Steelers Inside The Ropes: Light practice salvaged by 2-minute drill conclusion, JuJu’s TD
No shoulder pads. No Big Ben, nor almost half of the other offensive and defensive starters.
Half-speed drills, lots of special teams.
In short, it was largely a dud of a practice from an entertainment perspective for the big Saturday crowd on hand at Saint Vincent. Until, that is, the final drill of the session.
JuJu Smith-Schuster’s pretty catch at the goal-line pylon capped a touchdown drive that was made to look easy by the first-team offense that was given the ball near midfield with 1 minute, 39 seconds on the clock and a timeout, hypothetically down by four points (making it an all-or-nothing touchdown situation for the offense and defense).
The offense needed only a fraction of that time, scoring in three plays: Josh Dobbs making first-down connections to Smith-Schuster, Vance McDonald and Smith-Schuster again.
The second-team offense led by Mason Rudolph seemed to be in a similar rhythm – connecting on first-down throws on each of its first two snaps – but a holding penalty on rookie Fred Johnson set it back. Johnson, a rookie guard from Florida, was put at left tackle for the first time this camp.
Although Rudolph hit Diontae Spencer and Zach Gentry for first downs, after spiking the clock three consecutive incompletions ended the drive and made the No. 2 defense winners.
- Helping to make the simulation as close to real game conditions as possible were the officials on hand. Smith-Schuster’s touchdown, for example, came during some hand-fighting with cornerback Steven Nelson. Coach Mike Tomlin said, “Nice combat! Clean combat, both sides!” The side judge concurred, “Yes, good clean combat.”
- An earlier “touchdown” during a 7-on-7 drill was not allowed when officials ruled one of James Washington’s feet did not land in bounds. Officials told an inquiring coaching assistant William Gay, though, that the catch would have counted if Washington did get both feet in. As Washington tumbled to the ground, Joe Haden ripped the ball out of his hands while they were out of bounds.
- In a lighter moment regarding officiating, when Benny Snell was ruled out of bounds on a catch during the 2-minute drill, Tomlin turned toward a gathering on the sidelines and said, “I thought he was out, too.” Fans from father away yelled for Tomlin to challenge the call – but as he would say to media later, as being (hypothetically) inside of 2 minutes, the play was not eligible to be challenged.
- Spencer’s catch came after he dropped an easy score during Seven Shots 2-point conversion simulation early in practice. That prompted Tomlin to say, “Eighty-two (Spencer’s number), you’re making (impressive) plays like that – and you’re dropping the other stuff? Cumon, man!”
- The offense again won Seven Shots, 4-3, but the unit would have taken six of seven if not for drops by Spencer and a wide open Christian Scotland-Williamson when the second team was in. For the first time this camp, the second unit was directed by Devlin Hodges, who has had a good camp for a No. 4 QB. Hodges hit Washington for a score; Rudolph connected with Xavier Grimble in the deep left corner, Snell at the goal line and a diving Smith-Schuster. The latter came on the second snap after Rudolph scrambled to buy time; Smith-Schuster’s lunge was full extension, allowing him to beat good coverage by rookie Devin Bush.
- Throughout this camp, Smith-Schuster is looking like the star he’s become. In addition to the difficult catches he made during Seven Shots and the 2-minute drill Saturday, he also at one point in a mid-practice 11-on-11 beat former Pro Bowl corner Haden to a 50/50 ball along the sideline.
- Former Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel was a guest on the sideline, his beard unmistakable.
- Chris Boswell and Matthew Wright kicked field goals, but with no linemen and on a far field without the illusion of fans or significant pressure.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .