UNITY TWP., Pa — The Pittsburgh Steelers training camp pushed ahead into its third day on Saturday with plenty of fireworks and fanfare abounding on the campus of Saint Vincent in the rain. It was an odd practice and we got a glimpse of some fascinating things that are going to be pertinent for the future. What did we learn from the Steelers training camp on Saturday?
1st Play: Kenny Pickett comes out with George Pickens aligned in the slot and Najee Harris as the sidecar to his right. It’s a 2×2 formation with Diontae Johnson as the X on the same with Pickens. Pat Freiermuth split out wide with Allen Robinson in the slot on the other side. Elijah Riley first-team slot cornerback. Pickett steps back to pass on a slant to Pickens and it goes right through his hands. One of the more brutal drops so far in camp. 1-0 defense.
2nd Play: Pickett has a balanced formation with Harris motioning back into the backfield. Robinson aligned in the slot with Pickens and Johnson out wide. Pickett looks for anyone to get open on a switch concept to the right but can’t find anyone. He scrambles out of the pocket and throws a ball towards Pickes in the endzone but Levi Wallace breaks it up. 2-0 defense.
3rd Play: Riley comes screaming off the edge on a slot cornerback blitz while Kazee caps him over top. The offensive line can not pick Riley up and he slithers underneath Dan Moore Jr. Pickett has to move off his platform and wants to get it to an open Robinson in the back of the endzone, but Cam Heyward gets his hand up and bats it down for the incompletion. 3-0 defense.
4th Play: The Steelers come out in a condensed set with some of the second team coming in. First time I’ve seen 12 personnel with Zach Gentry and Connor Heyward on the field. The team runs a china concept and Gentry stays into block and then releases. No one gets open so Pickett starts to drift right and out of the pocket. He throws back across his body and finds Gentry fading into the end zone for a touchdown. 3-1 defense.
5th Play: This is the first play they come out in a pony (2 RB) set with Anthony McFarland flexed into the slot. Heyward is off to the left of the formation but motions across the formation to make it 3×1. Working as the most inside guy, the Steelers run a pick play and let Heyward drift off to the endzone on a corner route. Heyward hits the ground on a diving catch for the touchdown. 3-2 defense
6th Play: Trubisky steps back to pass on a three-step drop and looks for Cody White on a fade route. White gets boxed out right away by rookie cornerback Cory Trice, who rises up and makes a great play on the ball, and bats it away. Secondary coach Grady Brown gets pumped up about it. 4-2 defense.
7th Play: Darnell Washington commits a false start and gets yanked by tight end coach Alfredo Roberts. Rodney Williams comes in on a bunch set to the right side. Trubisky finds Gunner Olszewski on an out route but the ball is low and he has to hit the deck, short of the endzone. 5-2 defense wins.
Kenny Pickett Struggles
The story of today was the weather and how it affected this offense. To be fair, most of this unit looked bad. That did include the starting quarterback. This reminded me of his second day down in Mobile at the Senior Bowl where the torrential rain and wind took him out of it. Some of it might be the ball, but other parts of it factor into this entire thing. It was just his worst day of training camp so far.
His passes sailed. He looked more jittery in the pocket and a little more off time. Some of his decision-making collapsed. Not only did the center-quarterback exchange fall apart today, but the offensive line did, too. Pickett and the other quarterbacks consistently worked with dead plays or bailed out of the pocket.
Regardless, under those circumstances, he didn’t rise to the occasion of a ‘star quarterback’ if that’s the attainable goal that you want for him. That’s all good, it’s probably the right way to look at it. It was just the first hiccup in the road for Pickett. His response tomorrow is more important than the struggles through the rain today.
Patrick Peterson Safety
Patrick Peterson is working at safety now in addition to his reps at cornerback and slot cornerback. We knew he was going to be a versatile piece in this room, but he is playing far more safety than I thought he would. He is rotating back into a Cover 2 safety while Joey Porter Jr. works with the first team.
Peterson has never played most of these spots. But he’s probably the smartest dude in that room. Count me in as a guy who thinks Peterson can open this room up in all the good ways he possibly can. That is what he brings to the table and what makes him such a fascinating player.
Cory Trice Shines
On a day when the defense shined, I thought Cory Trice had his best day of training camp. Sure, the pass breakup was nice and all. But really where he made his bread was on special teams. Trice looked excellent as a gunner, something that will be important to making the team as a 7th round draft pick.
Since the Spring, Trice has done everything right to check the boxes. His length and size are pluses, but he’s far more fluid than you realize until you watch him. I think that Trice has a lot of upside still to give to the Steelers, too. Expect him to continue ascending over the next few weeks.