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Bills' visit to Steelers adds a competitive wrinkle to training camp

| Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, 10:00 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers tight end Heath Miller beats linebacker Jordan Hall during practice Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, in Latrobe.

The Buffalo Bills and the Steelers are adding a baseball-like element to their final week of training camp: a three-day series.

No scrimmaging is scheduled, and full-scale hitting is supposed to be verboten when the Bills visit St. Vincent to practice against the Steelers on Wednesday and Thursday. The Bills will stay in town to play a preseason game Saturday night at Heinz Field.

Then again, as Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert said Monday, nothing is predictable when two opponents are on the same field. He expects the practices to be competitive and, yes, physical.

“You might see a fight here or there,” Gilbert said. “A lot of guys are going to want to prove a point. This is the preseason and a lot of guys are fighting for roster spots. I think this brings the best out of everybody.”

Sometimes the worst, too.Dozens of Falcons and Titans players got into a minutes-long scrap Aug. 4 in which a helmet thrown was toward the Falcons. Atlanta coach Mike Smith even ejected one of his own players. There also was considerable hitting when the Patriots and Redskins practiced against each other last week.

“There's a lot of guys out here fighting for jobs, and there should be an understanding we're all out here trying to get better (and not get hurt or fight),” Steelers tight end Heath Miller said.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and Bills coach Doug Marrone hope the practices eliminate what the players say is the tedium of camp.

Thirteen of the 32 NFL teams will practice with another team. The Patriots are working against the Redskins and Eagles. And 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh flew his team cross-country to practice against brother John Harbaugh's Ravens for three days.

“We'll find out what we're really about,” Gilbert said. “The preparation for our upcoming preseason game will be live. We'll play fast. Obviously we'll be playing a lot faster because we'll be practicing against another team, so I think it will be better for both groups.”

This is the first time in 15 years another NFL team has trained with the Steelers, who practiced against the Washington Redskins eight times between 1989-99.

Back then, the teams held full-scale scrimmages, sometimes twice a day, and several were televised. Bills and Steelers officials met Monday to wrap up the logistical aspects of the practices. The teams are expected to work against each other in position drills and in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 passing drills.

“We're not hitting on each other. We can hit on another team,” linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. “I'm definitely looking forward to that. You get tired of hitting the same guys every day. It's fun for the players.”

“We need to put these guys in as many challenging situations, uncomfortable situations as we can,” Tomlin said. “Working against an unfamiliar opponent, an unfamiliar scheme in many instances in a practice setting, I just think, raises the level of urgency. “

The Bills play a 4-3 defense, which the Steelers don't get to see in practice, and the Bills get to work against the Steelers' 3-4.

“It will be great for our defense to go against a mobile quarterback (EJ Manuel) and some of the things they're doing offensively,” Tomlin said. “They're a good dance partner for us, if you will, because they do a lot of things a little bit differently than we do.”

“We don't get a lot of 4-3 work. Obviously, through training camp, we're 3-4, 3-4, 3-4,” tight end Heath Miller said. “It should be good preparation for us.”

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

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