Steelers Inside the Ropes: Mike Tomlin pushes team to practice through rain
Three-and-a-half hours after he’d held back tears in discussing the loss of his longtime friend Darryl Drake, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin put on a jovial, defiant face at practice Tuesday.
On a gray and largely miserable outdoor day at Saint Vincent, it was almost as if Tomlin was insistent the practice must go on, the return to a degree of normalcy was that important for the Steelers on this day.
Despite the light-to-moderate steady rain that fell, the Steelers remained on familiar Chuck Noll Field, eschewing their more typical practice of going to an auxiliary turf field when the grounds were wet.
“Weather does not matter!” Tomlin yelled at least twice while the team started the Seven Shots drill that begins the team-drill portion of practice.
The team session, though, lasted only about 40 minutes because the rain (and apparent lightning in the vicinity) became too much to endure.
Other than the lack of shoulder pads, the session was taken seriously enough that almost all of the starters were getting reps.
— Blitzburgh (@Steel_Curtain4) August 13, 2019
• The defense scored a rare win (for this camp) in “seven shots,” taking five of the 2-point conversion plays including half of the four that involved first-teamers. Ben Roethlisberger flipped two quick passes at the goal line to Vance McDonald. On the second, the veteran QB exploited a matchup he liked when first-year defensive back Kameron Kelly took a snap as a slot corner across from McDonald. “Don’t get beat to the flag!” Tomlin yelled to Kelly. “Don’t get beat to the flag 3-8 (Kelly’s number). It’s situational ball!”
• The highlight of the defensive wins was what would have been a pick-6 by T.J. Watt, who swallowed up an underthrown toss by Roethlisberger intended for JuJu Smith-Schuster at the goal line. Artie Burns also had a nice breakup of a pass intended for Donte Moncrief, and Marcus Allen and Kelly were on the spot to make sure the final snap — a pass from Mason Rudolph to Zach Gentry — was incomplete.
• With David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey out because of what Tomlin indicated are nagging injuries, B.J. Finney took over as the first-team center, Matt Feiler moved to right guard and Chuks Okorafor slotted in at right tackle.
• Fred Johnson moved to second-team left guard from the usual right guard spot he has held down most of camp. Also on the second unit, tackles Zach Banner and Jerald Hawkins switched sides — Banner to the left and Hawkins the right.
• There was no live tackling during a practice without pads, but another sign of Tomlin’s insistence players would push to normalcy came when James Conner got a rare carry in a team drill. The starting running back has had sparse carries during team drills.
• The Steelers at one point practiced a flea-flicker.
• Four days before the Steelers host the Kansas City Chiefs in their second preseason game, overheard at practice by extroverted vocal special teams coach Danny Smith, during a punt protect drill: “That dude from Kansas City is gonna whip your (butt)! He ain’t gonna release!”
• Cameron Sutton had another interception, this one during a one-on-one DB/WR passing drill. Roethlisberger tried to loft it over Sutton 30 yards away, but Sutton leaped and caught it ahead of receiver Tevin Jones.
• The slick footing hurt, then helped, veteran cornerback Steven Nelson. At one point, Nelson slipped in coverage after a quick cut from Brandon Reilly, who had an easy catch. A few minutes later, Smith-Schuster slipped, and the result was an easy interception for Nelson.
• Devlin Hodges had another nifty throw, this time on a 20-yard pass to Gentry. The 6-foot-7 Gentry made a nice catch over top of linebacker Robert Spillane.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .