Steelers Training Camp Report: Day 3 in Pads

By: Chris Gazze

The Pittsburgh Steelers may have reported to Saint Vincent College last week, but after the team went through its first padded practice on Sunday, you can say training camp has officially started.
To break down this practice, we’ll look at three of the top stories from the day, break down the performance of some of the rookies and take a look at the injury report. At the end, we’ll provide some other odds and ends in the Camp Notes section.
Here we go.

Artie vs. AB
On a day that featured ‘backs on backers,’ the most exciting one-on-one matchup was actually a non-physical drill featuring Artie Burns and Antonio Brown. Ready to establish himself as the team’s top cornerback, Burns got a heavy dose of Brown. By the end of the day, he was probably sick of watching 84 make ridiculous catches and it was a reminder that AB is the best wide receiver in the business.

Not only did Brown beat Burns, but he got by him in a variety of ways. Push offs—check. Quickness—check. Speed—check. This was most evident early in practice when Brown drove hard on a route, got physical with Burns knocking him to the ground and then just about broke the young cornerback’s ankles with some amazing footwork.

Brown would outrun Burns for a diving reception and on another deep route, used a bit of a push to create separation and make a leaping grab. However, not all was bad for Burns. He had Brown locked down on several pass attempts and forced Brown into making spectacular receptions. Remember, he’s going against the best in the league and this is only going to help him come Week 1.

Tight End Battle Sorting Out Already
If the Steelers plan on keeping just three tight ends on the roster, the battle should be considered over. Jesse James is at the top of the list—though by no means should he have this spot locked down—and is as comfortable as he has ever looked the position. James was smooth on his routes on Sunday and was a solid option for his quarterbacks. His best catch of the day came over top of Tyler Matakevich as he was able to use his tremendous height advantage to grab a high ball.While James can make the spectacular catch, he will also drop the easy one as he did later in practice when he let a ball bounce right off his hands with no one on him.

Xavier Grimble has the look of a No. 1 tight end, but needs to match it with his performance. David Johnson is a reliable—though not spectacular—receiver, but the best blocker of the bunch. There’s nothing I saw from Scott Orndoff or Phazahn Odom early on that should make any of the top three tight ends on the depth chart feel threatened—at least not yet.

Bud Ready to Break Out
It’s year three and it is time for Bud Dupree to break out. Early indications are that Dupree is making progress toward his best season. He had a very good showing in backs on backers and you were able to see some of this translate to team drills. On one rep, Dupree exploded off the edge and easily beat the tackle on a speed move, forcing the quarterback to step up in the pocket. Though he didn’t get a sack, that is the type of pass rush that was advertised when the Steelers drafted him. Dupree later showed his athleticism in coverage when he dropped back over the middle of the field and made a nice interception. It is this type of all-around play that the Steelers expect from the former first-round pick and this may be the year they finally get it.

Rookie Report
It is only practice. It is only practice. At least that is what I had to keep telling myself while watching T.J. Watt and James Conner. However, after one padded practice, it’s hard not to be excited about these two. Watt doesn’t look like a typical rookie. He was out there communicating with his teammates, going for the extra strip after a play was blown dead, and simply looked comfortable in the defense.
Though I do not put much stock into it, Watt had a good showing during the backs-on-backers drill, highlighted by driving Phazahn Odom into the air on a bull rush and then dropped him to the ground. He followed this up on the next rep by taking Conner to the ground after a long battle.

In his best play of the day, Watt stayed at home on a tight end screen and was able to knock down a pass intended for Odom. It was a heads up play for a rookie and one of many more to come.

The other stand out was Conner, who was impressive in backs on backers with his physical play. Anyone who watched him at Pitt shouldn’t be surprised with his ability as a blocker, but impressive nonetheless. Conner also show good burst when carrying the ball and nice hands as a receiver out of the backfield. He isn’t the same type of running back as Le’Veon Bell, but he is more than a between-the-tackles runner and that should bode well for his rookie season.

One name that did not stand out was Brian Allen. At 6’3” he is a guy you want to shine, but his lack of quickness showed against the speedy receivers.

Injury Report
Camp is not even a week old and the injury list is already growing. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cameron Sutton, Vince Williams and Lavon Hooks all were on the sidelines at the start of practice. By the end, two more defensive backs joined them on the sideline with apparent hamstring issues.

Mike Mitchell was injured early in practice after breaking up a pass intended for Brown. After heading to the sideline, a member of the training staff was looking at Mitchell’s left hamstring.

The oft-injured Senquez Golson appeared to injure his hamstring while working as a gunner during a special teams drill. It would be a big blow to the young cornerback’s career if he misses a significant amount of time with yet another injury.
Golson was having a solid practice in the defensive backfield as we were finally getting just a small sample what he could offer the defense.

Camp Notes
1. The defensive backs made more pass deflections in this practice than in recent memory. A good sign for a relatively young group.
2. Landry Jones looked as comfortable as he ever has in camp. Maybe it’s because he is firmly entrenched as the No. 2 quarterback.
3. With that said, none of the quarterbacks were accurate on their deep passes.
4. We all know about Antonio Brown’s offseason workouts, but does it make a difference? Yes, a huge difference.
5. When making cuts on his routes, AB is able to change his stride and speed in an instant.
6. Meanwhile, the rest of the receivers typically take a long lunging step to make their cut, dictating exactly where they’re heading. No wonder Brown is always open.
7. There was a very big crowd for training camp on Sunday and it was estimated that 7,500 fans were in attendance.
8. In a change from previous season, the team removed their shoulder pads for the final 7-on-7 session.
9. On the way to Chuck Noll Field, I counted license plates from at least 10 states and saw another 2 on the way out.
10. Greg Warren’s No. 60 jersey was hanging on one of the cranes that houses the team’s film crew.

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