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13 observations from the Steelers’ first week of padded practices

Thirteen observations from the first week of padded practices of a Steelers training camp that’s totally closed to the public—including me.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp handout photo

Being an Internet person, you’re naturally attracted to lists, to rankings, to stories with numbers in numerical order. A list that includes five things? Great! A ranking that includes 10? Genius! Unfortunately, I can’t give you either amount in this article, but I will bring you 13 of my observations from your Pittsburgh Steelers first week of padded training camp practices at Heinz Field (even though I wasn’t there).

  1. “Golly! He is really, he is really back.” That quote comes to you courtesy of Steelers tight end Vance McDonald, who described to reporters how he felt the moment he saw Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throw a pass off of his back foot and hit second-year receiver Diontae Johnson. The thing about the franchise quarterback looking good in training camp is never really news, especially since quarterbacks—franchise or otherwise—aren’t allowed to get hit by defenders. However, it just might be this year. With Roethlisberger trying to come all the way back from major elbow surgery in 2019, there can never be enough positive stories to come out of camp regarding his progress. We keep hearing about how hungry and determined Roethlisberger looks and how he’s even upped his game in the team leader department. Again, these are things you’re used to hearing about a quarterback of Roethlisberger’s stature, but they just mean more in 2020.
  2. Yes, apparently, McDonald says “Golly!” to himself when thinking about things. Somewhere, Chris Conte is feeling even worse about that stiff-arm.
  3. Speaking of McDonald, and speaking of tight ends, McDonald also said he called Eric Ebron, a highly-touted free agent Pittsburgh signed in March, the missing link, the missing piece (maybe even what the French call a certain I don’t know what) to the offense. In my opinion, this can only be a positive. I think it’s easy to forget that Ebron, a former first-round pick of the Detroit Lions, has the pedigree that he does, and that he has accomplished some things in the NFL during seasons in-which he’s played with really good quarterbacks. Roethlisberger is a really good quarterback. Who’s the number one tight end in the offense? Who’s number two? Does it really matter when you have two guys so capable?
  4. By just about every account imaginable, T.J. Watt not only looks jacked and intense this summer, he’s already in mid-season form. Maybe the intensity is due to the fact that he’s in mid-season form. Maybe his intensity is what has caused him to already be in mid-season form. No matter how you slice it, Watt being in mid-season form so early in training camp is great news for the Steelers and a defense looking to be even better in 2020. Word out of Heinz Field is that Watt has grown into more of a vocal locker room and field leader in his fourth season. It just “feels” like Watt is going to have a monster year, which is really saying something, when you look at the kind of career he’s had up to this point. Defensive Player of the Year seems to be Watt’s destiny, and pandemic or no pandemic, this might be his time atop the mountain.
  5. The fans and media never seem to tire of training camp scuffles. Yes, one summer after the Nice Guy Battle of 2019 between Cameron Heyward and Alejandro Villanueva (word is, one thought blind puppies were a more worthy cause to donate to, while the other wanted to go with diabetic cats), the super-intense Watt got into it with smart aleck right tackle Zach Banner early last week. Although, it apparently wasn’t an actual scuffle, just a lot of verbal hostilities (it’s good that they’re practicing social distancing even during physical camp scuffles). It’s unclear as to what led to the confrontation, but since it involved Banner, it was probably something he said on Twitter.
  6. Benny Snell Jr. reportedly lost 12 pounds this past offseason. That’s obviously great news, as it shows a tremendous amount of responsibility and commitment. Speaking of commitment (and, perhaps, humbleness?), Snell told reporter Teresa Varley he needs to work on everything as he enters his second NFL season. He also said he really loves his job. This is all extremely encouraging for Snell’s future, but will it ultimately lead to greater success? Snell did come on fairly strong at the end of the 2019 season, finishing with 426 rushing yards on 108 carries. Is he poised to overtake James Conner atop the Steelers running back depth chart or at least be a much bigger part of the offense in 2020? That remains to be seen, but Snell loves his job, and it’s great when a player realizes football is his job—except for when we want him to realize he gets to play a game for a living.
  7. Speaking of dedicating himself to getting into shape, receiver Ryan Switzer is also donning the “Hey, look at how jacked I am!” really short sleeves this training camp and appears to be leaner and more muscular than ever. I don’t know if this will lead to any kind of success for Switzer, but I will say this: I think the days of totally out-of-shape professional athletes are quickly coming to an end.
  8. Are we receiving totally accurate information out of Steelers training camp? BTSC’s own Flip Fisher has been especially concerned with the small pool of reporters who have been allowed access to this year’s camp proceedings, which is obviously closed to the public due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Are we getting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? I can’t say I blame Flip for having concerns. After all, it seems the best place to get Steelers news so far this summer is, which is like going on McDonald’s official website to find out if it really is a great place to work.
  9. Speaking of accurate information, as of this writing, no Steelers players have tested positive for the Coronavirus since those pads started popping last Monday (knock on wood). You haven’t heard of any real outbreaks from any other teams, either. That is encouraging news (if true). Although, the true test will come when the season starts and these guys aren’t so closely monitored by nightly bed-checks.
  10. We haven’t heard much about Mason Rudolph so far this training camp. That’s either good news or bad news.
  11. The Steelers have signed former Bills and Panthers receiver/return specialist Ray-Ray McCloud. I say-say, who-who cares-cares? That’s right, I'm hating. It was around a year ago at this time that the Steelers signed receiver Johnny Holton. I was told to emotionally invest in Holton, who spent the previous three years catching a grand-total of 11 passes with the Raiders. I said I’d think about it, but I’m glad I never fell for Holton. That man couldn’t catch, cook, clean, catch, make a bed, catch, pick the kids up from school on time, catch or catch. Therefore, save your McCloud praise for the clouds.
  12. Terrell Edmunds is apparently looking really good so far in camp. Has he finally taken a giant leap forward after two seasons of impressing not so much? If so, look out, Vince Williams, the Steelers mob will be coming for you!
  13. This doesn’t have anything to do with camp, but it was reported last week that cheerleaders, team mascots and sideline reporters will be banned from NFL fields in 2020. That news along with the reinforced news that opposing players will be prohibited from exchanging jerseys after games really has me outraged. Why? I don’t know, except that it’s 2020, and people on Facebook are outraged at Jerome Bettis for his decision to sue EQT, which is apparently a local sacred cow on par with Arnold Palmer (no pun intended), Mister Rogers, Roberto Clemente and the famous Primanti Bros. sandwich.

Those are all of my observations from the Steelers first week of padded training camp practices. Will I have more observations after my second week of not being there? Maybe. Maybe not.