PITTSBURGH — Stephon Tuitt’s continued absence has left an interesting ripple effect through the Steelers’ defensive line.
Since Tyson Alualu moved from defensive end to nose tackle before last season, he’s been the de facto first backup option at end, even while playing tackle, and has spelled starters Tuitt and Cam Heyward in the nickel package when the team goes to two defensive ends and no tackles.
With Tuitt’s extended absence, the team has rotated a number of players through that starting group, with Henry Mondeaux and Chris Wormley starting in place of the first unit against Dallas in the preseason opener and Isaiah Buggs joined those two for the second game against Eagles.
With Heyward and Alualu back in action and expected to play on Saturday, Wormley is the last man standing of that group, taking first-team reps at nose tackle while Alualu has slid to end in place of Tuitt.
“Whenever someone misses time, I always say, ‘One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity,’” Mike Tomlin said. “It’s provided a lot of reps for a lot of games.”
Wormley continued that strong work on Thursday, as the first-unit defensive line once again largely shut down the inside rushing attack.
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.
🏈: The offense lined up Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster with tight splits to the right of the formation and then ran Johnson straight out toward the pylon. He beat Arthur Maulet to open space, but the rifled pass from Ben Roethlisberger went off his hands.
🏈: In a near-replay of one of his catches from Wednesday, James Washington ran an out route, elevated over Joe Haden and snatched the ball away from the defensive back for a score. It’s a good thing for Haden this was a closed practice, or he might’ve ended up on “You Got Mossed.”
🏈: The Steelers lined up Najee Harris split wide for an empty set and worked Pat Freiermuth from the inside to the outside against Maulet. Roethlisberger’s pass went right through Maulet’s fingertips and into Freiermuth’s arms right at the goal line.
🏈: Roethlisberger drew almost the entire defensive line offsides with a hard count and then found JuJu Smith-Schuster on the free play in between Devin Bush and Minkah Fitzpatrick in the middle of the defense.
🏈: Mason Rudolph took the final three reps. For his first play, he found Cody White in a 1-on-1 matchup with James Pierre and the young receiver hauled it in on the left side.
🏈: Again, the Steelers went to an empty set, and again, looked for Freiermuth quickly after the snap, this time in front of Miles Killebrew and Tre Norwood, who were both in off coverage, for an easy score.
🏈: This time, Rudolph surveyed with plenty of time, and found Anthony Johnson crossing in the back of the end zone, well ahead of a trailing Justin Layne for yet another score.
FLIPPING THE SCRIPT
During an individual period, one of the drills the Steelers have run a lot over the years is a 1 on 1 tackling drill, where the linebackers have to force the running backs to the sideline, without allowing a cutback lane.
On Thursday, for camp’s final session, they flipped the script, with the defenders getting the ball and trying to put moves on the offensive players.
On the whole, the defense dominated, though Benny Snell Jr. made one tackle. The coup de grace for the defense was a Melvin Ingram inside juke that left Ray-Ray McCloud grasping at air to end the drill. Ingram raced off to midfield to celebrate with the rest of the defense.
There was significant emphasis on the field-goal kicking alignments during Thursday’s practice, but with Sam Sloman released, it wasn’t because the Steelers wanted to test Chris Boswell anymore.
In fact, for much of the time, Boswell wasn’t even on the field.
Instead, the focus was on the cadence and technique of the team’s holders. Veteran Jordan Berry is a fairly well known commodity in that area, but rookie Pressley Harvin III is challenging for his roster spot, and will have to win the holder job, as well as the punter job to do so.
Even after the team period, Harvin was closely working with special teams coordinator Danny Smith on the fine points of his holding techniques. That’s something to watch for Saturday against the Lions.