WEDNESDAY’S PRACTICE REPORT
By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin likes to practice situational football, where various drills highlight specific circumstances such as red-zone work and third-down conversions.
Tomlin set a precedent during Wednesday’s practice, however, when he had the Steelers go live during the three team-oriented, 11-on-11 drills. Generally, players aren’t tackled to the ground, although the respective lines bang heads on a regular basis, but that wasn’t the case on Wednesday.
“We had an opportunity to introduce some live tackling, and we’ll continue to do that,” Tomlin said. “As we grow and develop, we’ll continue to introduce situational football. We need to grow in complexity as we continue to come out here, schematically and what we’re asking them to do. And we’ll continue to do that, but I like the way that they’ve responded.”
When asked to expand on his reasoning, Tomlin believed it was appropriate with how NFL practices are structured now with no two-a-days and limited hitting.
“We’ve got (mandatory) off days, and we’ve only got a chance to practice once a day,” Tomlin said. “So, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for things to sort themselves out.
“We’ve got some young guys, and we’ve got to sort our way through those young guys. And we have to take advantage of opportunities to show improvement. So, that’s what that was all about.”
In the Trenches
As expected, the offensive and defensive linemen squared off in one-on-one competition Wednesday and the first-team players all looked pretty good. Here is a rundown of the competition.
Cam Heyward and Marcus Gilbert split their two matchups, while Ramon Foster held his own against Steve McLendon. Al Woods did a good job against Maurkice Pouncey, but rookie Brian Arnfelt went around David DeCastro twice. Heyward also got the best of Mike Golic on both attempts with him.
Mike Adams did pretty well initially against Ziggy Hood, but probably would have gotten called for illegal hands to the face at the end. Jason Worilds beat Kelvin Beachum twice. Tomlin wanted them back in there. Beachum jumped the gun, but he still couldn’t stop Worilds. He also went against rookie Mike Farrell from Penn State and recorded a split decision with Farrell putting him on the ground.
John Malecki held off Hebron “Loni” Fangupo on the first attempt and stayed locked up after the whistle before being separated on the second. Fangupo, listed at 324 pounds (possibly with one leg off the scale) probably has the biggest calves on the team. He also went against Beachum and split two attempts with him.
Justin Cheadle stopped Cordian Hagans on both attempts, while Al Woods handled Joe Long on their two shots. Guy Whimper stopped Alan Baxter on the first attempt, but Baxter used his speed and agility to get past Whimper on the second try. Arnfelt and Chris Hubbard split their two attempts, while Woods and Nik Embernate went three times. After getting pounded on the first attempt, Embernate held his own the other two times.
Baxter basically danced around Golic on the first one and took him inside on the second for two easy wins. Malecki held off Hagans, while Whimper couldn’t handle Worilds in the final two matchups.
Among the backups, Malecki, Hubbard and Cheadle did pretty well on the offensive line, while defensively Woods, Baxter and Arnfelt looked the best.
To the House
There were some big plays in those aforementioned team drills, including a long bomb from Bruce Gradkowski to Plaxico Burress for a touchdown. Burress beat Shamarko Thomas and Ross Ventrone on the play, but Thomas basically played the fake and was in the backfield as Burress cruised through the secondary.
Ben Roethlisberger connected with Emmanuel Sanders for two long plays and hit Antonio Brown early in practice for another touchdown.
Le’Veon Bell and Isaac Redman had the longest runs on the day with solid blocking up front, but missed tackles in the secondary. On one particular play, Bell ran over cornerback Curtis Brown for additional yardage. Bell and Redman split time with the first team.
“I just expect an ebb and flow,” Tomlin said. “I expect us to hit some (big plays) on some days, and I expect them to be covered on other days. That’s just part of this process. I wouldn’t read too much into it. Obviously, we’re going to throw them.
“We need to connect on some on offense, and we need to keep the ball in front of us on other occasions. (On the Burress TD), it might have been what the defense didn’t do, as opposed to what he did. I’ll let the tape tell that story. (But) Shamarko was in the backfield.”
There were three cornerbacks on the sideline for practice Wednesday, as starter Cortez Allen (knee) missed his third straight practice. Tomlin said he is day-to-day. Allen was replaced in the secondary by Will Gay. Curtis Brown played outside in the nickel and dime, and Gay moved to the slot.
The other two injured corners are Terry Hawthorne, who re-injured his right knee, which needed surgery in the spring, and DeMarcus Van Dyke. Tomlin said that Van Dyke’s hamstring injury “could be significant.”
Tomlin also said that defensive lineman Nick Williams wasn’t able to finish practice due to a knee injury “of some description.” He is being evaluated.