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Steelers notebook: Limited practices to fix problems

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Bruce Gradkowski practices Thurday, Aug. 15, 2013, at St. Vincent in Latrobe.
By Alan Robinson
Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, 8:21 p.m.

Backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski said the Steelers have plenty of practice time to cure their problems, such as their 1-for-13 conversion rate on third down and 95 yards in penalties against the Redskins on Monday night at FedEx Field.

In reality, they don't.

They have only two full practice days this week — Wednesday and Thursday — before playing the Chiefs on Saturday at Heinz Field. Next week, they practice only Monday and Tuesday before playing at Carolina on Aug. 29, two days after they must cut their roster to 75 players.

Poor grades

How badly did the offensive line perform against the Redskins?

According to Pro Football Focus, which breaks down each player's performance in each game, right guard David DeCastro graded out the best among the starters.

Center Maurkice Pouncey, left tackle Mike Adams and right tackle Marcus Gilbert graded out poorly.

Among the backups, NFL veteran Guy Whimper also drew poor grades.

Tomlin not impressed

Coach Mike Tomlin wasn't about to heap faint praise on rookie quarterback Landry Jones, who threw a touchdown pass to former Penn State receiver and Rochester graduate Derek Moye in the second half.

Asked if it was the best he's seen Jones look, Tomlin said, “I haven't seen much of Landry Jones, so that would be a stretch of a statement.”

Jones struggled frequently during training camp practices at St. Vincent.

Telegraphed play?

The Redskins apparently deciphered the Ben Roethlisberger screen pass intended for Jonathan Dwyer that outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan jumped to intercept and returned 22 yards for a touchdown.

“I could kind of tell by the way the tackle was setting and by the way the back had a wider path when he was coming out of the backfield,” Kerrigan said.

He also said linebacker London Fletcher alerted the defense by yelling, “Screen, watch the screen.”

Uneven special teams

Tomlin wasn't entirely happy with his special teams, even though they avoided the mistakes (blocked punt, muffed punt) of the Giants game.

“There was some negative there, too, a few potential breakout punt returns,” Tomlin said.

“(Tight end) Mike Palmer did a good job in two instances getting the guy on the ground, but we had some unblocked guys down there who didn't make plays.

“Obviously, unblocked men that are vying for jobs have got to make tackles.”

Throwing the flag

Tomlin plans to bring in officials this week so that mistakes that would result in penalties during games are flagged.

“I think defensively and offensively we need to practice the way we need to play,” safety Ryan Clark said.

“Clearly we aren't practicing within the rules enough to go out and implement it on the field. Coach Tomlin is turning over every stone for this team to get better. And, in the end, if we don't perform, it's going to be on us.”

Unchanged depth chart

The Steelers didn't make changes on their depth chart Tuesday, perhaps because it was compiled only a few hours after the Monday night game and before the coaching staff evaluated player performances.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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