Inside the Ropes: Steelers work with makeshift offensive line
Circumstance tested the depth of the Steelers' offensive line during Thursday's practice.
On what might have been the hottest day of camp thus far, the Steelers suffered their first known heat-related practice problem when guard B.J. Finney left about halfway through because of what coach Mike Tomlin said was dehydration.
Maurkice Pouncey (leg injury) still was not ready to take part in team drills, and Tomlin already had given veteran starting guards Ramon Foster and David DeCastro the day off. That meant the Steelers' top four interior linemen were out for the bulk of Thursday's work.
“Such is life. When you're in this journey, you'll be presented with things like that,” Tomlin said. “It was a difficult day in some ways, but I was really encouraged by the way they responded to it.”
Chris Hubbard, a tackle all of this camp, played center. Matt Feiler, a tackle on the practice squad the previous two years, was at left guard, and Keavon Milton line up at right guard. The highlight for the three was when Feiler pulled to seal off a pursuing Bud Dupree on a James Conner touchdown off a draw play in Seven Shots.
Tomlin was lukewarm in his assessment of Feiler and Milton: “I thought they represented themselves from an assignment standpoint OK, but I don't know they matched the intensity of that first defense in some of those drills. Oftentimes that's the case. You can't warm up to the intensity of the opportunity.”
• In addition to the unfamiliar digits at unfamiliar places (No. 73 at center, Nos. 71 and 76 at guard), there was an even more peculiar jersey involved in the offensive line's alignment: No. 66 was at left tackle. Alejandro Villanueva elected to wear DeCastro's jersey.
• The first-team offense used some trickery in its four Seven Shots snaps, scoring on two: most notably, an end-around in which Martavis Bryant cruised into the end zone behind a proud lead blocker in Ben Roethlisberger.
• For the first time, the second-team offense for Seven Shots (its final three snaps) was led by undrafted rookie Bart Houston. He went 0 for 3, missing targeted receivers on each throw.
• No. 2 quarterback Landry Jones (abdominal injury) was on the practice field and in uniform for the second consecutive day, but he also did not attempt a pass for the second consecutive day. Jones was limited to handing the ball off and pitching in team drills.
• Chris Boswell had a good day kicking field goals, not missing any among about a dozen attempts. While many were from extra-point range (33 yards) or closer, Boswell closed the field goal portion of practice by converting from 50 and 55 yards, the latter with plenty of yardage to spare. For those final two kicks, special teams coach Danny Smith counted down a clock while the field-goal unit hurried to line up in time. “Get on the bus!” Smith yelled as one of those kicks sailed through the uprights.
• Roethlisberger served as holder for one of Boswell's kicks.
• It might not mean anything, but with William Gay out, it was first-year player Mike Hilton running as the nickel cornerback with the first team and not veteran Coty Sensabaugh.
• After being absent from the practice fields the past three practice days, James Harrison was back in his familiar gray sweatsuit running on his own on an adjacent field and watching teammates practice.
• The crowd at Chuck Noll Field was unusually sparse for the penultimate day of camp at St. Vincent.