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Monday, August 31, 2015

Steelers trade for Scobee

The Steelers on Monday traded for placekicker Josh Scobee, who had spent all of his career in Jacksonville.

On the surface, it seems like a move made out of desperation. But when you look a little deeper, it appears the Steelers might have made an upgrade not only over Garrett Hartley, but over Shaun Suisham - at least in some aspects - as well.

Scobee has long been one of the better long-distance kickers in the league, making 62 percent of his career kicks from 50 yards and beyond. And, perhaps more importantly, he is a legitimate kickoff guy.

Scobee had an off season last year on field goal attempts, making 20 of 26 - though three of the misses were beyond 50 yards - but he had 63 kickoffs and just 20 of them were  returned.

Suisham had 89 kickoffs last season, but 54 were returned.

Hartley, well, he wasn't much of a kickoff guy at all. In fact, he just wasn't good at it, kicking line drives that failed to make it into the end zone.

Scobee's career make percentage of 80.9 percent isn't as good as Suisham's 84.1, but what the Steelers will give up - at least for this year - in made field goal percentage, they'll gain in kickoffs.

The big thing with Scobee is that he'll cost the Steelers $3.4 million this season. He'll be a free agent at the end of the year, so they'll likely go back to Suisham. The Steelers and Jaguars are splitting Scobee's salary.

That could be enough to still do something with Kelvin Beachum before the season starts, but time is running out on that.

* The Martavis Bryant suspension news came down today.

I'm not going to delve into it to greatly, but I did clear up a couple of things.

This would have been Bryant's third positive test. The first puts you in the system and for the second, you are docked two game checks. The third positive test now results in a mandatory four-game suspension.

Obviously, the Steelers knew about Bryant's other positive tests. It's likely a big reason why they selected Sammie Coates, who has a similar skill set to Bryant, at least in terms of speed and size, in the third round of the draft this year.

Also, both Bryant and Le'Veon Bell will be permitted in the Steelers practice facility during their suspensions.

This was not always the case. The league used to ban players who were suspended from team facilities during those periods. Now, that is only the case, at least for banned substances, if the suspension is under one year in length.

If the player is suspended for PED usage, they are not permitted in the facility at any time.

* The team made its roster cutdowns today to 75. The only players that stood out to me were safety Ian Wild and receiver C.J. Goodwin.

Wild, who also has lined up at linebacker at times, might have lost out to Jordan Dangerfield's knockout blow on special teams against the Bills. I still think he'll be a possibility to come back on the practice squad.

Goodwin also was released in the first roster cutdowns last year and was signed back to the practice squad. But he missed a significant portion of training camp with a shoulder injury, which hurt his chances.

In many cases, the first cutdown is made to make sure the team has enough players at each position to get through the final preseason game.

Don't read too much into players being let go now.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Post-Buffalo thoughts

That was a defensive performance worthy of a team that was missing three key starters - Stephon Tuitt, Lawrence Timmons and Mike Mitchell - up the middle.

That's right where the Bills gashed the Steelers on the first two drives - when the "rest" of the starters were out there.

Rookie L.T. Walton got the start for Tuitt and got completely blown out on Fred Jackson's 41-yard run on Buffalo's first play from scrimmage.

That helped allow Ryan Shazier to get engulfed as well, and then it was off to the races for Jackson in the Steelers secondary, where Mitchell's speed might have been a factor in getting him on the ground after, say, a 20-yard gain.

On the next possession, Vince Williams didn't get nearly the depth he needed in his zone against tight end Charles Clay, who turned in a 67-yard TD.

Williams, of course, was starting in place of Timmons.

Do we give the defense a pass for that? Nope.

We haven't seen much of the first-team defense on the field in training camp or the preseason. And that, in itself, is a problem.

But Tuitt, Mitchell and Timmons should be ready to go for the start of the regular season.

* Mike Tomlin was ticked that many of the backups, who played from about the second series on, looked completely overmatched and didn't put up a lot of fight.

That is disturbing, especially with cutdowns looming.

I know it's not been the Steelers' MO over the years, but they should be scouring the waiver wire looking for depth in the next week.

They could use a defensive end who is ready to play - I'd keep a close eye on Buffalo, where Alex Carrington and Red Bryant are both far down the depth charts - for sure.

And now placekicker is again a problem after Garrett Hartley pulled his hamstring on a kickoff.

* Jordan Berry did a credible job kicking off and probably won the punting job with a 58.3 average on his four kicks.

Included in that was a 78-yarder out of his own end zone. That's putting the exclamation point on a day.

* Maybe Michael Vick has more in the tank than I gave him credit for.

* DeAngelo Williams has flashed enough to tell me the Steelers will be fine without LeVeon Bell for two games.

And Darrius Heyward-Bey is a credible enough deep threat to still get the attention of opposing defenses - dude had nearly 1,000 yards receiving for the Raiders a couple of years ago, after all.

But Cody Wallace is going to have to be better than he was in this one if he wants to be the long-term replacement for Maurkice Pouncey.

Corbin Bryant looked like a guy who had something to prove Saturday playing against the team that drafted and released him, but you can't allow him to get to Ben Roethlisberger right out of the gate on the opening series. That's a tone setter.

* Jordan Dangerfield is limited in coverage, but boy does he like to hit people - hard.

I know that's not allowed in today's NFL, but his physical presence and the way he plays reminds me of a young James Harrison.

Like Harrison, the Steelers have cut Dangerfield loose a couple of times, as well.

* Yes, the Bills' QBs picked the Steelers' defense apart. But if Brandon Boykin holds onto what should have been one of the easiest interceptions in his career, he walks into the end zone.

And the entire first half has a much different feel to it.

The dropped interception came after the Steelers had forced Buffalo to punt following its third possession.

A quick score there would have possibly stemmed the tide.

As it was, it was one of just two incompletions the Buffalo quarterbacks threw in the first half and one of three in the game.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Steelers game day thread

Should be an interesting game today at Ralph Wilson Stadium between the Steelers and Bills.

It was a somewhat turbulent week for the Steelers with the loss of center Maurkice Pouncey, signing of Mike Vick and news that Martavis Bryant will be suspended for the first four games of the season.

Today will give Cody Wallace a chance to show he can play at center against a very good front four for Buffalo.

The Steelers will definitely want to see that.

Vick is also expected to see some playing time today. It likely won't be much, but it wouldn't surprise me to see him at some point in the first half with the first unit.

Speaking of that, we'll also get to see a good bit of DeAngelo Williams with the starters as well today. The Steelers want to give him a chance to play with the 1s considering that he'll be one of them in two weeks when they play at New England thanks to Le'Veon Bell's two-game suspension.

That brings us to Bryant. The team has still not gotten confirmation from the NFL that Bryant will be suspended to open the season. That will likely come next week at some point when his appeal is heard.

Expect the Steelers to work Darrius Heyward-Bey into the lineup with the starters some today to help prepare for that. Scratch that. Heyward-Bey is not dressed today, which is interesting.

It would have been a good day for him to work with Ben Roethlisberger and company, but they got plenty of work together in the offseason and training camp.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Another day, another controversy for your Steelers

This has turned into one of the more eventful weeks in Steelers' history - at least for a preseason week.

First, the Steelers lost center Maurkice Pouncey to a broken leg and backup QB Bruce Gradkowski to a finger and shoulder injuries last Sunday in a preseason win over Green Bay.

Then, Mike Vick was signed on Tuesday to replace Gradkowski, who was placed on injured reserve.

Finally, Adam Schefter of ESPN reported Thursday that wide receiver Martavis Bryant will be suspended the first four games of the season for violation of the league drug policy.

Coupled with Le'Veon Bell's two-game suspension to open the season, the Steelers could definitely be behind the 8 ball a little when the season opens.

Bryant is being roundly ripped for his possible suspension - which he is appealing.

It's automatically assumed that Bryant's violation was for an illegal drug, such as marijuana. But we don't know that - though ESPN is now reporting that is is a marijuana violation.

If that is the case, that means he's a second-time offender. And if this is his second offense, he's been randomly tested a lot.

It appears the Steelers will be without his services for the first month of the season.

That means Darrius Heyward-Bey will step into a more prominent role, at least to start the season.

With Bryant suspended, the Steelers almost certainly have to account for that on their roster, whether it be keeping a sixth wide receiver or using Dri Archer as the fifth or sixth guy.

That trickles down to the rest of the roster, which is why I have avoided doing a 53-man projection to this point.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Tuesday news, notes

Anything happen today with the Steelers?

Seriously, I've been covering this team for 23 years and I don't know if there was a day that was quite as newsy in that time period.

In the span of the past 24 hours, All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey had surgery to place a plate into his fractured fibula; backup QB Bruce Gradkowski had surgery to repair a dislocated finger and might require a second surgery to repair a shoulder injury; the team re-signed former center Doug Legursky to help ease the loss of Pouncey; and some guy named Michael Vick was brought in to replace Gradkowski, who went on season-ending IR.

Got all of that?

Let's start with the last topic first, since it seems to be drawing the most interest.

Vick is a polarizing figure. Actually, that's not right. There's a certain segment of the population who will never, ever forgive him for hosting dog fights no matter what he does,

He could cure cancer, save the whales and end famine worldwide and it wouldn't matter.

I get that. But he's also paid his debt to society, serving 21 months in a federal prison. That's nearly two years of his life not in some halfway house, but at Leavenworth.

There are people I severely dislike who I wouldn't wish to spend one day in Leavenworth, let alone the 548 days Vick did there.

I know, I know. He killed dogs. I get that. It was cruel and inhumane in many cases.

But he served his time and has walked a straight line in the nearly 10 YEARS since.

I don't know the man. Only talked to him a couple of times on the phone over the years. But I'm certainly willing to give him a second chance.

It was a calculated risk by the Steelers. They knew there would be a firestorm surrounding the signing. It's why they haven't brought him in before when he's been available.

But even despite the injury to Pouncey, the Steelers feel they have a Super Bowl contender. And they're not about to turn this contender over to Landry Jones unless all other options have been explored.

Signing Vick was their nuclear option. And when Gradkowski was lost for the season, it was time to push the red button.

I laugh when people bring up the "Steelers way," anytime something like this happens or another team has issues.

The "Steelers way" is winning. Period.

Does character still matter to the team? Absolutely. Given a choice between Player A, who is a model citizen, and Player B, who is not, the team will take Player A every time if the talent is close.

But winning in the bottom line in professional sports. And the Steelers have many model citizens in their locker room, from Heath Miller to Arthur Moats to Cam Heyward to Kelvin Beachum. There are many.

It's a shame when the really, really good guys get their names drug through the mud by the bozos who want to paint a team that has, right now, 90 players on the roster. But it goes with the business.

There will be those who like one guy one Twitter said, "If the Steelers sign Vick, I'm done. I'll follow the Eagles. And I've been a fan since 1964."

That guy obviously only pays attention to the Steelers since the Eagles were the team that gave Vick his second chance when he got out of prison.

But it shows how little some people think about things.

Now, would I have signed Vick? Probably not.

But not because I have issues with what he did - though I did and do. But I wouldn't have wanted to deal with the firestorm surrounding him.

And I also don't think that, at 35, he has a lot left in the tank.

* I spoke with offensive coordinator Todd Haley today about what changes, if any, the team will have to make in its blocking schemes without Pouncey.

Haley said the team has several plays it uses that were designed to take advantage of Pouncey's skill set.

Those will likely be out the window now. But he did make sure he mentioned that Cody Wallace, who will replace Pouncey, showed that he's capable of getting out on the edge as well, pointing out that soon after he entered the game, he drove Julius Peppers about 10 yards downfield after getting out on the edge.

* Ben Roethlisberger said today that he feels the offense is ready to go and that, realistically, he only needs a couple of preseason games to be ready.

Roethlisberger understands that young players need to play. But at this point in his career, the less preseason, the better.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Steelers sign Legursky, hosting Vick

The Steelers on Tuesday signed center Doug Legursky to help improve their depth on the interior offensive line following Maurkice Pouncey's injury.

Legursky, of course, began his career with the Steelers but has played the past two seasons with Buffalo and San Diego.

He was currently without a team.

Also today, ESPN is reporting the Steelers are bringing in Mike Vick for a visit.

This was basically the nuclear option at quarterback and tells me the team is worried about Bruce Gradkowski - not necessarily Landry Jones, though that can't be comforting, either.

Gradkowski missed most of training camp and a good chunk of the offseason workouts with a shoulder issue, then suffered a finger injury on his left (non-throwing) hand in his first preseason action Sunday.

And Jones isn't ready to be No. 2 at this point - or maybe ever.

The Steelers will take a look at Vick to see if he's ready to be Ben Roethlisberger's backup.

Vick has long been a favorite of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and is several years from his incarceration for dog fighting.

Some people will never forgive Vick for that, and that's understandable. But he hasn't been in any trouble since.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Post-Green Bay thoughts

When the Packers drove right down the field on 10 plays for a TD on the opening drive, Twitter started.

"Going to be a long season with this defense," was the general tone.

And then the sacks started coming.

Six in one game. I realize that some of those came in the second half when both teams had plenty of backups in the game, but we saw James Harrison and Cam Heyward almost get there and then Harrison do so for a safety.

Then we saw Jarvis Jones get home. Bud Dupree did so twice - though one was negated by an offside penalty by nose tackle Cam Thomas (how does that happen?). Shamarko Thomas got there on a blitz as well.

The first-team run defense was a little soft - Eddie Lacy averaged 5.0 yards per carry on six attempts - but they were playing a nickel. And without Lawrence Timmons.

That will get better.

But it was nice to see some guys getting home, especially since, as Jones said afterward, Mike Tomlin had challenged them to win some one-on-one battles.

* OK, now we can talk about Maurkice Pouncey and his latest injury, a broken lower left leg.

Much like when he was injured against Tennessee in the opener a couple years back, Pouncey was hurt out on the edge.

Perhaps his mobility is working against him in these situations. The fact that he's able to get out there, while some other centers don't, has added up to a pair of major injuries for the Steelers' Pro Bowl center.

I'm not saying you don't do those things with him any more when he gets back, but both injuries were kind of flukish.

It's a shame, because the line really looked poised for a big year. It really had made some strides in the past year.

Cody Wallace will be fine as a fill-in until Pouncey returns - sometime in November, I'm estimating.

The problem arises for his backup spot. Chris Hubbard struggled Sunday at center against the Packers. Rookie B.J. Finney might have found a roster spot because of those two things.

* The Steelers dodged a bullet with Stephon Tuitt. Tomlin said Tuitt has an ordinary ankle sprain. That means he could be back for the preseason finale or the regular season opener.

That also means the Steelers will continue their auditions at defensive end.

I wrote it prior to this game and I'll write it again - the team's No. 3 defensive end might still be on someone else's roster.

Why do I say that? I think this team is poised as a Super Bowl contender. And if that's the case, you can't allow an injury to Tuitt or Heyward to derail your season.

* I thought Thomas showed up and had a solid game at strong safety, which is something I needed to see to feel a little better about his prospects moving forward.

But I'm a little curious as to why the team didn't give Thomas and Mike Mitchell more time together in this one.

Mitchell was out of there pretty quickly.

* Pouncey has a nasty streak that kind of sets the tone for the rest of the offensive line. But Wallace has that as well. Did you see him busting downfield on a screen soon after entering the game to crush a linebacker?


* I hate to say it, but the injury to Pouncey is one the Steelers can better deal with than one to, say, Kelvin Beachum.

First, they've already played a season without Pouncey. Second, they don't have a healthy reserve offensive tackle right now who has ever taken a snap in the NFL, let alone at left tackle.

* It was good to see Garrett Hartley force a couple of touchbacks. That had been a concern.

* Imagine how Tyler Murphy would look at wide receiver had he not spent most of training camp at quarterback.

Maybe they should line Sammie Coates up at QB for a while.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Breaking camp

I broke camp Friday night, but the Steelers stayed until Saturday morning. I thought it only right that I wait to post my final camp thoughts until the team actually ended its 50th training camp at Saint Vincent College.

I've been there for 23 of those camps and have seen it grow greatly. I thought about that again - for about the 500th time in the past month - as I looked out over campus Friday while doing my final radio show - the 32nd show I did from this year's camp - sitting in the Chuck Noll Press Box above the Chuck Noll bleachers overlooking Chuck Noll Field.

* The players finished up camp sans shoulder pads on Friday. I wonder what Chuck Noll would have thought about that.

* Funny moment in practice Friday came as Mike Tomlin had a light moment when he wandered over to a young reporter who has been busting the coach's hump with questions about every player signed when another guy has been Waived'Injured in this camp - and there were a lot of them.

The questions always went, "So how does Joe look?" No last name. No further hint to Tomlin who the reporter, whom Tomlin dubbed, "Obscure guy question guy," was talking about. It led to some awkward moments.

Tomlin stepped over to OGQG and said, "You gonna ask me all about No. 2?" Number 2 is now rookie receiver Jarrod West, a Syracuse grad, who not only took Tajh Boyd's roster spot, but his number as well.

OGQG replied, "I went to college with him."

Of course.

* I graduated from Pitt-Johnstown, which doesn't field a football team, but there was one guy from UPJ with the Steelers when I started covering the team in 1993, Carlton Haselrig.

He was better than any Syracuse guy the Steelers have had since I've been around.

* That's what worries me a bit about Shamarko Thomas. Is he a player or is he the next Anthony Smith?

He wasn't on the field enough in this training camp for anyone to figure that out.

I've said numerous times on my various radio broadcasts that with so many new faces or young guys on the defense, odds are that one or two will become stars, one or two will become solid starters and one or two will fail.

If I had to put odds on it right now, I'd say Ryan Shazier will be the star, Stephon Tuitt, Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones will be solid starters and Thomas might be the guy who flames out.

I'm not including Cortez Allen or Mike Mitchell on that list, though I think both will be solid starters. They both started last season as starters.

I think both of those guys will be fine.

* My expectations of the Steelers defense have really gone down over the years.

I look for this group to be middle of the pack again. But if Keith Butler can cobble together 20 sacks from the outside linebackers, 15 from the defensive line and five to 10 from the rest of the group, it will be a marked improvement from the 33 they had last season.

* Same goes for turnovers. Anything above 15 interceptions is a marked improvement.

* Are those things doable? I think so. One thing for sure, the defense is younger and more athletic.

* With this offense, that might be all that's needed. As good as the Steelers were last year on offense, they are even better this year.

This defense has to get better practicing against that group every day, doesn't it?

* Alden Darby, Kevin Fogg, Roosevelt Nix and Ian Wild are the guys who have really helped themselves with strong training camps. But I don't know if more than one of those guys will make the final roster.

* The problem is that none of those guys play defensive line. The Steelers' No. 3 defensive end might be on somebody else's roster right now.

Cam Thomas has been OK as a nose tackle. But he showed last year that he's not athletic enough to play defensive end - especially if Butler is going to turn the ends loose more this season.

The Steelers are an injury away at that position from catastrophe.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Home stretch

Football is a game of attrition, both on and off the field.

Don't think so? Take a look at the Steelers tight end position as an example.

We know that Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth will be the top two guys.

But heading into mini-camp, the team was looking at Rob Blachflower, Jesse James and Cameron Clear for the No. 3 spot.

Clear got early kudos from offensive coordinator Todd Haley, despite the fact that Blanchflower was a seventh-round pick in 2014 and James was a fifth-round pick this year.

Blanchflower looked good last season on the practice squad, making some progress to the point that late in the season, I noticed him showing up quite a bit.

But he didn't make it through two weeks of practice before getting hurt and being placed on the Waived/Injured List.

James, after a strong start to training camp, had perhaps the worst first game of a draft pick in recent team history, dropping two passes - one of which was a sure touchdown, the other that was ruled a fumble - and drawing a false start penalty.

Clear, meanwhile, suffered a knee injury and had to have surgery to have a bone chip removed. The early kudos he got from Haley are long gone.

That leaves James and Ray Hamilton, signed after his release by Dallas when Blanchflower went down, "competing" competing for the third spot.

James has bounced back from his struggles in the first preseason game and we since learned that he struggled after the death of a close friend, but what once looked like a promising battle turned in just a few weeks of training camp.

@ Steelers GM Kevin Colbert said what we already knew. The team won't be discussing a contract extension with Antonio Brown anytime soon.

Signing left tackle Kelvin Bachum to an extension remains the team's top priority at this point, though it's possible a deal doesn't get done before the regular season begins.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Midweek news, notes

It was kind of ironic today that offensive linemen Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro made their way through the lunch-time interview sessions today and much of the focus was on how close that unit is.

How close is it?

"If you pushed me now, they'd all be over here," Pouncey told reporters, motioning toward Foster and DeCastro.

Rookie Bud Dupree got a lesson in that on Wednesday at practice. Admittedly, I wasn't there today - I had to return to Washington to work a desk shift, missing just my second practice of this camp - and it apparently turned into a bit of a donnybrook with Dupree attempting to fight the entire offensive line.

If so, it at least shows that the rookie has some fire - though he might want to reconsider taking on those five guys.

Dupree hasn't been very impressive in the first two preseason games - causing at least one national media guy, Louis Riddick of ESPN, to call him out

That's silly. Dupree was a project when the Steelers selected him in the first round. He's a superior athlete who needs to develop his football IQ.

It might take two or three years for it to happen. It might never happen. But to expect it to happen in two preseason games and then call Dupree out when it does not is ridiculous.

Kind of like him challenging the offensive line to a fight.

* Alejandro Villanueva split out wide as a receiver in 7 shots today. He didn't come down with the pass from Ben Roethlisberger, but the Steelers are certainly taking a long look at the young man.

After working at left tackle throughout training camp, he moved back to the right side this week. Could he be the swing tackle this year? I don't think so, but with Chris Hubbard now working at center, Cody Wallace should be concerned.

I don't know if they'll keep nine offensive linemen on the active roster.

* Jordan Zumwalt is the latest guy to head to the Waived/Injured List. He did so Wednesday to make room for linebacker L.J. Fort, who was claimed off waivers from New England.

Zumwalt was one of those players who looked great in games and terrible in practice. But he also has had issues staying healthy - his rookie season ended on injured reserve/

I like the move to sign Fort. Why not let Bill Belichick wonder how much the Steelers are picking his brain before he's eventually released?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Monday madness

Stephon Tuitt and Steve McLendon did not practice today and the coaching staff made an interesting move - at least for those who are starting their cutdown looks - to replace them.

At nose tackle, as had been the case when McLendon sat out earlier, was veteran Cam Thomas, ahead of second-year player Daniel McCullers, who was back at practice today. McCullers had been out the past week with a sore hamstring.

At defensive end in place of Tuitt was rookie L.T. Walton, a sixth-round draft pick.

I haven't seen much in the way of standout play from Walton other than a flash here or there. But it appears the coaching staff likes him more than the other young defensive ends on the roster.

Whether that adds up to a roster spot for Walton, or whether team team rolls the dice and goes with McCullers and Thomas as the only backup defensive linemen on the roster remains to be seen.

* Bruce Gradkowski hit the ground running today in terms of throwing the ball. He was the only quarterback to successfully throw the ball into a trash can from about 25 yards away prior to practice today.

* Every day to start practice, the coaches have the linemen and linebackers practice staying onsides while the ball is snapped.

Defensive coordinator Keith Butler was admonishing some young guys for not watching the ball and said, "I'm going to start making anyone who jumps offsides run a lap."

The next guy to do it was James Harrison.

"92, you owe me a lap," Butler said.

* In seven shots today, Markus Wheaton had a couple of TD catches working out of the slot, much the same we he got open in the preseason game at Jacksonville over the weekend on a two-point conversion play.

Wheaton should really be a weapon working out of the slot. He seems to have a nice feel for it.

The offense won today, 4-3, getting a nice pass breakup by Will Allen against Jesse James and a batted pass from Landry Jones by Anthony Chickillo.

Jones did have the session-winning TD pass to tight end Ray Hamilton. Hamilton was getting some extra looks today because Cam Clear, one of the other rookie tight ends, was walking around on one crutch today.

* Mike Tomlin seemed to take some extra interest in the punters today and this might actually be turning into a battle between Brad Wing and Jordan Berry.

Wing shanked a kick today and Tomlin yelled," Get him 4 (Berry's number). Put pressure on him. Show me what you got."

The two are very close in terms of kicking skills. Consistency might be the deciding factor.

But you also have to beat the incumbent convincingly, in my opinion.

* In one-on-one work against the receivers, corner Antwon Blake was consistently lauded for his footwork.

Brandon Boykin did pick off a poor throw by Ben Roethlisberger and then chucked the ball back over to the quarterbacks quickly.

Roethlisberger appeared a little ticked off about that, saying, "That's the way it's going to be?"

He then kept telling the receivers after catching TD passes to chuck the balls at the defensive backs - in a joking fashion (I think).

* Another cutdown clue: Chris Hubbard got work at center for the second consecutive day and Alejandro Villanueva worked at right tackle.


* Catch of the day went to tight end Matt Spaeth at the end of practice. Spaeth made a leaping, fingertip catch down the middle from Roethlisberger behind linebacker Sean Spence and in front of Robert Golden, who was back in action today.

He went to the ground as he pulled in the pass and landed on the football, knocking the wind out of himself. But it was a very nice grab.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Steelers open final week of camp

The Steelers opened their final week of training camp the same way they started it, hot.

It was so hot today that head coach Mike Tomlin, who usually wears long-sleeved shirts, was just in a T-shirt today.

Today also marked the first day - by my reckoning - that the Steelers had both starting safeties on the field together since the opening week of practice as Mike Mitchell returned from sitting out with a hamstring issue.

Shamarko Thomas came back last week after sitting out with a shoulder injury and defensive coordinator Keith Butler told me today that the team needs both starting safeties on the field together to start building some rapport.

Mitchell, while agreeing with that, also gave me this little nugget. He felt he played better with Will Allen last season than he did with Troy Polamalu because he and Allen practiced together all offseason. Polamalu typically worked out on his own in the offseason, attending only the mandatory workouts.

“I think with anything, the more you do things, the more you rep them, the better they get,” Mitchell said. “It’s important for us to get some reps together. But we worked a whole lot together this spring. We took pretty much every rep together. It was kind of like me and Will Allen last year. I worked with him all spring. I think me and Will had a little better rapport last year. I think me and Shamarko will be similar.”

Butler had planned on giving both safeties extensive playing time together in the preseason because they are not only new to each other, they are being asked to do some different things now as well. But that hasn't worked out.

"It’s extremely important for those guys to get out there," Butler said. "It’s easy to sit back there and draw it up on the board and stuff like that. When you get out there and things are happening fast, they need the experience of doing that. This is Mike’s second year in the system. First year, you’re kind of looking around, figuring out what’s going on. This year, he should grow in the aspect of knowing what we’re doing and what offenses are trying to do to us."

* With Lawrence Timmons, Vince Williams and Jordan Zumwalt all sitting out Sunday, the Steelers took a look at safety Ian Wild at inside linebacker.

That won't necessarily be a long-term move, but it does show added value for Wild, a linebacker at Mercyhurst and in the CFL. That might be the difference for him earning a spot on the practice squad.

* I don't see fullback Roosevelt Nix beating out Will Johnson for a roster spot this year, but he seems like he's sewing up a spot on the practice squad as well.

One caveat to that is that Nix also is showing up quite a bit on special teams. That could force the Steelers to keep him around.

At the very least, the Steelers might have found a diamond in the rough. An undersized college nose tackle who looks to be just a solid football player.

* Bruce Gradkowski was activated off the PUP list today but didn't do a whole lot in practice. He did take some snaps in the inside run drills and also took one snap of 11-on-11.

As he barked out signals in 11-on-11, linebacker Shayon Green jumped offside. Gradkowski made sure he pointed both hands at the young linebacker in a "gotcha" moment.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Post-Jacksonville thoughts

The Steelers might want to adjust their goal of scoring 30 points per game. How about 35?

The offense came out against the Jaguars - with no game planning to speak of - and easily went 80 yards on six plays without the ball hitting the ground.

And five different guys touched the ball - only Le'Veon Bell, who had a catch and run - touched it twice. Actually, it was six different guys when Markus Wheaton hauled in the two-point conversion to make it 8-0.

The Steelers made it look easy.

Certainly, the Jaguars didn't game plan, either. But I watched this same offense last season and have continued viewing it throughout the offseason and into training camp. I have no idea what I'd do to slow it, short of sending the Hanson brothers out to attack Ben Roethlisberger and Le'Veon Bell during pre-game warmups.

* The defense? That's another matter. But Jacksonville's first possession was a three-and-out. Ryan Shazier made a nice semi-open-field tackle on first down, then Will Gay had a nice submarine tackle to force third down.

But it was nose tackle Steve McLendon dropping into zone coverage in the flat that forced a bad throw by quarterback Blake Bortles, who had to be surprised to see the 6-3, 330-pound McLendon in his passing lane.

Is there any doubt that, had the Steelers left their offensive stars in the game, they would have gone down to make it 15 or even 16-0?

The defense gave up a field goal on the next possession, but field goals aren't going to beat this team.

* OK, I realize it was the Jaguars and all, but this was the same Jacksonville team against which the Steelers needed a Brice McCain interception last season to put the Jaguars away in the fourth quarter.

That was in the pre-MB days (pre Martavis Bryant). The Steelers averaged 29.9 points per game last year when Bryant played.

They averaged 32 points per game when Bryant and Bell both played.

* We'll learn a lot about the defense this week with Green Bay coming to town. The Steelers need to get Mike Mitchell on the field working with Shamarko Thomas sooner rather than later for that action.

* Kudos to C.J. Goodwin, who had two big catches in this one after losing a fumble in traffic last week in Canton.

Goodwin obviously learned something. He hung onto his first pass, which moved the Steelers into the red zone while taking a big hit. Then, he took an even bigger hit at the goal line and held on for the score.

He and rookie receiver Sammie Coates were two of the biggest winners from what was a mess of a second half.

* I love the way Jordan Dangerfield throws his body around. Ten years ago, there would have been a place for that kind of assassin. But those days are gone now. It's all about coverage in the secondary.

* Last week, Landry Jones was OK in the first half and got worse as the game wore on. In this one, it was the opposite.

He started slowly and then got hot. Sometimes, the two-minute warning can be a detriment when you've got a defense on its heels and that seemed to be the case in this game.

Jones misfired on the final drive, but who expected that one anyway?

He's still not anything close to being an NFL-caliber QB, but the Steelers are going to keep three QBs unless GM Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin have some kind of epiphany between now and the start of September.

* People on Twitter are freaking out about the kick and punt coverage teams. I even saw some say it's been an ongoing problem.

That's simply not true. The Steelers were in the top half of the league in punt and kick coverage last season. It was the same in 2013. So I'm not sure where it's been an ongoing problem comes from.

Realize that there are a lot of young guys out there that the team is looking at, some of whom haven't played special teams in several years - if ever.

It's an ongoing process. But it's not a problem, at least not yet.

Friday, August 14, 2015

What I want to see in the second preseason game

There are a number of things and players I'd like to see more from in this season preseason game for the Steelers.

Most importantly, I'd like to see the first team offense and defense do their jobs.

Since both will only be in - at least as a unit - for a series or two, I'd like to see the offense look as unstoppable as it has looked at times at training camp.

That can be both good and bad. There's a balance you have to have at training camp. For everything good that a unit or player does, that means its opposing side isn't making a play.

The Steelers have had a decent balance in training camp of that - but the offense has clearly been better.

When Roethlisberger and company are out there, they've been damn near unstoppable. Not all the time, but most of it.

We know the Steelers have an outstanding offense. But is it as good as it has looked or is the defense that bad?

That's what I want to find out first and foremost. We won't know that for sure today. It will be a small sample size. But we'll get a better idea now and moving forward.

Now, here are some players I want to see:

@ Dri Archer - He looked elusive and showed better vision than he did at any time last season when he was simply a speed guy. Can he do it again?

@ Alejandro Villanueva - Al, he known by his teammates, more than held his own against second and third-teamers last week. Can he do it against higher-level guys? He continues to be a work in progress, but he's progressing nicely.

@ Cam Thomas - Everyone's whipping boy last season - for good reason - Thomas has been good in training camp despite opening on the third team. He carried that into last week's game and dominated the Vikings' backups. Like Villanueva, you want to see him do it again.

@ Jesse James - As Mike Tomlin said, catch the ball. You're better than that.

@ Brandon Boykin - He made a couple of plays last week despite very few practices. Can he continue that process.

@ Garrett Hartley - For obvious reasons, this is a big game for the Steelers' new kicker.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mid-week thoughts

The Steelers wrapped up their third week of practice at Saint Vincent College Wednesday night with a matinee practice.

All eyes were on new placekicker Garrett Hartley as he showed off his leg in an extensive kicking session.

Hartley made 8 of 11 kicks - unofficially - missing two of them from 57 yards. One was short and wide right, the other short and wide left.

The other miss came from 42 yards.

But he displayed plenty of leg.

The man Hartley was signed to replace, Shaun Suisham, and Cameron Stingily both had surgery done on their knees on Wednesday.

Suisham was placed on injured reserve, while Stingily, a rookie running back, was Waived/Injured.

The team signed veteran wide receiver David Nelson and rookie running back Braylon Heard to replace them on the roster.

@ Lawrence Timmons, Vince Williams, Cortez Allen, Mike Mitchell, Daniel McCullers, Ross Ventrone and Senquez Golson were among those who did not practice today.

That makes it unlikely that those guys will play Friday in Jacksonville.

It was confusing on the part of Williams. I saw him in street clothes early. Then I saw No. 98 running around on the field. It was Ryan Shazier wearing Williams' number.

@ The offense had a good day, with guys making some off the charts catches during the team portion of practice.

Markus Wheaton had a nice, stretching catch from Ben Roethlisberger on the sideline against Antwon Blake.

"Good adjustment," head coach Mike Tomlin said to him. "Way to find it."

Not to be outdone, Heath Miller made a turning, twisting, one-handed catch on the next play from Roethlisberger.

Rookie Sammie Coates made a nice adjustment on a pass from Landry Jones to catch a ball that was slightly behind him, but twisted his ankle on the way to the ground and immediately let the ball go.

That earned him some private words from Tomlin. He limped for a bit but was OK.

The offense dominated seven shots, as well, beating the defense 5-2.

Roethlisberger made it look easy, throwing TD passes to Miller, Antonio Brown and Josh Harris.

The throw to Brown was particularly good. He rolled to his right and Brown was initially covered. As Cam Heyward closed, Roethlisberger looked at Brown again and the receiver went back to the inside and Roethlisberger threw him the pass between two defenders.

The look on Heyward's face, "You gotta be kidding me," was priceless.

Harris then scored on a draw to make it 4-0 for the offense. Landry Jones then entered and threw a TD pass to Tyler Murphy - though it appeared safety Ian Wild would have possibly had a sack on a blitz.

He then overthrew Matt Spaeth - who was blanketed so it could have been a throwaway - and a pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey was broken up to end it.

@ Roethlisberger also was successful in a two-minute drive to end practice.

He and Brown put on a show, with Roethlisberger throwing Brown's way four times on the drive - all completions, including a three-yard TD pass.

Tomlin matched rookie Doran Grant on Brown a few times as they closed on the end zone - then taunted him.

"Here he comes 24," Tomlin said.

Later adding, "How you doing 24? Oh shoot, here he comes again."

Jones wasn't as successful with his try.

After a short completion to Coates, he was nearly intercepted by James Harrison, then was sacked by Bud Dupree.

His fourth-down pass was then intercepted by B.W. Webb to end practice.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Post-Hall of Fame Game thoughts

There's not a lot to take away from a game like this.

The Steelers were playing with their JV- for the most part - but the starters that did play, played pretty well.

Ryan Shazier missed a tackle early, but it was his play on fourth down, shooting through and driving the guard into the backfield, that allowed Steve McLendon to make the fourth-down stop.

Stephon Tuitt, meanwhile, looked like what we thought he would - a dominant force.

And Lawrence Timmons, William Gay and others looked good as well.

Offensively, there were so many starters missing, it was really difficult to gauge anything.

Dri Archer had a strong game, looking like a completely different player. He dodged defenders. He used his speed. He displayed a vision he had not showed.

It was a good start for Archer.

Landry Jones started well and finished poorly. That wasn't all on him. He was mostly on target in the first half, despite the Steelers sitting their top four - and most experienced - receivers.

But once the starters on the line were out of there, Jones started looking like the Jones of the past.

@ If Shaun Suisham is out for any extended period of time - and that's what it looks like might happen - there isn't a lot out there in terms of kickers. Jay Feely and Mike Nugent are probably the top guys available.

@ Jesse James had been a guy I was interested in seeing in a game situation. He had been very good in training camp.

But he had perhaps the worst game of anyone on the field for either team - at least anyone who didn't need to be helped off the field.

@ Cam Thomas played pretty well, albeit against backups.

@ I liked what I saw from Mike Thornton, Shakim Phillips, Alejandro Villanueva and Terence Garvin, too.

@ You can't fumble C.J. Goodwin. But it was a close enough call that Mike Tomlin probably should have challenged it.

He might not have won the challenge - it was close - but you have to hold onto the ball, even when you're getting drilled by a linebacker.

@ Brandon Boykin and Antwon Blake are going to have a heck of a battle for that No. 3 corner spot.

Both of those guys play with a lot of grit.

@ Bud Dupree has to learn how to get off blocks if he's ever going to be a player in the NFL. It was a problem in college and it was a problem in this game.

It doesn't matter how fast you run or how athletic you are if you can't get away from the guy in front of you.

@ The Steelers used some 4-3 in this game, though it wasn't a 4-3 in the truest sense.

They kept a linebacker at the line of scrimmage and aligned the other three linebackers behind the defensive front.

They hadn't shown that at training camp - or if they did, I missed it.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Time for the first game

The Steelers will play their first preseason game today and here are a few of the players I want to see more of in a game-type situation.

Bud Dupree: The first-round pick has shown flashes. I wasn't a fan of the pick when it was made but I'm withholding judgment. I want to see if the instincts that I didn't see watching his college tape are starting to become ingrained.

C.J. Goodwin: The former California University and Fairmont State player has been making ridiculously tough catches in practice since last year but will be seeing his first game action. He didn't play at all in the preseason last year. Can he make one of those highlight-reel catches in a game? Can he make the routine catches? If the Steelers keep six receivers, he would be No. 6 right now. But he needs to state his case to make them do so.

Brandon Boykin: I know the former Philadelphia CB can play in the NFL. But how quickly can he get acclimated to the Steelers' defense?

Anthony Chickillo: Chickillo has been one of the more impressive rookies. But can he play special teams? He really never had to at Miami. He'll have to if he wants to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.

Jesse James: Same as Chickillo. James has come up big time and again in Seven Shots, the drill the Steelers use to open the team portion of practice, scoring a number of TDs. But can he play on teams?

Jawon Chisholm: Chisholm has looked shifty and also has run with some power despite signing just a couple of weeks ago. Josh Harris has been banged up and Chisholm also has better hands than Cameron Stingily. Can he win a roster spot over those two guys, because the Steelers are likely to keep an extra RB around, at least in the first couple of weeks when Le'Veon Bell is suspended.

Landry Jones: Can he keep making strides. The bar was set low coming in, but he's looked much better in this camp.

Alejandro Villanueva/Kevin Palmer: Villanueva will be seeing his first action in the preseason as a Steeler and at LT. Can he lock that side down? Palmer was a late signing and has been cut by both Arizona and Kansas City, but has looked decent at camp. This team needs some backup OT help. They have been the best two.

Miles Diffenbach/B.J. Finney: See above, only on the interior offensive line and both of these guys are rookies.

Alden Darby/Ian Wild/Gerod Holliman: The young safeties are going to play and play a lot. Anybody have any game?

@ I covered the Hall of Fame induction Saturday night and couldn't have been more moved by Junior Seau's daughter, Sydney, speaking for her father, who killed himself and was later found to be suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a type of chronic brain damage that has been found in other deceased longtime football players.

This is something I've changed my mind about over the years as the league has cracked down on hitting defenseless receivers, etc.

The league has a problem in terms of the long-term effects of football on players. It's trying to do something about it.

If it keeps another family from having to posthumously induct their husband, father or son into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it will be worth it.

Yes, I know football players know the risks when they take up the sport. But if you weren't moved by Seau's daughter or the shots of his mother crying during the ceremony, you need to check your pulse.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Friday news and notes

Clifton Geathers, we barely knew you.

Geathers, who was talked about a lot by the coaching staff in the offseason, was placed on the Waived/Injured List Friday. Undrafted rookie defensive end Joe Okafor was signed to take his place on the roster.

With Geathers gone, that means the much-maligned Cam Thomas is all but assured a roster spot on this team again this year.

In fact, even before Geathers began sitting out practices earlier this week, it was becoming evident that Thomas was making a push. Quite frankly, he had been better than Geathers, who at 6-8 didn't seem to play with the leverage needed to be a force in the run game.

That won't be good news to many Steelers fans, who have lasting memories of Thomas getting pushed around on defense last season after signing as a free agent with the team.

But he does look better in this training camp than he did last year. Is he a starter? Nope. The Steelers are pretty set there with Cam Heyward, Steve McLendon and Stephon Tuitt. And Daniel McCullers will likely be the backup nose tackle.

But Thomas will see some action this season as a reserve defensive end.

Of the other young defensive ends, I probably like Joe Kruger the best, but it's an "eh" group. The games got a lot more important for those guys.

I do like young nose tackle Mike Thornton, but he's not pushing anyone off the 53-man roster.

@ Mike Tomlin confirmed today that Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison, Maurkice Pouncey, Heath Miller, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell will not play in Sunday's preseason opener.

That's not surprising for any of them. I also wouldn't expect anyone else who has been nicked up this week to play.

This will be a game for the young guys. And it's the most important game many of them will ever have played.

@ Harrison, by the way, will begin practicing next week, though I wouldn't expect him to play in a preseason game until the third one.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Thursday news, notes

Couple of updates on the injury front today:

First, safety Robert Golden got some good news. He doesn't have any structural damage in his knee, which was injured in practice on Wednesday.

Sources say it's an MCL sprain, which should sideline Golden a few weeks.

Linebacker Vince Williams was the latest to go down with an injury today. He suffered a hamstring injury and was limping noticeably.

The Steelers have a lot of guys sitting out practices right now. In fact, with Golden's injury, they have just one safety - veteran Will Allen - who was on the roster last season and is currently practicing. And Allen sat out the first week because head coach Mike Tomlin wanted to ease the veteran into play.

That went out the window with injuries to Ross Ventrone, Mike Mitchell and Shamako Thomas. Thomas, by the way, was at least in pads Thursday.

@ With a patchwork secondary out there, the offense had its way with the defense today.

The offense went 7-for-7 in Seven Shots to open practice with Ben Roethlisberger throwing TD passes to Le'Veon Bell, Heath Miller and Antonio Brown.

Then backup Landry Jones had a nice series, throwing a bullet to Jesse James over the middle, a nice throwback across his body to Cam Clear in the middle of the field and a fade to Devin Gardner.

Cameron Stingily finished things off with a tough run through Terrence Garvin and Gerod Holliman to get into the end zone.

Holliman had a tough day along with Jordan Sullen, who looked to be playing some corner since Cortez Allen and William Gay were given the day off as well.

He and Sullen were beaten deep by Darrius Heyward-Bey for a long TD in 11-on-11.

Then, in the two-minute drill to end practice, Sullen and Alden Darby both took bad angles and Gardner hauled in a skinny post and took it for a score on third-and-two on a pass from Tyler Murphy.

Jones and Murphy both ran the two-minute offenses today, with both resulting in touchdowns. Tomlin said he wanted to put both QBs in situations they might see in the game Sunday, which means Jones will likely finish the first half and Murphy the second.

Jones had a nice drive capped off with a TD to Clear.

@ With James and Clear continuing to look good, the Steelers placed Rob Blanchflower on the Waiver/Injured List. They signed another tight end, Ray Hamilton, claiming him off waivers from Dallas.

But it's clearly James and Clear battling for the No. 3 spot, with James holding a slight edge right now.

@ Speaking of edges, first-year linebacker Shayon Green continues to get playing time ahead of Howard Jones.

Green is obviously the more powerful of the two. He battled Kelvin Beachum hard and both Green and Jones had their way with Alejandro Villanueva, who seems to be better blocking defensive linemen than he is smaller, quicker linebackers.

That could be a height issue for Villanueva, who is 6-9.

Keep an eye on rookie Mike Thornton in the game Sunday. He's a 6-1, 296-pound nose tackle and he keeps showing an ability to really get under the offensive linemen and get a good bull rush up the field.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Steelers suffer what might be first significant injury

The Steelers suffered what might be their first significant injury of training camp Wednesday when safety Robert Golden went down clutching his right knee during a two-minute drill toward the end of practice.

Golden, who was playing with the first team defense with both Mike Mitchell and Shamarko Thomas out, came up to hit Antonio Brown after a catch and their knees appeared to hit.

Golden, a fourth-year player who is listed as the top backup at free safety, was down several moments before being carted off the field.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said Golden is still being evaluated.

But if he is out for an extended time, that opens the door for a young safety to earn a spot on the roster.

Alden Darby replaced Golden today and has been flashing at times, including today, when he and Jordan Zumwalt combined to make a big hit on fullback Roosevelt Nix after a catch and run.

The injury comes at a bad time for Golden, who was tendered as a restricted free agent by the Steelers this year.

He'll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season and a knee injury would seriously affect that.

It's too bad because he's a well-liked player in the locker room and was the team's special teams captain in 2014.

@ Ben Roethlisberger was back as a full participant in practice today and he led the first-team offense, albeit with Darrius Heyward-Bey and C.J. Goodwin at receiver in place of injured Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant, to a touchdown, finding Brown for the score.

Actually, both Heyward-Bey and Goodwin had good opportunities to score but let them slip through their hands - in the case of Heyward-Bey, literally.

He got behind B.W. Webb and Golden - in a Cover-2, on the third play down the sideline and Roethlisberger laid the ball in perfectly, but Heyward-Bey, who has been pretty good in this training camp, dropped pass.

Goodwin later got free behind the defense down the middle of the field when Roethlisberger stepped up in the pocket, but the ball was thrown just a little deep and he couldn't get both feet down in the back of the end zone.

Tomlin gave Landry Jones the same opportunity - score a TD from the 35 with 1:53 remaining - but also gave him two timeouts instead of the 1 he gave Roethlisberger.

"You want to impress me, don't use them all," Tomlin yelled to Jones.

He didn't use any as Brandon Boykin broke up his first pass, intended for Tyler Murphy.

His next pass was a screen to Cameron Stingily that L.T. Walton blew up - the first time I've seen Walton make any kind of play.

On the next play, Jones again went to Stingily over the middle and Vince Williams blew him up, knocking the ball free.

After a false start by left guard Miles Dieffenbach, Jones was intercepted on fourth-and-15 by Kevin Fogg.

It was a tough go for Jones. But in his defense, he was working with Murphy, who has mostly played QB in this camp, and Devin Gardner, another college QB making the transition to WR, as his primary wideouts along with Shakim Phillips.

@ Speaking of screens, Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt showed off their athleticism by being two of the first guys to get out on a screen pass to Le'Veon Bell in a third-and-long drill.

Antwon Blake held the edge and caused Bell to slow up just enough for the two big defensive linemen to both close on him and force him out of bounds.

@ The offense won seven shots today, 4-3, with Bell catching a pair of TD passes from Roethlisberger on a fade and quick slant, and Jones throwing TD passes to Cameron Clearn and Jesse James.

James keeps finding ways to get open in end zone, something he also showed a knack for at Penn State.

@ New receiver Kenzel Doe, signed when Eli Rogers was placed on the Waived/Injured List, was being used to return punts today along with Brown and Dri Archer.

Believe it or not, he was clearly shorter than Archer, who is listed at 5-8.

Doe is listed at 5-8, 176, while Archer is listed at 5-8, 173. But there is no way he's bigger.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Let's take a day off


The Steelers will be off tomorrow, but we'll keep on trucking through this training camp.

I saw some good things on the field today. Sammie Coates suffered a couple of drops - along with Darrius Heyward-Bey - when the QBs were throwing warm-up passes.

But Coates made up for the drops with a big catch in the back of the end zone during seven-on-sevens. He went up to catch a ball from Tyler Murphy and Alden Darby gave him a big shove. But Coates contorted his body to get both feet down before landing out of bounds.

That was an NFL play.

Coates has to show more consistency but he's getting extra looks.

He's getting that work because Eli Rogers - who had been getting work as the No. 3 receiver with Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant out - went down with a sprained foot.

C.J. Goodwin moved up to No. 3 and Rogers going down is a big opportunity for him.

The Steelers have moved Goodwin, a 6-2ish receiver with great leaping ability, into the slot recently to see if he can handle those duties. He's also gotten some work as a kick returner.

Rogers, who is almost strictly a slot guy, is still likely No. 6 in the grouping behind Antonio Brown, Wheaton, Bryant, Heyward-Bey and Coates, but if he's out an extended period, Goodwin could make his move, especially if he proves to be more versatile.

@ Senquez Golson is not scheduled for any surgery yet on his shoulder. But things are trending that way.

The Steelers will decide sometime next week whether the rookie corner needs surgery.

Yes, the trade for Brandon Boykin shows the team is preparing for life without Golson. But it hasn't been decided just yet.

@ I'm not quite sure where people are coming up with the idea that Boykin is a journeyman cornerback.

First, he spent his first three seasons all with the same team, never playing less than 50 percent of the snaps. Second, he finished second in the NFL in interceptions in 2013 with six. Finally, Profootballfocus - the site that some like to use as the be-all end-all of measuring football players - had him rated as the 21st best cornerback in the NFL last season.

Now, everyone knows how I feel about PFF's judgment on certain positions. But CB play is one thing that you can judge watching it on TV better than some other positions. And Boykin allowed a QB rating of 77.2 on pass attempts his way last season.

That hardly makes him a journeyman.

Boykin, by the way, seems to be picking things up pretty quickly.

@ The defense showed up in a strong way in the seven shots drill, keeping the offense out of the end zone on six of seven plays.

Now, Ben Roethlisberger didn't practice, so that has to be factored in.

But, for example, on the first play, Landry Jones threw a nice pass to Le'Veon Bell on a little wheel route that Bell had in his hands until Will Allen came in and knocked it out.

@ The defense also held up well today on the live running drills.

On the one passing play, Heath Miller did catch a long pass down the seam - beating the cover-2 coverage when the safety had to walk to the line of scrimmage when the running back motioned out - but Cortez Allen hit him hard at the end of a 50-yard play and appeared to knock the ball loose at the end of the catch-and-run.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Sunday thoughts

The Steelers wasted no time in getting new cornerback Brandon Boykin onto the field Sunday and it was interesting to see the dynamic at work.

While many might think Boykin is here as Cortez Allen insurance, it was Allen who was among those yelling instructions and helping Boykin through his first practice.

"Remember, I told you how you have to continue with that," said Allen after Boykin dropped off receiver Shakim Phillips as he ran a crossing pattern at the goal in seven-on-seven work.

Coaching intern Dexter Jackson was also coaching up Boykin on every play, telling him his responsibilities.

As a veteran, Boykin should pick things up pretty quickly. But he's way behind everyone else at this point.

Getting help from the new teammates will only accelerate the process.

@ Boykin didn't hold back on Chip Kelly today, first saying he doesn't feel Kelly is a racist but that he can't relate to his players very well.

Then, he basically called Kelly a liar, saying, "I felt like that honesty wasn't there all the time."

It could just be sour grapes on his way out the door, but Boykin should be much happier in a more relaxed atmosphere in Pittsburgh.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who said the team really liked Boykin coming out of college, isn't the control freak that Kelly at least gives the appearance of being. And the Steelers have a very loose locker room - disciplined, but loose.

@ The addition of Boykin tells me the Steelers aren't real confident that rookie Senquez Golson will be back anytime soon from the shoulder injury that landed him on the PUP list.

The Steelers wanted Golson to push nickel corner Antwon Blake and at least provide some depth there.

Fellow rookie Doran Grant has had his moments - he picked off another pass today and returned it for a touchdown - but the Steelers wanted an additional veteran at the position.

@ Landry Jones wasn't as good today as he had been in the previous couple of practices, though he still made some nice throws. He threw three picks today, including the aforementioned one to Grant.

@ Maurkice Pouncey is expected to be activated from the PUP list Monday.

The news was not so good on receiver Martavis Bryant. He'll be out a few days after having an infection removed from his left elbow - which he landed badly on Friday night.

With both Bryant and Markus Wheaton (hamstring) out, Eli Rogers continued to get work with the top unit.

Rogers had his moments again, but he and Dri Archer were the only guys back on punt return and Rogers dropped one that Sammie Coates, who was working as a gunner, scooped and scored on.

C.J. Goodwin also has gotten more work with the top units with Bryant and Wheaton sitting.

But right now, it appears that Darrius Heyward Bey has a lock on the fifth spot and Rogers has a slight edge over Goodwin if they keep six.

@ It was interesting to note in the goal line drill to end practice today that Roosevelt Nix lined up as a lead blocker in front of Le'Veon Bell - who scored - while Will Johnson was used in motion.

Both guys appeared to get their blocks. Nix has showed nice, soft hands and route-running ability, and also has been one of the stars of backs on backers.

I don't know that he can beat out Johnson, but he's consistently showed up.

@ Cameron Stingily got stuffed on two runs in goal line, but ran through Vince Williams on a third, and final attempt.

@ Cam Thomas again replaced Steve McLendon in the base defense at nose tackle as McLendon and Cam Heyward again got a day off.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

One week in

The Steelers on Saturday night traded for cornerback Brandon Boykin, former of Philadelphia

It's an interesting deal on several levels. First of all, Pittsburgh gave up a conditional fifth round draft pick next year - he's got to make the team. Secondly, the Steelers drafted a pair of cornerbacks - Senquez Golson in the second round and Doran Grant in the fourth round - who you would figure have this team made regardless of what happens.

And Golson has been out with a shoulder injury.

Antwon Blake has been up and down in this training camp because he is, after all, what he is - a player limited by his height.

Now, you have the 5-10 Boykin added to the mix.

In 48 career games, Boykin has seven interceptions, including six in 2013. That is significant.

The Steelers have 31 interceptions in the past three seasons. Cortez Allen has a team-high six of those.

Boykin would seem to be a perfect fit for the Cover-2, a player capable of making plays on the football.

Also, Boykin was also the guy that Antonio Brown called out to me in 2012 for being the "candy bar" of the Eagles defense.

Snickers or Milky Way, I asked. Snickers, Brown replied, His meaning was that Boykin was a sweet matchup.

Boykin was not happy about that. We'll see how those two make nice in the coming future.

It's hard to believe the Steelers have now been at training camp for a week, but that's the reality of the situation.

With that in mind, head coach Mike Tomlin gave a number of veterans off today and it added up to some interesting stuff.

Perhaps most interesting was that with defensive end Cam Heyward and nose tackle Steve McLendon sitting out, the first-team defensive line was Stephon Tuitt, Cam Thomas and Clifton Geathers.

Geathers makes sense since he's been running second team, but the oft-criticized Thomas leap-frogged Dan McCullers, who stayed with the second unit.

Perhaps it was a chance for the coaching staff to take a look at Thomas, who is scheduled to make $2 million this season.

Thomas spent a lot of time working with Heyward, McLendon and the rest of the veteran defensive linemen this offseason to get better.

And he did a nice job on the nose Saturday, blowing up a couple of running plays in 11-on-11. I know many fans won't want to hear that, but it's the truth.

You might not want Thomas around as a starter, but he does offer some flexibility as both a nose tackle and defensive end.

@ Ben Roethlisberger continued to sit out large portions of practice - not all, but some.

And Landry Jones continued to look good. He really seemed to be finding rookie Sammie Coates quite often. After practice, those two continued to work together.

Jones has turned it on, throwing a number of nice touch passes Saturday. He has solidified his grasp on the No. 3 job - not that he's being pushed hard by the other guys - and could be poised at making a run at the No. 2 spot if Bruce Gradkowski doesn't return soon.

@ With Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant both out today - knee and elbow soreness - Eli Rogers got some work with the top unit.

That's notable for an undrafted rookie.

Darrius Heyward-Bey continues to impress, making what Tomlin called some heavy-traffic catches.

I can't recall seeing the veteran drop a pass in this camp.

@ The team worked on backs on backers receiving today and it's just not fair for anyone to go against Le'Veon Bell in those situations.

Bell pretty much had his way with Lawrence Timmons, including making a leaping reception in the end zone over Timmons from Roethlisberger. Perfectly placed pass. Even better catch.

Likewise, Dri Archer turned Ryan Shazier - who later left with a minor lower back issue - in circles several times.

Archer is murder on linebackers who try to cover him. And he's showing some nice release at the line of scrimmage.

Fullback Roosevelt Nix also continues to show up. He got kudos for his route running from the coaching staff and has been one of the better blockers in the backs on backers blitz pickup drills.

I don't know if he'll beat out Will Johnson, but he's certainly opened some eyes.

@ Jordan Zumwalt has been somewhat underwhelming. I gave him a pass earlier in the week since he basically sat out all of 2014. But at some point, you want to see something from the young man.

That hasn't happened yet. Nix took him to school Saturday.

@ Catch of the day, outside of ones made by Bell and Heyward-Bey - who showed nice concentration on a perfectly thrown ball from Roethlisberger on the sidelines - went to rookie tight end Cam Clear.

Clear got open over the middle and initially juggled a pass from Jones. Shamarko Thomas came up and stuck him hard, but Clear re-caught the ball as he went to the ground.

@ Rookie running back Ross Scheuerman left early on a cart with an Achilles' tendon injury. But he was walking around later, so it doesn't appear serious.

Scheuerman took the hit of the day from cornerback Antwon Blake.

Scheurerman had back-to-back good gains around end, first to the left and then to the right, following his blocks nicely.

On the second run, just as he reached the sideline, Blake decleated him, blasting him into the air and out of bounds. It was a big hit, but not before Scheuerman had gained 10-plus yards.