My day at Pittsburgh Steelers training camp
One year after a few shady moves by the Steelers that either canceled a scheduled practice or moved it up a few hours, thus crushing our 2022 training camp plans multiple times, my friend, Terry, and I finally got to take in the sights and sounds at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. on Sunday afternoon.
Terry drove, and I helped with directions (I was going to pay him for tolls, but he has EZPass, which allowed me to be a freeloader).
We were met with a long line of traffic when we arrived, with fellow fans filing into the grassy parking lot, one by one.
Did we get to sit in the bleachers at Chuck Noll Field? No, but that only happened once when I attended my first Steelers training camp way back in 2009 with my then-girlfriend, Jessica. Instead, we sat on that painful hillside. It was a great vantage point, actually, but the pain was too much of a distraction to enjoy anything we were seeing. While I was trying to prevent my body from sliding down the hillside and onto the field (or at least that VIP area where fans get to watch practice on the sidelines), I did notice that Joey Porter Jr. was practicing his interception skills with the help of the Jugs machine.
Porter didn’t officially participate in practice, however. For that matter, neither did T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward, both of whom stood on the sidelines dressed in street clothes, a sight you should expect to see this Friday night in Tampa.
That was okay, though, because it was a practice that was conducted without pads. That’s right, no pads, which meant no intense hitting. The defense’s hands were tied for most of the day, except during Seven Shots, where the unit excelled. But like K.T. Smith pointed out in his training camp article, Seven Shots is not a fair fight for the offense without the threat of a running attack. I didn’t bother to count the number of snaps won by the offense or defense during the drill (I believe that’s a federal crime), but I think Teryl Austin’s crew came out looking better on the day.
Otherwise, it was a practice built for the offense to shine, especially Kenny Pickett, who seemed to be threading lots of needles with that supposed noodle arm of his. Then again, it would have been alarming for a second-year quarterback, one who was selected in the first round, to not look sharp during a non-padded practice, where even the threat of being hit by accident is mostly removed.
As for the other quarterbacks, Mitch Trubisky performed well enough during his drills. He also looked jacked. I can’t imagine many quarterbacks in the NFL who are as ripped as Trubisky. Speaking of which, sans pads, Pickett’s added muscle was quite noticeable, even without the use of the binoculars I’ve had since my 18th birthday.
Mason Rudolph didn’t practice much on the day. Maybe it’s because he knew Twitter was going to be watching and would pounce on any mistake that was reported. Twitter may have more ammo in the form of Tyler Morgan, the 2023 undrafted free agent from Minnesota. This is typical training camp hyperbole, but Morgan seemed to be handling most of the third-team reps and looked rather sharp while doing so. Needless to say, all it will take is one decent performance in a preseason game for the “Cut Mason” talk to ramp up on social media and in the regular media.
Diontae Johnson didn’t practice, other than in individual drills. George Pickens was a full participant, and the one thing that stood out to me was a dropped pass late in the day. This isn’t to disparage Pickens; I’m just merely pointing out that he’s already such a well-rounded receiver that his mistakes now stand out more than his accomplishments. I didn’t notice Allen Robinson, but maybe that’s because he didn’t practice. I’m not sure.
Cody White looked good, but I expect receivers like him to perform well in a non-padded practice. He’s been in Pittsburgh’s system since 2020–both as a member of the 53-man roster and on the practice squad–and he probably has his training camp drills memorized like an actor memorizes lines in a play.
I didn’t know who No. 21 was, and maybe that was a good thing since I came away impressed by what he did on the day. That No. 21 was Hakeem Butler, a tall, lanky receiver the Steelers signed in May after a brief stint with the XFL’s St. Louis Battlehawks. Butler was very active, and his best play came when he high-pointed a deep-out pass from Pickett while being covered quite well by a cornerback whose number I don’t remember.
I was skeptical of Butler making the roster, but now I think he might have a shot. Although, again, I might just be spewing the usual hyperbole that is common when folks like me attend training camp.
In other news, I never realized how loud the up back is when calling out protections and the snap during punts. Miles Killebrew was that up back on Sunday, and it kind of reminded me of the end of Invincible, when Vince Papale changed the call right before the snap.
Speaking of punting, Pressley Harvin III was booming balls all afternoon. Does that mean anything? Not necessarily. Like with Pickett, you’d be alarmed if a third-year punter who was selected in the seventh round wasn’t booming kicks in a practice setting.
Nobody stood out on defense, but how could they without pads?
The day ended with two-minute drills that started from the offense’s own 35.
Pickett showed off his ability to throw on the run by scrambling to his left and hitting a wide-open receiver downfield for a touchdown. Following that score was another Seven Shots in which the defense seemed to win most of the battles.
The second team then did its two-minute drill, and Trubisky led the offense down the field for a score. The touchdown was then followed by another Seven Shots drill in which the defense came out on top.
And that was the day.
Other things that stood out:
- The team seemed to go nuts when receiver Dan Chisena, a 2020 undrafted free agent out of Penn State who spent three years with the Vikings, caught a touchdown pass from Morgan late in practice. It was kind of like the reaction a college team has when a fifth-year senior who never sees any action enters the homecoming game and makes a play.
- Miles Boykin dropped a couple of passes during Seven Shots.
- Terry and I could only take so much of that hillside before we finally decided to “stretch our legs” and watch the rest of the action in the little area right in front of the women’s room.
- Below us, down on the hillside, were four or five kids who spent the majority of the day engaged in a tag-team wrestling match. This isn’t to say they were fighting. It all appeared to be scripted and choreographed. It’s impressive to not only be “smart to the business” at such a young age but to also have the stamina to perform in a sixty-minute tag-team match on a painful hillside in front of a sell-out crowd.
Oh well, that was my day at Steelers training camp. It was my favorite time since 2010. You know what happened that season, right? Pittsburgh made it to the Super Bowl.
Remember that next February.
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