One of the perks of living near Pittsburgh is the fact that Latrobe is a 40 minute drive from my apartment. For this reason, I figured I would head east and watch practice in person so I could avoid having a hyperlink-laden story full of observations from other writers.
Alejandro Villanueva is T.J. Watt’s daddy
This statement is rooted in veracity. Allow me to elaborate.
Watt, as James Harrison’s presumed stand-in at first-team right outside linebacker, spent the majority of his afternoon matched up against Villanueva in offensive line vs. defensive line drills, 11 vs. 11 run-throughs, and the crowed-pleasing “seven shots” red-zone drills. T.J. of House Watt, son of John and first of his name, was routinely manhandled by Villanueva, who is allegedly the least talented member of Pittsburgh’s All-World offensive line. Watching Watt attempt to use power moves on Villanueva was akin to scraping peanut butter from a shag carpet. Watt’s complete arsenal of finesse moves was similarly ineffective.
Being that we’re less than one week into camp, Villanueva’s destruction of Watt doesn’t tell us anything definitive long-term (Watt is, after all, still a rookie, whereas Villanueva has nearly two full seasons worth of starts under his belt). Still, seeing Villanueva, who recently signed a $24 million contract with the Steelers, dominate one of the best linebackers in the 2017 NFL Draft demonstrates that the front office allocated its funds wisely.
Justin Hunter is easily the second-best receiver on the Steelers
This isn’t a particularly glowing endorsement of Hunter’s receiving abilities, seeing as Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Sammie Coates are currently unavailable, but if he keeps performing like he did on Sunday (and on Friday and Saturday, from what I’ve been told), then he’s going to be a tough guy to cut later next month. Hunter has an innate and, honestly, uncanny ability to anticipate the ball, which allowed him to make several catches on Sunday that nobody anywhere has any business making.
Antonio Brown is easily the best receiver on the Steelers, and possibly anywhere
God bless Artie Burns’ tenacity: beating within his lanky frame is the heart of a man who desperately wants to battle head-to-head with one of the most captivating receiving talents of all time.
Burns covered Brown like a disease on Sunday, and for that he should be commended. But what Brown was able to do in spite of this was remarkable. During one of Brown’s dazzling forays of route-running mastery, Burns looked to have matched Brown stride-for-stride, only to have Brown make a miraculous diving catch on a laughably overthrown Bart Houston pass. As the crowd cheered, Brown galloped about like a winning show horse, while Burns, a broken man, stood brooding near the sideline.
The lesson: Artie Burns is a very good cornerback, but Antonio Brown is a living god.
Javon Hargrave looked like Aaron Donald
A borderline superfluous motion, yes, but Hargrave’s inside pass-rushing capabilities are worthy of praise. The second-year defensive tackle was the best defensive player on the field on Sunday.
A cursory Josh Dobbs-Landry Jones check-in
Dobbs played well enough that I heard multiple people ask, “who is no. 5? That kid has a rocket for an arm.” Indeed he does. He’s also incredibly mobile. Jones, meanwhile, missed very few throws and is putting noticeably more zip on his passes this season. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t practice on Sunday, so Jones, Dobbs, and Houston got a ton of reps.
Stay tuned for Part Two of this series, coming soon.