PITTSBURGH — The Steelers outside linebackers were making sure they were not to be messed with in backs on backers. Alex Highsmith was the most notable player out there in that drill. He may soon graduate from it because Highsmith has flat-out dominated in backs on backers in this training camp season. Facing Najee Harris twice, Highsmith beat him both times with different moves.
On one move, Highsmith utilized a quick chop-rip move on Harris who got his hands too wide. Harris was intent to meet Highsmith’s explosiveness with more aggressiveness, but as he lunged forward, Highsmith hit him with an excellent spin move to get to the quarterback. Highsmith looks stronger and just as explosive as he did a year ago.
Jamir Jones was another standout on the day. He ran right through Derek Watt on one rep. Jones pulled out a long arm and Watt immediately hit the turf following the power display by Jones. He followed that up with two wins against Harris. One of which Jones popped under the pads of Harris and sent him flying by the wayside.
Ulysees GIlbert III flashed impressive power as bull-rushed through Anthony McFarland. A nifty spin move on his next rep against Kalen Ballage earned lots of oohs and aahs from his fellow linebackers. Tomlin audibly praised Gilbert after the spin move on Ballage.
Speaking of Ballage, he was easily the most consistent and best in this drill as well. Ballage stuck Quincy Roche on an attempted bull rush with a great re-stick of his hands and impressive core strength. He has looked like the best pure pass protector on the team. Ballage has sound hands and an excellent anchor with his stout, but powerful build.
Seven shots is a daily set of players from the two-yard line, featuring the Steelers No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense for three plays, No. 2 offense vs. No. 2 defense for two plays and the No. 3 offense vs. No. 3 defense for two plays.
🏈: Chase Claypool and Cam Sutton continue their rivalry as Mason Rudolph tries to hit Claypool on a fade route. Claypool elevated over Sutton, brought it in at its highest point, and withheld a hard landing. This was a matter of size. The whole team came over to congratulate Claypool.
🏈: Rudolph then tries to hit Diontae Johnson on a fade route on the opposing side of the field. However, this one is underthrown and James Pierre elevates to intercept the ball. He then returns it for an 105-yard touchdown on the opposite end.
🏈: The Steelers put Claypool, Smith-Schuster, and Johnson in a 3×1 formation. Johnson comes on a yo-yo motion back to his original inside placement of the formation. Rudolph hits Johnson, but Mark Gilbert is there to stop him short of the endzone.
🏈: The Steelers run a two-running back set with Anthony McFarland and Benny Snell ad decoys. They send McFarland in jet motion to distract the linebackers to the boundary, and hit Zach Gentry on a mid-screen for a touchdown.
🏈: Dwayne Haskins is into the seven-shots rotation. The Steelers run a play-action rollout, and Haskins tries to hit Benny Snell in the flat, but Snell drops it.
🏈: Josh Dobbs works out of shotgun and scans the field, but no one is open. He steps up into the pocket and runs it in for the touchdown. Calvin Bundage was in pursuit.
🏈: Kalen Ballage is sent in motion from the left of Dobbs to the flat on the right side of the field. Dobbs and Ballage fake the speed option, and hit Rader inside on the shovel option as he heads in for the touchdown.
Perhaps the biggest standout of training camp defensively has been Pierre. On top of the interception that Pierre put on his docket today, he also made a great stick in the red zone of James Washington. Consistently, Pierre has risen to the occasion of the challenges that the Steelers throw his way. Showcasing ball skills, physicality, and high football IQ, it is clear that Pierre belongs on the NFL gridiron.
With Antoine Brooks and Arthur Maulet playing fine, but not consistently popping as much as the team would wish, it is pretty easy to see an argument for the Steelers moving Sutton inside in sub-packages. Pierre has played far too well thus far in training camp, and it was against the big boys, too. Expect to continue hearing big buzz about Pierre at camp.
The Steelers have employed Anthony McFarland in a multitude of ways. The two running back sets are the most notable way in which he would be employed in the offense. However, there were a few fantastic flashes that McFarland showcased on Friday. On a toss to the right side of the field, McFarland made a fantastic hard cut to force a missed tackle. He then tight-roped down the sideline and into the endzone for a touchdown.
On another counter play, McFarland stayed patient as his pullers got out in front. The tight ends opened a hole, but there was a linebacker waiting for McFarland. Still, it was no trouble for him, as McFarland boat raced the Steelers defense on a fifty-yard rip down the field. He has stuck out in a good way and looks like the clear second-best running back on the team.
RUDOLPH ROLLER COASTER
With Roethlisberger having a scheduled off-day, the Steelers gave Rudolph the first-team reps on Friday. However, in the opportunities he was given, Rudolph struggled big time. Rudolph underthrew Johnson in seven shots, resulting in Pierre’s big interception on the fade route. It may have been more of a timing thing, but there has to be more float to the back pylon on that play.
On another play, Rudolph tried to hit Claypool up the sideline on a wheel route. However, it was double covered and Minkah Fitzpatrick jumped the route. It was a poor read by Rudolph, who misread the Cover 2 coverage and missed an open Johnson below in the flat. In that same team period, Rudolph sailed a ball too out in front of Johnson, who won on an out and up route.
It was a rough day for Rudolph. All spots are open for competition, as declared by Mike Tomlin, but it was thought of as a foregone conclusion that Rudolph would be the backup. While that still seems likely, Dwayne Haskins continues to impress. The door is open for opportunity if Rudolph continues to struggle.
WIDE OPEN WIDEOUTS
Steelers cornerback Cam Sutton made a nice pass breakup on a toss from Mason Rudolph to Chase Claypool at the start of one-on-ones, but it was unfortunately all downhill from there for Pittsburgh’s defensive backs.
Wide receivers had no trouble creating separation during the rest of the session Friday, especially the twitchy Ray-Ray McCloud and agile Diontae Johnson.
Following the initial pass breakup, the offense went on to score touchdowns on eleven consecutive passes to close the drill. McCloud had four touchdowns during the period, while Johnson burned Antoine Brooks Jr. on a deep out to the back pylon on a touchdown pass from Dwayne Haskins.
Rico Bussey’s impressive showing from Thursday’s session carried into Friday, as he made a defensive back fall to his knees on a filthy option route that also went for six.