Written By: Roy Countryman @PreacherBoyRoy
I had the pleasure of getting to cover this amazing team down at field level for the first time, and let me tell you the players did not disappoint in their last public practice before the first preseason game. Let’s unpack my notes from today:
Big Ben had a solid day overall. He showed his arm strength is still evident and flashed impressive RPMs when the situation called for it. He looked way more relaxed and didn’t seem too concerned when he made a few errant passes.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is going to be one of the Alpha WRs in the NFL. Even without AB, he is going to put up big stats. He flashed confidence and moxie throughout practice and kept sessions light by laughing off a pass that almost beheaded him from Big Ben, as well as unleashing a playful chokehold on a fellow teammate, CB Cam Sutton when he got the best of him in a run-blocking drill.
Mammoth RT Zach Banner has come into camp in great shape, and he flashed on a number of reps, including one where he stifled a blitzing T.J. Watt. He is also keeping low key off of it as well; when I asked for an interview with him he said, “There are 5 veterans upfront talk to them, I just gotta keep working and I am keeping it low key.”
Ryan Switzer has comfortably made this team. You can see the chemistry, trust, and rapport that he and Ben have. He showed off quick feet and good routes, all the while impressing in punt return drills where they make the returner keep holding the punted balls while more are shot towards them. He made it up to 5 and almost came down with a highlight sixth between his legs.
The return man position is not settled yet though because CFL import Dionte Spencer was explosive and very quick in and out of blocks in the return portion of practice.
Speaking of Spencer, he showed excellent short-area quickness and fluidity in and out of breaks in on fieldwork. On one play, he had more than a yard of separation. Look for him to have a big preseason and push for a roster spot.
The RBs on this roster are very strong, but one underrated aspect about the combination of James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, and Benny Snell is that they are quality outlet receivers that defenses shouldn’t sleep on. Samuels is the most natural catcher, but Conner is very fluid, and Snell made a number of impressive adjustments to errant throws today.
James Conner is a workhorse RB, in outstanding shape, and if history tells us anything about RB use by Mike Tomlin, you’ll want to take him early in your fantasy draft.
Xavier Grimble is the best blocking TE on the roster, but he made some good plays in the passing game today as well, including back to back plays in red-zone work where Big Ben found him for TDs.
Josh Dobbs had a good showing as well today, uncorking a few deep passes and threw with good timing and poise throughout.
Johnny Holton was simply unstoppable today. He caught two separate deep passes in team drills from Dobbs and Delvin Hodges, and it didn’t seem like anyone could stay in front of him.
Good news on the injury front as Donte Moncrief returned to practice with the use of both his hands after sustaining a dislocated finger.
Former AAF standout Kameron Kelly is impressive on the hoof and is in great shape. He is somewhat high cut and has some stiffness, but he has the ball skills to make plays. He came down with an impressive INT on a 7 shot where he jumped the route and ran it back for a pick-6. He also had another INT in red-zone drills where he simply stepped in front of the smaller Dionte Spencer. He has played a ton of snaps with the first team due to the continual absence of the injured Sean Davis, and don’t be surprised if he continually rides this wave of momentum to more playing time with an impressive showing in the preseason.
T.J. Watt is a fiery competitor and is one of the vocal leaders of this defense- on multiple occasions, he was pumping up his teammates.
The starting ILB tandem was Devin Bush and Mark Barron, little to no surprise with Vince Williams sitting out today.
Devin Bush is as good as advertised! He is quick to diagnose and can close in an instant with bad intentions.
Mike Hilton had a solid overall day with a number of good plays both in run pursuit along with a key pass defense against JuJu. He lined up outside a lot today due to a number of members of the secondary sitting out. He needs to keep putting up quality work because fellow CB, Cam Sutton, is biting on his heels for that nickel job.
P.J. Locke, an undrafted free agent signee from Texas, got first-team reps and looked solid overall with a few good plays in pass coverage and he was able to fill in run defense adequately.
Last year’s camp phenom, Ola Adeniyi, continued his strong training camp by rag dolling Chuks Okorafor on a number of plays as well as bursting into the backfield in run defense.
Danny Smith ran a spirited and detailed special teams session, and let’s hope that attention to detail continues into the season.
On the kicking front, Chris Boswell continues to put forth an impressive effort to bounce back from a troubling and uneven year.
He consistently showed better leg strength and depth on kickoff drills than his competitor Matthew Wright.
He looked like he was confident going into his field-goal attempts.
He drilled every one of his attempts today from 30-50+yards.
He did not blink and delivered when he was put under the “pressure” that the coaching staff simulated in.
Players who did not practice, were limited, or were excused:
Ramon Foster (LG)
Cameron Heyward (DT) (Birth of Child)
Maurkice Pouncey (C)
Jerald Hawkins (OT)
Dionte Johnson (WR)
Brian Allen (CB)
Artie Burns (CB)
Justin Layne (CB)
Bud Dupree (OLB)
Players who left practice early:
Joe Haden (Ankle)
Alejandro Villanueva (Spotted with a wrap on Elbow)
Pictures from Camp
I want to send out a huge thanks to SteelCityInsider writer Jim Wexell for helping me get my bearings and showing me the ropes today, and make sure to check out his fine work as well.
Well, Blitz Nation, it was a blast getting to cover training camp down at ground level for the first time. Keep checking back for all your Steelers needs as we get you prepped for this centennial season.
As always...Stay Humble and Be A Blessing!