PITTSBURGH — The Steelers finally got their starting offensive line together.
With Kendrick Green back on the field and Kevin Dotson’s first-team spot back in his hands, the Steelers got to look at just how their first-team offensive line would play. While there were only limited snaps for the first-team to play the first-team defense, those reps were, at the very least, encouraging.
On the first play they took together, Dotson and Green cleared out the left side of the line while Chuks Okorafor executed an expert kick-out block. The right side held strong and Najee Harris was able to find daylight on the left side for a 15-yard rip on a split zone run.
On other downs, they kept Ben Roethlisberger mostly clean. Although on a stunt with Cam Heyward as the looper, Heyward was able to breakthrough untouched. Roethlisberger still made do with it, as he stepped up into the pocket and extended the play to find Diontae Johnson downfield.
While using the second-team defense as the barometer is shaky, there is good news in that the Steelers’ first offensive line was bullying the second defense.
The second-team defense never looked like they belonged with the first-team offensive line. On one play, the offensive completely cleared out the defense more than five yards downfield on an outside zone run. That is the type of thing that the Steelers want to see, even if it is against lower competition. Harris did not get touched until nearly ten yards downfield.
Overall, the first practice was a good one for a young offensive line that still has to gel together. They will have a lot of questions to answer over the next few weeks as they lead up the regular season. Still, there always needs to be a place to build off of for the unit as a whole. This is a good start for the Steelers’ offensive line.
BEN ROETHLISBERGER LOOKS GOOD ON THE MOVE
Roethlisberger got a lot of work on Tuesday. As the lead-up to the Lions game continues, the fact that he was moving out of the pocket and executing play-action rollouts with little to no laborious movement is a great sign of how he fits into the Matt Canada offense. The good news with Roethlisberger is he seems a lot more comfortable working under center and progressing through his reads off play-action than he did even a few months ago.
Roethlisberger seems to be settling into a place of comfort as he meshes with Canada’s scheme. He did not look like himself in his prime, but he was certainly moving more than enough outside of the pocket to show a level of comfort and confidence in the new offense.
Here is the thing, Roethlisberger was throwing some good balls on the move as well. On one rollout, Roethlisberger hit Eric Ebron on a deep over route right over the outstretched hands of Ulysees Gilbert III. That was an especially comforting sign to see from Roethlisberger. If he can parlay how he looks now into a season-long outlook, Roethlisberger may be able to run Canada’s offense effectively. Tuesday was a promising sign.
JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER BEING USED OUTSIDE CREATIVELY
The Steelers have had a dilemma on how to use JuJu Smith-Schuster over the last few seasons. Nothing has seemed to completely stick, and last year he was a glorified running back. Working just about exclusively from the slot in the past, Smith-Schuster wanted to get more reps on the outside. While at camp so far he is mostly working in the slot, there are instances in which he gets put on the outside.
In fact, some of those reps are a bit more creative than others. On Tuesday, the Steelers experimented with a few looks on just how to get Smith-Schuster on the outside. The highlight of his practice came on a stacked look with James Washington covering him and on the line of scrimmage. Smith-Schuster then ran on a copper route (corner-post) to the outside while Washington cut across the middle of the field on a crosser.
Smith-Schuster beat Justin Layne deep and made a diving catch on a dime 60 yards down the field from Roethlisberger. That is just a glimpse into how Smith-Schuster can be aligned in a slot-like environment, but still essentially play on the outside. It seems Canada is looking to use just that to free up Smith-Schuster on a free release.
PUNTING COMPETITION RAGES ON
Pressley Harvin III and Jordan Berry continued their hotly contested punting battle on Tuesday. Let’s be clear here, Berry is punting legitimately well. However, Tuesday was not necessarily the most consistent day for Berry across the board. He did have some fluttering balls, although he did clock often around 4.5 seconds with his hangtime. Still, he is doing enough to at least make this seem like a competition, even though Harvin clearly has a leg up.
Harvin booted on that was a bomb. The hangtime was 5.03 seconds. Still, there was another one that went only about 3.68 seconds. Harvin’s got a massive leg, but there are still some questions about his consistency. He has had far more consistent days than this, though, and in a high-pressure situation against Dallas, he delivered with that consistency on all levels.