SUNDAY’S PRACTICE NOTES
By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — Football in shorts, as Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called the opening two practices, is over after Sunday’s training camp workout at Saint Vincent College.
Let the hitting begin, as the Steelers will wear full pads Monday for the first time since last season ended at 8-8.
“It’s like the first day of school,” Tomlin said. “It really is. Checking in here and getting back on the grass is one thing. Don’t get me wrong, but football is a game that’s played in pads. And (Monday) is the first day of school.”
The Steelers had a beautiful second day of practice, after surviving torrential downpours Saturday, and got through both practically unscathed. Tomlin said there were injuries to cornerbacks Cortez Allen and DeMarcus Van Dyke.
“Obviously, we look forward to (Monday) and an opportunity to carry our pads and take away the football in shorts element of what’s going on here,” Tomlin said. “So, I liked the energy and enthusiasm of the group, but we’ve got some minor camp-like injuries that we’re dealing with.
“Cortez Allen was held out of participation today. He experienced some discomfort in his knee. And, right there at the end (Sunday), DeMarcus Van Dyke hurt his left hamstring. We don’t know the extent of that, but we’ll obviously get it evaluated.
“That’s part of this preseason team-building process, and we’ll deal with it,” Tomlin added. “One man’s misfortune creates opportunities for others. (But) we have no timetable right now for either guy.”
Many Happy Returns
Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Markus Wheaton, Reggie Dunn and David Gilreath all took turns returning punts in an attempt to supplant Brown as the Steelers top returner. Brown earned a Pro Bowl spot for his talents in the return game, but Tomlin would like him to only be a receiver.
Each player did some good things, but Dunn was especially strong. However, his performance was overshadowed by several big drops in the passing game. It’s not out of the question for a player to secure the final wideout spot by winning the punt-return job.
Getting Their Kicks
Second-year player Drew Butler and veteran Brian Moorman boomed several punts each, but Moorman’s hang time was especially good. Butler had an inconsistent rookie season, and Moorman was brought in as an insurance policy. He spent time in Buffalo with Steelers new special teams coach Danny Smith, so one could easily see Moorman winning the job.
The top gunners on the punt-coverage teams were DeMarcus Van Dyke and Ross Ventrone. Neither was especially successful, but there obviously was no hitting. So, getting an exact read on things was difficult.
Time to Shine
Markus Wheaton made a couple terrific catches, including one where he slipped inside the coverage and went to the ground to make the grab. But he also had a couple drops. Those will be inexcusable once the pads are added on Monday.
One of the better plays of the day was turned in by local prospect Derek Moye. The wideout from Rochester, Pa. and Penn State was in single coverage against Ventrone and reached back to snag a pass from Landry Jones off the top of Ventrone’s helmet. Ventrone is from Bridgeville, Pa. (Chartiers Valley HS) and attended Villanova.
Cornerback Curtis Brown turned in one of the top defensive plays. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger attempted to hit Emmanuel Sanders on a post route, and Brown made up a lot of ground to intercept the slightly underthrown toss. Ike Taylor also had a pick against Roethlisberger. The quarterback missed Antonio Brown on a sideline route, and Taylor secured the easy INT.
After practicing in full pads for the first time Monday, the Steelers will take Tuesday off. The first night practice is this week, Friday at 7 p.m. at Latrobe Memorial Stadium.