Steelers inside the ropes: Moncrief back to making plays
Over the first three days of training camp, before he suffered a finger injury, Donte Moncrief was wowing onlookers at Saint Vincent. The Pittsburgh Steelers marquee free-agent signing on offense looked as if he could be a quality No. 2 receiver to complement JuJu Smith-Schuster.
A two-week absence related to the dislocation of his left ring finger muted the hype surrounding the former college star who had underwhelming production during his first five NFL seasons. But Moncrief returned for a full (and fully-padded) practice Wednesday at Chuck Noll Field. And he once again was making plays.
Moncrief’s tough catches in the end zone during an 11-on-11 scramble drill and during a 7-on-7 were the highlights of what was a strong practice for him. On the former, Moncrief’s “touchdown” was from about 25 yards, beating defenders to the ball coming back to the goal-line pylon. On the latter, Moncrief leaped and got his feet down in the back of the end zone on a throw from Ben Roethlisberger, outmaneuvering a pair of defenders to the ball.
• Wednesday’s practice was the last of camp to feature pads. It also was situational heavy, and it featured all healthy players. It was spirited in its hitting and its celebrating after positive plays, a departure from the more somber rain-affected practice Tuesday that was the first after the death of wide receivers coach Darryl Drake.
• The offense was successful on four of the Seven Shots snaps, splitting the four using first-teamers. McDonald had an easy score, and JuJu Smith-Schuster beat Terrell Edmunds to the ball at the goal line. But Smith-Schuster threw a wounded duck that was intercepted by Mark Barrron on a trick play after an end-around. Edmunds also knocked down a looping Ben Roethlisberger pass to Smith-Schuster in the middle of the end zone.
• Diontae Johnson caught touchdowns on the final two snaps with second-teamers, albeit the first might not have happened in a live game (and perhaps in a different era) because a looming Marcus Allen would have hit him very hard. Earlier, Xavier Grimble couldn’t get his feet down in play in the back of the end zone off a pass from Josh Dobbs.
• Malik Williams was figuratively invisible over the first week or so of camp, but the big first-year running back has raised eyebrows with athleticism and playmaking in recent practices. Wednesday, he beat defenders to the corner of the end zone after catching a pass from Dobbs in a 7-on-7 situation. Earlier, Williams earned coach Mike Tomlin’s praise when he executed an ankle-breaking cut back to the inside on Allen. “Ohhhhh, the juke!” Tomlin exclaimed.
• Tomlin was in a talkative mood, perhaps his way of guiding his team back to a normalcy after the death of Drake. After the Williams’ move on Allen, Tomlin reminded the latter, “It’s an angle-tackling drill! This is an angle-tackling drill we’re doing. Stay inside him!”
• A pair of simulated 2-minute drills ended practice: ball at the offense’s 35, one timeout and 1 minute, 51 seconds on the clock. The defense won each. The first-team offense managed just one first down (a 25-yard completion from Roethlisberger to McDonald) before an ill-advised spike to stop the clock and an incompletion and short gain to Smith-Schuster brought up a fourth-and-long, on which Tyler Matakevich nearly had an interception. On the second snap of the “drive,” the offense was “flagged” for a false start. Tomlin initially instructed to leave the ball where it was in lieu of walking off a 5-yard penalty. Matakevich, though, yelled over toward Tomlin, “We don’t allow re-dos, Coach!” Tomlin smiled and used Matakevich’s nickname when he relented by saying, “I hear ya, Dirty Red!”
• The second-team defense ended its 2-minute drill after one first down when Cameron Sutton intercepted a Dobbs pass intended for Ryan Switzer.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .