PITTSBURGH — If the statement was meant to be made, consider the statement done. James Washington made everyone know that he was not to be forgotten in the Steelers wide receiver room. On Wednesday, with Chase Claypool on the sidelines, Washington’s statement rang loud and clear to all who were on the rainy North Shore. It seemed in every team period, no matter who he was up against, Washington was making a big play.
It all started in the first team period. Washington ran a crisp deep-out route to gain about fifteen yards. While that was the only noise he made in that period, Washington’s day only grew from there. During the next team period, the Steelers worked from about the 30-yard line to the open end of Heinz Field. Washington got behind the entire defense on a play, and Ben Roethlisberger rocketed a ball over the head of Donovan Stiner as Washington hauled it in for a touchdown. His explosive play tendencies were on display.
Perhaps Washington’s best play came in the last team period down on the goal line. Mason Rudolph threw a floater in Washington’s direction that looked dead to rights in the hands of Mark Gilbert. Gilbert had his hands on the ball, but Washington floated up and over him and snagged it right out of his hands for a score in the corner of the end zone.
When he gets the targets, Washington can ball out. It is just about finding those touches amongst the talented wide receiver corps. Tomlin felt that anything Washington did was not because of Claypool being out, he simply sees Washington as an extremely good receiver.
“It has nothing to do with whether or not Chase practiced or not,” Tomlin said. “James always plays hard and well when he does … He’s a good receiver. That’s the value of James Washington.”
MELVIN INGRAM TERRORIZES OFFENSE
If the best player on the field was Washington, there was no question who the second-best player on the field was on Wednesday. Melvin Ingram was unblockable on all accounts. It was not just the fact that Ingram appears healthy with his explosiveness back. Ingram single-handedly destroyed the first team period against other first-teamers.
It opened up with a sack against Rudolph. Then, on the very next play, Ingram took a backside pursuit angle and completely stalled Najee Harris. On each consecutive play, Ingram was on the field, he managed to stun someone or make a big impact. On a toss play, he held a strong edge against Chuks Okorafor, thus allowing James Pierre to come down and fill the hole on the boundary, thus making the toss go nowhere.
In team periods afterward, Ingram just bullied everyone he faced. There were multiple pressures from him off the edge, including a play where he put a spin move on Joe Haeg. Ingram would pop the lineman back two yards at times and be the run game bully that Mike Tomlin described. There was simply no stopping Ingram’s reign of terror on Wednesday. He was phenomenal on all accounts.
THE TEAM EMBRACES THE RAIN
The Steelers got their first truly rainy practice of the training camp season on Wednesday. While it was pouring down rain, the Steelers got to see their offense and defense take the field in the wet and slick conditions. Not only did Tomlin want to test just how his team would respond to the slick conditions, but he wanted to see how the team would work their way through ball security and other little things in football through the change of conditions.
“We embraced the inclimate weather,” Tomlin said. “Our game is played in a variety of weather circumstances. And so, the rain and the wet ground gave us an opportunity to really focus on some fundamentals in terms of ball security and really the opportunities the weather provides in terms of ball searching.”
With Tomlin wanting to get his team some reps in the rain, there were some obvious things he was looking for. Tomlin did see some concerning things from members of the team.
“The ball security was rather solid I thought,” Tomlin said. “You know, I saw some people not trusting their hands in the passing game. Body catching and going down to make catches when they could have stayed on their feet. So, it provides some other opportunities to teach.”
FIRST-TEAM VS FIRST-TEAM HIGHLIGHTS
Within the minimal first-team period, there were only a few key plays and notes. However, the most interesting of which is Chris Wormley running at nose tackle over Tyson Alualu while Alulau worked at defensive end. It seems that is likely to be the rotation on the defensive line. Wormley will get the start on Saturday almost assuredly with Stephon Tuitt still making his way back. He continues to look solid, both in practice and in games as he collapses pockets with ease.
Ingram looked phenomenal in the short period, as stated earlier. He registered a sack on Rudolph on the very first play of the period. Then, shortly after that, he came from the backside on a play to nab Harris in the backfield. From multiple alignments, both inside and at outside linebacker, Ingram wreaked havoc all over the field. He held a strong edge and the Steelers could not figure out how to block him. He certainly has his explosiveness back and appears fully healthy.
Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster connected on a nice route up the seam from the slot. It looked like a Cover 3 seam buster where the rotating safety was a little bit late. Smith-Schuster getting opportunities vertically up the seam is exactly what the offense needs to do as they try to fully round out the playbook. That is a place they failed to truly attack in 2020.
Harris continues to prove he can create something out of nothing. After being met in the backfield, he broke a tackle attempt to Alualu and somehow got three yards after almost losing three yards. He has showcased this continually, and it is a huge reason why Harris is currently a Steeler. Harris has magic to him, and he shows it off continually.