The Pittsburgh Steelers were back out in pads again Monday, and head coach Mike Tomlin and crew were ready to get this new year started right. The padded practice resulted in many story lines, none bigger than the debate at who should start at right tackle.
Zach Banner or Chukwuma Okorafor?
If you are looking at how they perform vs. T.J. Watt, it isn’t pretty. In fact, Watt has been beating both of them on a regular basis.
Just ask Mike Tomlin...
If people don’t consider Watt an elite pass rusher at this point, I’m not sure what game they have been watching the past three seasons. Watt has turned the most seasoned tackles inside out, and is the perfect litmus test for which tackle will prevail over the other prior to the team’s Week 1 game vs. the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.
The good news is Watt is an equal opportunity offender when it comes to how he abuses offensive tackles. Banner or Okorafor, doesn’t matter. Watt lines up, and does his thing.
As was evident in a week one training camp scuffle with Banner, it isn’t as if Watt hasn’t been stymied by a tackle before, but he has his way with them more than the other way around. Come to think of it, if Banner or Okorafor can prove their worth by besting Watt, they truly will earn that starting position.
There was other news from Day 6 of training camp practice...
Let’s get to it...
After a day off on Sunday, the Steelers gave several players the day off to help preserve their bodies before the Week 1 game vs. the Giants. Those players were:
Previously injured players who remained out of practice were:
Wendell Smallwood (shoulder)
Chris Wormley (shoulder)
Terrell Edmunds (undisclosed)
Kevin Dotson (knee)
Diontae Johnson (undisclosed)
ICYMI on Training Camp Live: Dave DeCastro, James Conner, and Stephon Tuitt were back at practice in pads today.— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) August 24, 2020
Not dressed (other than Ben): JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chris Wormley, Terrell Edmunds, Chuks Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, Diontae Johnson, and Wendell Smallwood.
After practice, Tomlin stated there were new injuries both before and during Monday’s practice session. Those were:
Chuks Okorafor (groin)
Derwin Gray (knee)
Anthony Johnson (knee)
Bud Dupree (undisclosed)
Coach Tomlin said Derwin Gray (knee), Anthony Johnson (knee), and Bud Dupree were injured during practice.— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) August 24, 2020
Wendell Smallwood and Chris Wormley are dealing with shoulder injuries and Chuks Okorafor has a groin injury.
Rookies are showing up, and showing out
If you are someone who has missed watching the rookies get acclimated to life in the NFL via the preseason, you should know they are in good hands. Not only that, but two Steelers rookies are showing out in camp.
Those would be the team’s top pick Chase Claypool, and third round pick Alex Highsmight.
Tomlin, who doesn’t like to heap praise on anyone, said the following about the two green horns, this via Missi Matthews of Steelers.com:
They're proving that they belong...they've had an opportunity to ascend and are taking advantage of it. - Coach Tomlin on rookies Chase Claypool and Alex Highsmith— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) August 24, 2020
Talk about some high praise for the youngsters...
Tomlin not about to tip his Minkah hand
Tomlin had a good laugh with Brooke Pryor of ESPN when she asked about the team’s plans for Minkah Fitzpatrick in the 2020 defense. Asking essentially if the team plans on moving him around a lot pre-snap, or keeping him more in center field as a free safety.
Tomlin first wanted to know where Pryor heard of the team’s reported plan to move Fitzpatrick around, but wasn’t about to tip his hand regarding their plans for the dynamic safety out of Alabama.
Asked Mike Tomlin if Minkah Fitzpatrick is going to move around or stay in CF because we’ve heard two different things and got a good laugh from him as he asked where I heard that.— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 24, 2020
Long story short, “We’re excited about the versatility but we’re not going to tip our hand.”
Tom Bradley Speaks
When fans think of coaches, rarely will they bring up Tom Bradley. Bradley coaches the secondary for the Steelers, and spoke with media on Monday via a pool reporter Zoom call. He spoke about what excites him regarding this current Steelers defensive back group, and why he enjoys coaching them.
See the video below, courtesy of Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
Steelers DB coach Tom “Scrap” Bradley this morning on what excites him most about his position group pic.twitter.com/XO7lZQLFmf— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) August 24, 2020
Marcus Allen getting attention
If fans don’t think of Bradly when they think of coaches, they probably don’t think about Marcus Allen when they are discussing Steelers safeties. But maybe they should start thinking about the former Penn State stand out.
In fact, Bradly said Allen has shown up in great shape, and looks like a different player entering his third year. The team is looking at utilizing Allen in certain sub packages, and the safety could be used in the box as someone who attacks ball carriers and plays the line of scrimmage.
More from Steelers DB coach Tom Bradley on Marcus Allen: "He's really developed. He's one of the guys this preseason who's really come forward with his game. He's playing faster, he understands what we're doing, so because of that we can do a lot of different things with Marcus."— Brian Batko (@BrianBatko) August 24, 2020
Silent, but not dead
Throughout this different training camp at Heinz Field, it has been the defense that has been loud and boisterous. But don’t think the offense doesn’t have a say in how they handle their business. They are silent, not dead.
After 2019, the offense is used to being quiet, and just going about their business. Last year, with Mason Rudolph or Devlin Hodges at the helm, you can understand why they weren’t very loud. This year with Ben Roethlisberger back under center you might see a different group by the time camp breaks and the regular season starts.
Asked #Steelers RT Chuks Okorafor about his team's defense talking so much trash and why it doesn't seem the offense engages back much. He laughs and says, "The offense is used to being quiet. (We're just) going to work every day."— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) August 24, 2020
A recap of the day’s happenings, in audio form:
Live Look-In at Practice
We're back! Today’s #SteelersCamp practice is #LIVE at @heinzfield!— SteelersNationUnite (@SteelersUnite) August 24, 2020
Watch Training Camp Live, presented by @FedEx, an exclusive daily live look-in at #SteelersCamp!
For more training camp coverage, watch NFL Network. https://t.co/N2FJyrE0Ka
Mike Tomlin Post-Practice Conference
#LIVE: @missi_matthews & @CraigWolfley wrap up what Coach Tomlin said in his post-practice media session, what they saw at #SteelersCamp and more on Training Camp Wrap Up, presented by @UPMCHealthPlan!— SteelersNationUnite (@SteelersUnite) August 24, 2020
For more training camp coverage, watch NFL Network. https://t.co/32JJXc4xdl
3️⃣ weeks until GAME DAY‼️— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 24, 2020
Can’t tell if it’s the start of practice or a zoomba class pic.twitter.com/BQEwFDnQZt— Will Graves (@WillGravesAP) August 24, 2020