Steelers Inside the Ropes: ‘Man against man’ highlights hard-hitting night practice
In the first backs-on-‘backers drill held five days earlier, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin withheld several of his starters.
For the second go-round Friday night, Tomlin matched up two of those veterans: inside linebacker Vince Williams against fullback Roosevelt Nix.
On the first snap, Williams bowled over Nix, but ended up on his back when the fullback pulled a move straight out of WWE and flipped Williams over his head as he was falling backward.
The two jostled in the rematch, with Nix possibly holding while he wrestled Williams to the ground.
Those were the only two snaps for Nix, while Williams also matched up four times against running back Jaylen Samuels in the drill that highlighted the night practice at Latrobe Memorial Stadium.
“Just continuing to pit man against man and working to get better,” Tomlin said. “That’s the only way you get better.”
Tomlin downplayed the vet-on-vet matchup between Williams and Nix.
“You stay out here long enough, you’re going to see everybody versus everybody,” Tomlin said. “I wouldn’t read too much into the matchups.”
Tomlin, though, intentionally pitted first-round pick, linebacker Devin Bush, against rookie running back Benny Snell on seven matchups. Neither Bush nor Snell faced another opponent.
Bush won the early snaps, but Snell regrouped and was holding his own by the end of the session.
“They are young guys in the same state of their careers,” Tomlin said. “They are tremendously competitive. We expect those guys to be contributors. They lack in experience, so it’s a fair matchup.”
Among the players that impressed were linebackers Tyler Matakevich and Ola Adeniyi and tight end Kevin Rader of Pine-Richland.
Matakevich violently ran through running back Trey Edmunds, prompting linebacker coach Jerry Olsavsky to slap Matakevich’s hand before the next repetition. Matakevich also won the rematch.
Rader held off linebacker Tuzar Skipper, forcing him outside and away from the quarterback. “Way to work 8-7,” Tomlin yelled. “Skip, you have to finish that.” When Rader held his own again in the next rep, Tomlin said “Nice” and nodded in approval.
Other practice highlights:
• The offense prevailed in the “Seven Shots” 2-point simulation, 4-3. Josh Dobbs was quarterback for the first team and threw a scrambling touchdown pass to James Conner, then sneaked up the middle for a score on the second snap. On the third snap, Dobbs took too long waiting for the play to develop, and it was whistled dead. On his final snap, Dobbs had a pass batted by Tyson Alualu that Bush intercepted.
• Mason Rudolph concluded “Seven Shots” by throwing a touchdown pass to Ralph Webb and another score on a pass to Ryan Switzer, who was coming across the middle. His third snap resulted in a score but was negated by a penalty flag for illegal procedure.
• Players that exited with injuries included wide receiver Diontae Johnson (hip), Williams (hamstring) and fellow linebacker Anthony Chickillo (hamstring). It was Chickillo’s second injury of camp. He may have been injured when he briefly scuffled with undrafted free agent offensive lineman Fred Johnson late in practice.
• Starters that got the day off included quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey and Alejandro Villanueva. The other two veteran linemen, David DeCastro and Ramon Foster, exited after taking part in some individual work. Cornerback Joe Haden, linebackers Bud Dupree and Mark Barron, and wide receiver Donte Moncrief didn’t participate in 11-on-11 work.
• Dobbs completed a 30-yard pass in double coverage to wide receiver Tevin Jones, floating the ball over Branch and newcomer Derrek Thomas.
• Aliquippa’s Dravon Askew-Henry intercepted Devlin Hodges on a pass intended for James Washington. Hodges got considerable work with the second-team offense.
• In a red-zone simulation, Dobbs threw a touchdown pass to Washington between two defenders. On the next play, he scrambled to his left and found Conner, who came all the way across the field, in the back corner of the end zone.
• Thomas, participating in his first practice with the Steelers, had an interception of a Rudolph pass.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .