones, such as prom and graduation day.
It’s great to see the Steelers doing their part to make students feel celebrated and recognized.
Cam Heyward Discusses Philanthropic Work, Father’s Legacy and Mike Tomlin
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward joined The V Foundation’s “Voices for Victory” podcast to discuss growing up with an NFL father, the inspiration of his philanthropic efforts and playing for head coach Mike Tomlin.
His father, Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, played eleven seasons in the NFL as a running back and fullback, rushing for 4,301 yards and 30 touchdowns and was recently inducted into the Pitt Hall of Fame.
The elder Heyward’s career was unfortunately cut short in 1998 when he was diagnosed with cancer, the disease that would tragically take his life eight years later.
Cam discussed what it was like growing up with an NFL player for a dad, and some of his fondest memories of his father growing up.
“I always get to hear about the stories, and about the interactions he has with people at Children’s Hospital, or just everyday people,” Heyward said. “He did a great job of always having moments with people. And always making people remember those times.”
Cam went on to say that in addition to being inspired by former Steelers teammates to give, it was the experience he shared with his father battling cancer that truly moved him to become a hero in the community.
“I always knew I wanted to give back to kids, and also to cancer research just because I was a kid, and I was always in the hospital as a kid,” he said. “I had great doctors and nurses that helped me along the way. And cancer research just because my dad has been affected by that, and on a regular day, my dad would visit other patients and just interact with them.”
The nine-year veteran also offered words of advice to kids that may have a parent battling cancer just like he did.
“I just tell people rely on your support system, and make sure you listen, because from an exterior point of view, they’re going to have a lot more to say and see why you’re going through.”
Cam also spoke about what it is like playing for Mike Tomlin, and the qualities that he believes make him a great leader.
“In adverse situations, he’s very steady. I don’t think he, he’s not looking to throw the whole playbook out and completely change the way we play,” he said. “As a leader, you have to be able to set a precedent and make sure the guys can rally around you.
“And I think the other thing he does is he’s consistent with that. From the beginning of offseason to the end of the season, he has preached the same message. And I think that resonates with a lot of older guys and younger guys, because that consistency can be brought through anywhere in our organization, in our staff, through each player. They know what’s expected of them, he challenges us and he’s honest with us as well.”
Selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of Ohio State, Heyward is entering his tenth season in Pittsburgh. His 79 tackles-for-loss are the fourth-most in franchise history.
Heyward has made the Pro Bowl each of the last three seasons, and has been named First-Team All-Pro twice over his career, including in 2019.
Founded in 1993 by ESPN and legendary basketball coach Jim Valvano, the V Foundation has awarded more than $250 million in grants and has “become one of the premier supporters of cutting-edge cancer research.”
Listen to the V Foundation’s entire interview with Cam Heyward here.
Steelers Can Practice, Play in ‘Yellow’ and ‘Green’ Phases
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who recently voiced his concerns over not getting practice time, especially with rookies, may be getting his wish.
This afternoon, Governor Tom Wolf released a proposal that would allow professional sports teams to practice or play in the “yellow” and “green” phases without “on-site or venue spectators” as long as they have a coronavirus safety plan.
Before the Steelers can get to work, the plan must first be approved by the state Health Department and include testing or screening and monitoring of all players and personnel.
In this plan, no fans or spectators would be permitted on interior or exterior venue property.