Steelers notes: Consistency sought at nose tackle
• If it's Monday, then Steve McLendon must be at nose tackle … or is it Cam Thomas? Or Hebron Fangupo. McLendon is the starter, but defensive line coach John Mitchell said, “We haven't had the same guy play nose since we've come out here. We're trying to find a combination of three guys who can play together and go from there. We're rotating people everywhere.”
• Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and, again, McLendon had the day off on a wet Sunday. The Steelers issued their first depth chart since camp opened, and Markus Wheaton is listed as a starting wide receiver, with slot receiver Lance Moore behind him. Antonio Brown is listed again as the punt returner. Justin Brown, cut a year ago, is behind Brown at WR, with Darrius Heyward-Bey (concussion) and Martavis Bryant behind him. Sean Spence, yet to play in the NFL, is behind Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams at ILB. Arthur Moats is behind Jarvis Jones at OLB.
• Will Allen, in his 11th NFL season, is getting plenty of work with the starters as safety Mike Mitchell (groin) heals. Allen was cut by the Cowboys last season, but was immediately picked up again by Pittsburgh, for whom he played from 2010-12. “I'm the third (most experienced on defense) behind Ike Taylor and Troy. Then you've got me and Ben,” Allen said. “I feel great, man, healthy and vibrant and moving pretty well.“
• Special teams coach Danny Smith was back in practice Sunday after leaving Saturday's session early. The day before, he rammed into a metal bench while trying to avoid a play during practice.
• Running back Le'Veon Bell is fighting through a hamstring injury that has limited him during camp, just as a bruised knee and a sprained foot cut short his 2013 camp and put him out for three regular season games. Still, he said, “This year, I'm just smooth sailing. I'm just playing football, I'm not nervous anymore. I'm the leader in the group now, really” — even though LeGarrette Blount is in his fifth season.
INSIDE THE ROPES
• The Steelers apparently survived a scare late during practice when rookie first-round pick linebacker Ryan Shazier limped off the field with a right knee injury. Despite Shazier getting the knee wrapped in ice and sitting out the final few plays of the red zone period, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin referred to the injury as only a “boo boo.” Shazier was having another solid practice, especially during the red zone drill, until he limped off. He chased down Le'Veon Bell when the running back took a screen pass on the first play of the period. Shazier popped Bell for a loss when he tried to bounce a run play outside. That's when Shazier limped off the field.
• The Steelers broke out the Oklahoma drill for the first time in a long while, but used it just for the wide receivers and defensive backs. The drill consists of, in this case, a receiver trying to block a defensive back with another person trying to run between two blocking dummies placed about 10 feet apart. The object is for the receivers to block the corner, and for the corner to shed the block and make the tackle. The receivers held their own, especially Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant.
• Tomlin let first-year tight end Bryce Davis know he needs to finish blocks during tight end/outside linebacker drill. Davis won a rep against rookie Howard Jones, but pulled up before the whistle blew. The two went again and Jones drove Davis to the ground, prompting Tomlin to bark: “See, he didn't let you off the hook. He buried you.”
• For the second consecutive practice, rookie Stephon Tuitt ran first-team reps at left defensive end. William Gay took some snaps with the first-team safeties, and Landry Jones swapped out with Bruce Gradkowski running the first team offense with Ben Roethlisberger getting the day off.
• During the team run period, the Steelers running backs picked up sizable yards by using cutback lanes. LeGarrette Blount cut back with some nimble feet and picked up about 15 yards. Dri Archer, going against the second team, made a fluid cutback on an outside zone run, juked a couple of defenders and sped for about 40 yards.
• Cornerback Antwon Blake broke up a pass in the end zone against the much taller Justin Brown. Later in practice, C.J. Goodwin ran a quick slant just to have Blake reach in and smack the ball away. Later, Blake knocked yet another pass down aimed for Goodwin.
• After a hard rain soaked the practice field for 20 minutes, the Steelers went through a pass-under-pressure period in which the team has to throw the ball from inside its 20-yard line. Tomlin barked out that he didn't want to see any drops in the slippery conditions. Tight end Matt Spaeth dropped the second pass of the period.
• Bryant made some nice red zone catches, but it was a deep pass that was the most impressive. Gradkowski floated a deep ball down the left side. Bryant beat the defender and stretched out and made the 30-plus yard gain.
• Justin Brown made a sweet post corner move on Lew Toller and made a diving touchdown catch in the back of the end zone on a perfect pass by Jones during red zone passing.
— Mark Kaboly
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