The Steelers second-round pick has already begun turning heads at Steelers training camp. Just weeks after wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard called Claypool “a mismatch weapon,” he has beaten standout veteran cornerback Joe Haden multiple times.
Haden detailed a back-shoulder fade throw that Claypool won in seven shots from the goal line on Monday. Claypool opened up the window with his releases, fought back to a slightly underthrown ball, and skied over Haden to make the catch, even as Haden tried to rip it out.
“He’s been able to be a big body, a deep threat with soft hands and can jump up and get it,” Haden said. “As long as he stays healthy, I think he’s going to be a problem.”
Haden also went onto praise Claypool’s work ethic and determination.
“His worth ethic shows that he wants to be great,” Haden said. “He doesn’t do too much talking. He just gets after it.”
Claypool followed up the praise with another huge day at camp on Tuesday. His most notable play was catching a deep ball down the left sideline from Ben Roethlisberger. The two connected a few times in the team sessions, including a twisting catch on a back-shoulder fade in the end zone. After making an acrobatic twirling catch, Roethlisberger notably yelled “Great Catch!” at Claypool. In only two days, the rookie has made quite the impression.
New Injuries Arise
The Steelers, once again, had some news on the injury front. Rookie guard Kevin Dotson and tight end Dax Raymond suffered injuries as well. Dotson had to be helped off by Ben Roethlisberger and the trainer after injuring his knee. Raymond rolled his ankle in pass rush one-on-ones and will be evaluated to see how much time he will miss.
James Washington, David DeCastro, and Chris Wormley either sat out of practice again or were limited participants. Maurkice Pouncey returned from his one-day absence.
Two TE Sets are Coming
With the addition of Eric Ebron, many theorized the Steelers would bring more 12 personnel or 2 TE sets into the fold of the offense. On Tuesday, Tight End coach James Daniel seemed to confirm those speculations.
“I think that’s a good possibility, but with what we’ve gone through with this offseason, we’re in-person really for the first time, and we’re kind of evaluating things and trying to see what’s going to fit,” Daniel said. “I think that’s definitely a possibility and I think it’s an advantage for us if we can get the situation where we’ve got two tight ends on the field.”
Daniel also noted that diverse skillsets were key to making 12 personnel effective in an offense.
“No question, that’s (diversity) what you want,” Daniel noted. “You want to have quality enough that if you’re thinking you’re going two tight ends and you’re going to be a passing team that the defense can get ready for that. If you’re going two tight ends and you’re going to be a running team, they can get ready for that, but the ability to have the defense off balance is (achieved) by having two guys that are capable and you can be good in both areas hopefully.”
It seems the key to making these work will be using Ebron as a move tight end to allow him to face linebackers and safeties rather than defensive ends and defensive lineman. That should make the diversity work in the Steelers offense. Daniel mentioned the Steelers were comfortable Ebron’s blocking fundamentals, which may hint that move role in the offense is how they will deploy the two tight end sets to make them effective.
Ola Adeniyi and Alex Highsmith Earn Praise
Coming off a second season will little to show on the stat sheet, Ola Adeniyi is looking to fill Anthony Chickillo’s former role as the primary rotational pass rusher on the Steelers defense. With great flashes in preseason, the potential with Adeniyi has always been there, and so far, it seems he is having a good training camp.
“He (Adeniyi) showed up in great condition and ready to work and that is always the first thing that you notice,” Tomlin said. “He will continue to write the story of his overall readiness, but so far, so good.”
While nothing is for certain, with his experience and Tomlin singing his praises today, it would seem Adeniyi has the inside track to the third outside linebacker spot in the defense.
However, Alex Highsmith, a day after taking lots of reps in backs on backers received verbal praise from Tomlin during the practice. In one-on-one pass-rush drills, Highsmith made quick work on Dax Raymond. Tomlin lauded his work in that drill and the team sessions. On the side, T.J. Watt also worked with Highsmith on some footwork techniques. It seems he is standing out thus far in camp.
Ulysees Gilbert III Stands Out
Set to take on a more prominent in the Steelers defense, Ulysees Gilbert III was an unknown, but key name to watch this training camp. Since he may be the partner in crime to Devin Bush in the Steelers’ nickel package, it was paramount that he gets up to speed. On Tuesday, it seems Gilbert III had quite a standout day.
Gilbert III registered an interception on Tuesday. While covering Kerrith Whyte in another coverage drill, GIlbert stayed patient in the hip pocket of Whyte, Whyte bobbled the ball, and Gilbert III jumped on the catch point to take it away. In short, it was a standout day for him. Tomlin mentioned that Gilbert III still lacked experience due to missing a large portion of last season with a back injury, but Gilbert III mentioned that veterans helped get him up to speed.
I grasped a lot because I had a lot of good veteran guys in front of me that helped me along the way with guys like Mark Barron, Tyler Matakevich, even some of the other guys in the linebacker room like Vinny [Vince] Williams,” Gilbert III said. “On both sides of special teams, I got a lot of knowledge and was able to play in a couple of games and got some great game opportunities in the ways of being a rookie as well as just learning behind guys like Vince Williams and Mark Barron, just watching how those guys play knowing they’re veterans, listen to everything they say in the meeting rooms as well as on the field.”
Gilbert III will look to carve out a role for himself and continue to impress the coaches as training camp continues on.
Terrell Edmunds Showing Out Thus Far
Coming into his third season, expectations for Terrell Edmunds to take a leap are through the roof. The one negative from Monday was Vance McDonald’s leaping grab over Edmunds, but in a photo, it was clear that Edmunds had his hand through the catch point. At that point, it may have just been a great play by McDonald.
Haden mentioned that Edmunds was “getting his hands on the ball” in Monday’s practice, especially in Seven Shots and the team sessions. On Tuesday, he followed that up with some impressive downhill plays. Edmunds showcases two huge hits in the defensive backs versus running backs drill. In addition, he came downhill and made some impressive hits and tackles in the team sessions today. It is a good start to Edmunds’ campaign that he hopes translates into a jump on the field.
Training Camp Takeaways: Right Tackle Battle as Close as Ever
The Steelers are still vetting their right tackle battle between Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner, and the highly anticipated winner may not be decided until the game day it appears. While Banner and Okorafor have both appeared to have good camps, Mike Tomlin is in no rush to decide who is the winner of the battle, even though the team has to put out an NFL-mandated depth chart on Monday.
“Yeah, you may see ‘or’ listed on that depth chart on Monday,” Tomlin said after the team’s final training camp session of 2020 on Friday.
Tomlin made it very clear that the reason he is in no rush is that he feels both Banner and Okorafor are quality NFL tackles in the NFL. Despite a healthy competition for weeks, neither has separated themselves, and whichever player starts against the New York Giants a week from Monday, there is no guarantee they’ll finish the game at that spot.
“I think it’s been a challenging decision for us because both guys are capable,” Tomlin said. “Both guys have been consistently above the line in their performance. Those are good problems to have. I don’t know if I necessarily view it as a negative thing with whoever gets named starter could have a short leash, et cetera. I think we’ve seen two guys who are capable NFL starters at that position battling it out. That’s why we are not in a hurry to make a decision from my perspective.”
Banner is focused on improving his game after extensively watching his 2019 film. With a full offseason of finally being secure on a 53-man roster, Banner feels like he has an opportunity to win the job over Okorafor.
“Watching film on myself and just focusing on myself is probably the biggest priority I can focus on,” Banner said. “Paying attention to my pass sets and how I’m coming off the ball, both for the run and the pass. Hand usage and being physical. Just things like that. Staying within the parameters of my own mental.”
Defense Shows Out in Seven Shots
In the final seven shots of training camp, the pool report detailed an impressive showing by the defense. The first rep was a miscommunication between Ben Roethlisberger and Diontae Johnson, as Roethlisberger threw it behind Johnson. Minkah Fitzpatrck made a nice play to knock a ball away from Eric Ebron on the next rep.
The next two plays were the two wins for the offense. James Washington caught a quick pass for a touchdown from Roethlisberger. On the next play, the offense pounded the rock in with a Benny Snell touchdown run. However, that was the last victory they Had in the period.
On the next play, Ola Adeniyi knocked down a Mason Rudolph pass at the line of scrimmage. Cam Sutton came roaring off the edge on the sixth rep and that rushed Rudolph to force an incomplete pass. To end off the session, Rudolph targeted Chase Claypool in the end zone, but undrafted free agent James Pierre knocked the ball away from Claypool.
Stephon Tuitt Dismantles the Line
While his return was heavily anticipated by the Steelers, Stephon Tuitt let the team know he was back on Friday. The pool report details an impressive red zone period for the game wrecking defensive lineman who comes off season-ending surgery with high expectations.
Tuitt, on two straight plays, blew right through the offensive lineman in front of him. On both plays, Tuitt got to the quarterback and registered two sacks on the day. After a dominant start to his 2019 season, it is no surprise to see Tuitt destroying offensive lineman. He and Cam Heyward look to be one of the top interior pass-rushing duos in the NFL.
The Question of David DeCastro’s Health
One of the more concerning questions coming into the day was the health of David DeCastro. Tomlin in the past has described his injury as a lower-body injury. He did not practice on Friday. With DeCastro now having been out an entire week with the injury, Tomlin was asked about it at his post-practice press conference to outline his plan for DeCastro.
“He wasn’t good enough to go today,” Tomlin said. “Hopefully, he will be good enough to go the first of next week. We do have a bonus day on Monday. I don’t know if I want to expose him to that. Hopefully, we will see what it looks like as we get into the normal rhythm of our preparation week.”
Tomlin sounded hopeful but by no means certain that DeCastro will be able to suit up against the Giants in just over a week. Should DeCastro not be able to go, Stefen Wisniewski or Kevin Dotson will be the likely replacements to step into his spot.
The Mysterious 53rd Roster Spot
Tuzar Skipper ended up getting released on Friday, and thus far he is the only Steelers roster cut that is known. However, his release throws the final spot on the Steelers roster into limbo. They did sign Jayrone Elliott, who has experience in the system and is a special teams standout. Still, that is no guarantee that Elliott is guaranteed to make the roster. He seems to be the natural fit, but it is not certain.
The other main candidate is standout cornerback Pierre. Pierre has shown up at training camp and made plays against guys like Washington and Claypool. Pierre has also made plays on special teams. It is no guarantee that the team keeps six cornerbacks, but Pierre has a legitimate chance to knock off the fifth outside linebacker in favor of himself with his impressive camp.
Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/4/20
Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell runs drills to improve their footwork and pass catching abilities while Zach Banner works out with other linemen during Steelers practice at Heinz Field on Friday, September 4, 2020.
Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers
Gallery: Steelers Wrap Training Camp at Heinz Field
The Steelers wrapped up their 2020 training camp on Friday with a final practice at Heinz Field before Saturday’s roster cuts. When the team reconvenes on Monday for its first regular-season practice of the year, they’ll do so on the South Side at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, the team’s usual practice home.
The Steelers and Pitt Panthers both usually spend nearly all of their practice time on the South Side and the Steelers usually spend training camp at St. Vincent College near Latrobe, Pa. So it may be quite some time before another Steelers practice takes place in at Heinz Field.
Here’s one final look at the Black and Gold practicing in their usual game-day digs. Photos courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers.