On Day 5 of the Pro Football Focus training camp tour, the PFF analysis team traveled to Latrobe, Pa., to take in Pittsburgh Steelers camp.
LATROBE, Pa. – Continuing the PFF training camp tour, our team of analysts rolled into Steelers camp on Sunday to witness Pittsburgh's first padded practice of the year. The Steelers hold their camp at Saint Vincent College; the campus provides an idyllic backdrop for the practices and a fantastic setting for both fans and media to watch.
[More: Get the full PFF training camp tour schedule here.]
Antonio Brown showing elite flashes early in camp
This is hardly breaking news, but Antonio Brown's greatness doesn't diminish when seen in the flesh; if anything, it's only enhanced. A normal-sized human being in a league of super athletes, Brown has the ability to make quick movements in small spaces that blow him wide open in routes and make defenders miss after the catch. Brown made multiple ridiculous catches in the course of practice, schooled first-round rookie cornerback Artie Burns (University of Miami) for a deep touchdown in one-on-one drills, and generally looked to be on a completely different level than anybody else on the field—which he is.
— Gordon McGuinness (@PFF_Gordon) July 31, 2016
Last season, Brown was the best receiver in football, despite missing QB Ben Roethlisberger for multiple games. With Big Ben taking a veteran day on Sunday, the PFF crew had the chance to see the rest of the Steelers' depth chart target Brown and maximize his impact. Landry Jones, in particular, connected with a couple of nice passes to Brown, producing the kind of throws he'll need to make if Roethlisberger is injured again this season.
Physicality of Steelers camp notable
Pittsburgh's physicality in camp is impressive compared to other teams each year, and that proved true again on Sunday, with some big hits coming from multiple players on defense. Linebacker Ryan Shazier seemed particularly pumped to be let off the leash for the first time this offseason, and was flying around both individual and team drills like a guided missile to deliver some big hits. The D-line was in on the action, as well, in 11-on-11 drills, and rookie linebacker Tyler Matakevich showed the same nose for the football as he did at Temple, stuffing several run plays with nice tackles.
All in all, this is one of the most physically-intense team practices you will see, and that is likely a big part of the team's consistent success, despite at times fielding personnel that doesn't look like it should be as successful as it is.
Young receivers impressing
If the receiving corps in Cleveland Browns camp was underwhelming, the group in Steelers camp was consistently impressive. Half a dozen of the wideouts in Sunday's practice would have been the best performer in Cleveland's camp the day before, and they kept coming up with excellent catches and big plays, despite good coverage at times from the defensive backs and less-than-ideal ball placement from the quarterbacks. Demarcus Ayers, in particular, was consistently getting open, despite very pedestrian athletic measurables. Those were enough to drop the University of Houston product to the seventh-round, but much like Antonio Brown—himself a former sixth-round draft pick—Ayers looks to have a knack for making quick, sharp moves that make up for that lack of overall athletic prowess. Also like Brown, he impressed with good hands, making one especially-impressive diving sideline catch during one-on-one drills.
Levi Norwood and rookie Canaan Severin (Virginia), in particular, also impressed with multiple good reps during one-on-one drills.
[More: Access PFF's 2016 season preview for the Pittsburgh Steelers here.]
Other camp notes:
– QB Ben Roethlisberger wasn't practicing, but he was out on the field putting in work as almost an auxiliary coach, even playing linebacker during some TE drills to distract the receivers as the pass was thrown. He also worked with the receivers, talking them up after big plays and coaching up some of the route running.
– Rookie CB Artie Burns (University of Miami) was victimized by Antonio Brown—but so was nearly every cornerback Brown came across last season, so there's not necessarily any shame in that. Burns still looked a little uncomfortable in off-coverage, and has a way to go before he finds himself with the first-team defense.
— Gordon McGuinness (@PFF_Gordon) July 31, 2016
– OT Alejandro Villanueva deserves a special mention for stoning a solid bull-rush attempt from James Harrison, who got right into the big tackle's pads and has a natural leverage advantage of close to an entire foot in height and center of gravity.
– Rookie edge rusher Travis Feeney (Washington) had some very nice reps in pass-rushing drills against the offensive linemen. With both Bud Dupree (who looked more lively himself) and Jarvis Jones underwhelming starters last season, Feeney could find himself a niche situational-rushing role as a rookie with more performances like that.