LATROBE, Pennsylvania — Training had yet to be completed when reports surfaced that Kenny Pickett was taking photos with the first team’s assault during Tuesday’s training camp. Pickett, fresh from his successful performance in Pittsburgh’s opening preseason win against Seattle, did indeed take first-team reps during the Steelers’ penultimate practice.
So, how did he do it?
Tuesday’s practice ended with a two-minute drill between the Steelers’ starting units. The drill began with the Steelers attacking a second-and-five from their own 47-yard line with 1:01 on the clock. Pickett ran the first team offense while Mitch Trubisky, who participated in the rest of the training, got this part of the training.
Pickett started the ride with quick completions to Chase Claypool and Najee Harris. He then threw incomplete in a deep attempt at Pat Freiermuth with TJ Watt down (Watt unsuccessfully claimed his pressure should have counted like a sack). Pickett bounced back with a deep completion to rookie wideout George Pickens to get the ball inside the 20-yard line with less than 20 seconds left in the drill.
A short finish from Pickett until Picken’s rising end zone passes to end the drill. Both passes didn’t come out well; Pickett was unable to hit Pickens — who was double covered in the back of the end zone — before Claypool was knocked over as time ran out.
Mason Rudolph experienced similar results when it was his turn to perform the exercise. Working with the second team’s attack, Rudolph moved the attack to the red zone before hitting the wall that was the Steelers secondary.
Pickett also got work during the Steelers’ Seven Shots drill, a seven-play drill from the three-yard line that pits the staring units against each other. The offense started slowly before Trubisky’s successive scoring passes made the score 2-2. Pickett came in for the fifth game and hit Anthony McFarland for a short score. He then stood upright under pressure before hitting a diving Connor Heyward in the end zone. The offense completed the 5-2 win when Rudolph hit receiver Tyler Vaughns – the receiver of Saturday night’s winning score against Seattle – for the score.
The star of the drill was tight end Freiermuth, who routinely stood in the slot next to Diontae Johnson on the other side of the field during Seven Shots. An extremely prolific player during his rookie season, Friermuth is excited to see what this year’s rookie class will bring to the table once the regular season kicks off.
“The rookies are great,” Freiermuth said after practice. “We’re fun, we’re all young. There’s a good camaraderie in the team now.”
As for Pickett, the Steelers’ first-round pick continued to show signs of progress during Tuesday’s practice. Trubisky remains the frontrunner to be Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback, while Pickett continues to work at his own pace as he strengthens his rapport with the first team offense.
Here are a few other notable Steelers tidbits from Latrobe.
The rookie vs. the All-Pro
The aforementioned Pickens had multiple one-on-one matchups against former All-Pro free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Pickens initially got the better of his older teammate, which led to some comment from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
“Give him the business, doctor!” Tomlin yelled at his young wideout.
Fitzpatrick reacted immediately, knocking down a comeback pass intended for Pickens. Tomlin, who has coached a bevy of talented young wideouts in his 16 years as a Steelers coach, wasn’t ready to play the Pickens vs. Fitzpatrick come to an end.
“Fourteen, we’re coming your way!” explained Tomlin.
Pickens, whose star has risen significantly during camp, responded by grabbing a short pass after selling the deep route. The drill proved to have the desired effect for Tomlin, who has certainly heard the build hype surrounding the second-round pick.
“Ask George, you know what I mean?” said Tomlin with a smile when asked about the matchup. “The unveiling wasn’t for Minkah, it was for George.”
Backup running back Benny Snell practiced on Tuesday after missing practice time with an injury. Snell looked sharp on Tuesday and made some impressive runs while also getting involved in the passing game. The four-year veteran is still looking to outpace the competition, including Jaylen Warren and the recently signed Master Teague.
Snell continued to work after training ended, as he was given extra work with a pitcher machine.
Harvin’s big day
Sophomore punter Pressley Harvin III had several flourishing punts, including one from nearly 70 yards. A pick in the seventh round of 2021, which Harvin had to deal with, including the loss of his father and grandfather over a two-week period. He certainly hopes to return to the form in which he won the Ray Guy Award during his final season with Georgia Tech.
Robinson ‘rocks’ McFarland
Rookie seventh round pick Mark Robinson’s arrow continues to point north. Three days after his strip sack and clumsy recovery set up the Steelers’ game-winning score against Seattle, Robinson snapped a screen pass during Tuesday’s practice. Just holding up McFarland, Robinson stopped the fast back in his tracks while displaying impressive awareness for someone who only started playing linebacker in his senior year of college.
Not everyone is buddy
The lone turnover of the day was submitted by linebacker Buddy Johnson, who, like Robinson, is looking for a higher depth chart. The former Texas A&M star knocked out Rudolph at the end of Tuesday’s practice. Johnson is looking to impress more this season after having played as a rookie in just four games.
Johnson makes presence felt
It was hard not to notice Johnson during Tuesday’s practice. Although he didn’t do anything out of the ordinary during practice, Johnson was very noisy during the two-hour period. At one point, he playfully challenged Pittsburgh’s defensive backs to play basket defence.
“Seek that comfort!” Johnson yelled at the secondary after the first team’s two-minute drills.
Johnson then went on to get more work done after training. Despite the heat, Johnson wore a sweatshirt and caught a series of balls as he hoped to build on last year’s Pro Bowl campaign.
There was another thing that stood out about Johnson’s practice. As mentioned above, during Seven Shots, Johnson was routinely next to the 6-foot-5 Freiermuth. The formation appeared to cause mismatch issues for the defense, which could be a sign of things to come for the opposing defense when the regular season kicks off on September 11.