The Pittsburgh Steelers held an evening practice at Heinz Field for 2021 Training Camp on Friday. Since the Steelers were back on the field, we were also given the typical media session from head coach Mike Tomlin. Therefore, it’s time to look at the players mentioned by Coach Tomlin during his media time. Remember these are current players where a specific question was asked during the Q&A period.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a number of running backs who are competing for only a spot or two on the depth chart. One player who has been emerging throughout training camp is former Charger Kalen Ballage. Coach Tomlin was asked about what kind of guy Bellage is.
“He’s a veteran, and I think that’s what’s showing. This guy’s been in the League; he’s not new to NFL and training camp-like competition, and so it shows, particularly in some of the groups he’s working with. So, we’re not surprised by it. As a matter of fact, we expect it. And we look forward to giving him more reps in some of the more senior groups as we proceed through the process.”
After Wednesday’s practice, Mike Tomlin said he was looking forward to an alternate version of “backs on backers” including the tight ends the next time they put on the pads. Coach Tomlin was asked why the tight ends did not participate on Friday night. In his response, Coach Tomlin brought up both Eric Ebron and Dax Raymond, who was released due to injury on Friday.
“We’re down some tight ends. Ebron wasn’t practicing. Dax Raymond got hurt yesterday. Common sense adjustment.”
The Steelers seem to be pretty set at wide receiver for 2021, although some young players are making noise and training camp. Coach Tomlin was asked if he has been impressed with any of the wide receivers who are not among the starters, and Tyler Simmons was the player he outlined.
“I have, and not only on offense but in special teams. I was really impressed with Simmons’ gunner work in the competitive period in special teams tonight. We’re trying to foster that type of environment as well. Those guys are not only vying to become backup wideouts in some capacity, but their contributions in special teams are a significant component of those prospects. And particularly those that are not kick returners. So, Simmons’ work as a gunner and a vice guy is significant in terms of his ability to position himself to be a factor.”
When Ben Roethlisberger does not practice during training camp, Mason Rudolph is the next man up. Coach Tomlin was asked about Rudolph staying late to work on things that he didn’t quite get right during practice.
“That’s appropriate. That’s just professional ball. It’s required, to be quite honest with you.”
Najee Harris & Alex Highmith
It’s no secret how both the Steelers coaching staff and the media love the Steelers “backs on bakers” drill. Coach Tomlin was asked about who stood out in the drill on Friday and he mentioned both Najee Harris (22) and Alex Highsmith.
“I just like the competitive spirit of 22 again. And he lost some today because he was going against bigger men. We pit backs on inside linebackers; outside linebackers are almost somewhat D-end like. So, some of those matchups get a little bit challenging. We put Alex Highsmith on him today. He just has an appetite for the competition. He has a long way to go from a growth standpoint in terms of techniques and stuff, but I like his appetite for the competition.”
James Pierre, Antoine Brooks Jr., & Anthony McFarland
Is the expectation in the NFL is the second year players take a jump from what they showed in their rookie season. Coach Tomlin was asked what he has seen from James Pierre, and Tomlin also grouped other second-year players such as Antoine Brooks, Anthony McFarland, and the previously mentioned Alex Highsmith.
“Specifically, in terms of this setting, he has shown the characteristics that we expect of a second-year guy to come in and display the understanding of the process by being in better condition than he was a year ago. But the same could be said of Brooks, McFarland, Highsmith, and I think that’s why you’re seeing a consistent elevation in all the play of those guys that I mentioned. But we expect that. Second-year players, second lap around the track, they’re supposed to display that awareness, and he’s one of the guys that’s doing it. First, by showing up ready to go. Secondly, by showing maturity and growth and development in his game that should be associated with a guy that has some experience.”
A portion of Mike Tomlin’s interview can be seen below as well as a link to the full interview on the Steelers’ YouTube channel.