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Steelers Training Camp Takeaways: Offense Adds New Elements



Steelers OC Matt Canada

UNITY TWP., Pa. — Steelers training camp continued with just two days left before the team will face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their first preseason game. But interestingly, Mike Tomlin made the players don the pads anyways, and the team had a physical, spirited practice in the final practice before the game. What did we learn from the practice?

Seven Shots

First Rep: Kenny Pickett has trips to his left with George Pickens isolated to the right. Diontae Johnson uses a yo-yo motion to identify the coverage. They find out it is man coverage. Pickett steps back to pass and looks for Allen Robinson II but it is over his head with Chandon Sullivan in coverage. Defense leads 1-0.

Second Rep: Pickett has a 2×2 formation and Najee Harris motions back into the backfield. It is a play-action and Pat Freiermuth leaks out into the flat. He is open, however, Kwon Alexander gets his hands up and knocks it down. Defense leads 2-0.

Third Rep: Pickens is isolated on the line against Patrick Peterson in a 3×2 formation. Yet again, Harris comes from out wide and into the backfield. Pickett turns and fires to Pickens, who fights through contract with Peterson and makes a circus touchdown on a fade route. Defense 2-1.

Fourth Rep: The Steelers send Connor Heyward across the formation to create a 2×2 formation with Jaylen Warren in the backfield. Robinson and Johnson aligned to the right with Pickens out wide on the left. Pickett looks for Warren and Johnson but they are not open and comes back to the middle on his third read to find Robinson for a toe-tapping touchdown. Tied 2-2.

Fifth Rep: Mitch Trubisky is in the game and Calvin Austin II is working against James Pierre on the outside. He beats him off the line and breaks open on a skinny post. Austin, however, bobbles the ball as he is trying to toe tap and Mike Tomlin says it was not a catch. Defense leads 3-2.

Sixth Rep: Darnell Washington is motioning out from his H-Back alignment out wide and Pierre goes out there with them. Trubisky takes two steps and looks for that fade route. Washington has won that all of camp, but Pierre does a great job to shut that down and break it up. He nearly got the interception. Defense leads 4-2.

Seventh Rep: Trubisky steps back to pass with trips to his left and Anthony McFarland motion out wide. Miles Boykin runs a slot fade and clears out the underneath route. Dez Fitzpatrick runs a great slant route and beats Elijah Riley for the touchdown. Defense wins 4-3.

Linemen Two-on-Twos Notes

It’s my favorite part of practice, but today, we had two-on-twos in a unique way. The first was combo blocks, while the second session was about stunts and passing them off. I love these drills at Steelers training camp because it allows the nuances of communication to rise. Here are my takeaways.

– First, I noticed the Steelers starting to work Isaac Seumalo and Broderick Jones together both in double teams and the stunt drill. That is part of the transition into getting Jones more reps for the future. But it is not lost on me that this is the first time we are seeing this. I still think Moore has the edge, at this time, but Jones looked good in these drills. As a run blocker, he is polished and fantastic in space. I’m not sure how anyone can not see that boon. But the drawback right away is the pass pro struggles. So, we’ll see.

– Breiden Fehoko, man. Let’s put some respect on this man’s name. I talk about his ability to destroy double teams despite his stature, but that is part of what makes him great. He’s got fantastic pad level and a great motor. But moreover, he’s strong. There was one rep where Fehoko came as the looper on Bill Dunkle and just washed him into the dust. He put Dunkle on his back. The rest of the double teams did not stand a chance, even a combination block by James Daniels and Mason Cole was wrecked by Fehoko. He’s a plus in this area and has his niche.

– Keeanu Benton is flashing some new skills. One of the biggest issues with Benton was taking on double teams and his rising pad level. But I saw him today really dig into the dirt and play with some consistent pad level for the first time all Steelers training camp. That is a promising sign. The juice and strength are all there, too, no doubt, but when we talk about where Benton is making strides, this is an obvious area to me.

– Depth tackle Dylan Cook is on my radar. He is big, but smooth. I like that combination. Trust me, Cook is not perfect, but he is competitive consistently and has lightning-quick feet with solid enough hands. This is someone who is a sleeper in the tackle room to push for a roster spot. I thought he looked intelligent as well, and took on bull rushes well with a good anchor. Sometimes, he opens up the inside shoulder and that can get him caught.

– Kendrick Green had some really good reps. There was one play where he pushed DeMarvin Leal into the next dimension. Leal struggled in these drills and does not look fully back from his left ankle injury. But he does have a hot motor and is playing with great effort. I imagine the juice will come back, but he seems to be laboring a little bit right now.

– I have praised Seumalo as a guy that I think is the best guard often. But today, I thought that guy was James Daniels. Today, not only did Daniels do well in both of these one-on-ones and did not lose any of them, but moreover, he cleared the way for Najee Harris in the red zone team period for a touchdown. I like Daniels a lot, and for good reason. He keeps proving it.

Red Zone Team Period Notes

The Steelers offense did great in the red zone drills today. I mean, really, it was hard to not notice the guys getting open and making impact plays. So, here are some notes.

– The defense is having some communication lapses. In the 3-on-3 period they did when they were practicing some overload blitz coverages, well the same thing happened on the first play of this period. George Pickens came in motion and it was a play-action outside zone. Pickens kept going for a wheel route and was wide open for a 25 yard touchdown. There was no one in the vicinity of him, so that is a busted coverage. This is something with new guys that will happen, but it’s something to note moving forward.

– Rodney Williams was the star in this period, man. The fifth tight end has been good all of training camp but he looks like he belongs. He made a great catch of a bobbling throw from Mason Rudolph. Then, worked against Trenton Thompson and separated on a sail route with ease. He has crisp routes and has come quite far in his blocking. If the team did not already have four guys here, Williams would make this team.

– I mentioned him in the linemen drills, but credit to Dylan Cook. He looked smooth in these drills, and I wanted to see if it would translate into the team periods. It does and he has a variety of pass sets in his repertoire. Cook looks comfortable with offensive line coach Pat Meyer’s independent hands philosophy. He had a good practice today.

– Darnell Washington is a threat. Between three defenders, Mitch Trubisky, who is having a great camp by the way, fit it right to Washington who just bullied those defenders and boxed them out. He’s a red-zone threat. Is he a high-usage guy? Nope. But man, he can block and he is a big target. That is a red-zone weapon.

– The last thing I want to note here is that Chandon Sullivan had one of the best days I’ve seen him have, spring or summer. The Steelers training camp slot cornerback battle is one where no one has really grasped it by the horns, but this was Sullivan’s best day. He made a great diving pass breakup in coverage against Allen Robinson II. I think he had a few more in the 3-on-3 drills. This is a day he needs to stack on.

New Flavor in the Offense

Yesterday, when talking to Kenny Pickett, he mentioned that the Steelers’ training camp regiment called for experimentation in the offense. Moreover, he noted that there were new concepts in the playbook while they had removed other spots. So, I wanted to watch for new concepts today since Pickett noted that the next few days would be key for installation leading up to the game against the Buccaneers.

There are some new plays. Matt Canada created a lot of influence by being ahead of the game with a motion to guys like Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Ben Johnson, and Andy Reid. Well, I guess the original master is trying to take some from the pupils. There are some plays that were installed that are straight out of each of those playbooks. It’s a new flavor, especially some of the wrinkles using 12 personnel and what seems to be a more robust route tree off the play-action game.

Canada seems to be taking some flavor of the unbalanced sets from the Lions. His vertical concepts seem to be a bit more inspired by that offense and the Rams offense, too. I’m not predicting a renaissance for Matt Canada and this offense, but the man is trying to change things. There’s definitely a bit of change to the offense, and they do have the willingness to push the ball down the field more. Now, let’s see if that holds in the stadium.


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