Thought to be a hybrid type of player when coming out of Penn State, Marcus Allen is officially working more and more towards that role as he had one-on-one instruction from inside linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky on Thursday after spending his first two seasons as a strong safety. Mike Tomlin made it clear that the Steelers and Allen are embracing the position switch, at least as a part-time option.
“We have played Marcus Allen some at linebacker,” Tomlin said after Thursday’s practice. “He has shown some position flexibility playing strong safety and some inside linebacker, so that really fortifies our depth in that area when from a perception standpoint, we might be running thin.”
The Steelers have just four true inside linebackers on their roster: starters Devin Bush and Vince Willams and backups Ulysees Gilbert III and Robert Spillane, leaving an opportunity for someone like Allen to find some playing time.
As for how he performed at practice, it was a losing battle for Allen, who drew Benny Snell in 1-on-1 tackling drills. Snell ran over Allen twice, juked him so bad on another he did not even get a finger on him, and made a smooth cut on the final one per the pool report. Allen’s performance in that drill was not good. But as a safety-turned-linebacker, his strength at the position would probably be in coverage, at any rate.
Going forward, he looks like he will a hybrid with versatility. That should increase his chances of making the final 53-man roster over the next few weeks.
Smooth Sailing for Ben Roethlisberger
After his season-ending elbow injury, there was rampant worry that Roethlisberger may not be able to return to form, but if Thursday is any indication, Roethlisberger is more than fine. When asked how is elbow feels given the circumstances, Roethlisberger gave a glowing review.
“It’s felt really good,” Roethlisberger said. “We’ve always for the last handful of years done the same routine with a full day, half day, off day. I even went three days in a row last week. It’s been feeling really good. I definitely need to give it some time to rest, that kind of one day off every so often out of general fatigue and soreness. It’s amazing how fast it bounces back and feels great the next day.”
That statement was backed up in the pool report as Roethlisberger executed a perfect pump fake and throw up the seam on a post route to JuJu Smith-Schuster. As Roethlisberger continues to look comfortable and say that his elbow feels just fine, the Steelers offense’s stock goes up with it.
Ray-Ray McCloud Continues to Flash
After coming onto the team last week, Ray-Ray McCloud has been a spark plug of big plays at practice. With Ryan Switzer now injured, McCloud has the opportunity to really shine in the return game. On Thursday, McCloud did just that. On his return, he took it up field, made one cut, and hit daylight for a touchdown per the pool report.
Later in the day, McCloud made numerous catches at wide receiver, including a big catch from Mason Rudolph for twenty yards. The pool reports notes McCloud did have one drop, which he has struggled with in the past. McCloud is making a strong push to make the 53-man roster as he makes explosive plays. He also worked on the kickoff return unit on a day where special teams were a focus.
Chase Claypool’s Hype Train Continues
The big play of Chase Claypool‘s day was a nice diving catch in the end zone during seven shots per the pool report. However, that is not where Claypool’s biggest endorsement came from on the day. Roethlisberger gave Claypool lots of praise at his press conference prior to practice.
“Well, I always get caught trying to spread too much praise to rookies because I want them to sneak up on other people, but it doesn’t look like Chase is going to be able to sneak up on anybody right now because people are talking about him and deservedly so,” Roethlisberger said. “He’s just making plays. I think the plays that he’s making are impressive, but I think, to me, what’s more impressive is that he doesn’t ask a lot of questions, which means he knows his stuff. I can change a play with a hand signal or call a different play at the line of scrimmage, and I always check him like, are you good, and he’s like ‘I got it.'”
After having a strong camp so far, Claypool seems to be in line with for more playing time as he continues to carve out his role on the team.
Matt Canada’s Influence in the Running Game
While it was expected that new quarterbacks coach Matt Canada would have an effect on the Steelers offense as a whole, Roethlisberger further expanded upon exactly what he is bringing to the table. Besides motion and play-action ideas, it appears that Canada is forcing some ideas into the run game in an effort to spice up a playbook that felt static and stale as the year went on in 2019.
“I think Coach Canada is bringing in a lot of uniqueness in the run game,” Roethlisberger said.
Whatever that uniqueness ends up being will be revealed once games begin to be played. Randy Fichtner confirmed that his input is being felt in the Steelers offense. When asked about replacing Mike Munchak as running game coordinator, Fichtner made sure to single out Canada.
“I know that having Coach Canada, another experienced coach in the room, is only going to help [running backs coach Eddie] Faulkner’s one year in the system and being able to communicate,” Fichtner said.
While the extent of Canada’s influence is unknown, it certainly seems that the Steelers are going to look a bit different on offense with his schemes implemented.
Big Day for Special Teams
The Special Teams units had quite the busy day today. In addition to McCloud’s big return touchdown, Chris Boswell’s kicking game was on display today. Boswell drained kicks of 40, 41, 34, 42, 45, 50, and 48 yards on his own per the pool report. During the live period, he clanged a 55-yard kick off the right upright and drained the next 55-yarder right through the uprights. Newly signed long snapper Liam McCullough got his first work at practice, with Tomlin watching his snaps intently. It seems McCullough has worked his way into Tomlin’s good graces, as starter Kameron Canaday was limited with an injury,
“We wanted to continue with our intense special teams work so we brought someone else in that was capable,” Tomlin said. “That was an opportunity for us to get some exposure there and see what his (McCullough’s) skillset is. We were really impressed with him in the workout, so we are excited about having him on board and having him put his hand on the pile and see where that leads us.”
The team tried to host a live-game setting for special teams in an effort to ramp up the heat two weeks out from their Monday night rendezvous with the New York Giants.