LATROBE -- The Buffalo Bills showed up in this sleepy hamlet for the first of back-to-back practices, and if Wednesday was any indication the place to be for Thursday's practice is right where the Steelers' defensive backs match up with the Bills' receivers.
On Wednesday, the Steelers' DBs were amped up.
"Oh, yes, sir," said hard-hitting safety Shamarko Thomas. "We definitely was."
In individual drills, Buffalo first-round pick Sammy Watkins beat Cortez Allen deep for a touchdown, but in the team scrimmages -- one scrimmage on one half of the field; another on the other half -- the Steelers' DBs used their zones and combo coverages to stifle Watkins.
A blue-chipper with obvious explosiveness, Watkins went up in scrimmage against each of the Steelers' first five DBs, and all Watkins could muster from erratic quarterback E.J. Manuel were a few short-yardage gains.
Allen once closed his cushion quickly to break on a ball, but he missed and Watkins caught the pass with open grass in front of him. Allen recovered to grab Watkins by the jersey and fling him out of bounds. That's as close as Watkins came to making a big play against the Steelers. On one play during 7-on-7 passing, reserve Antwon Blake ran with Watkins, the intended target, and a frustrated Manuel spiked the ball to end the play.
Were the Steelers motivated to go up against the fourth pick of last year's draft?
Brown dishes the smack talk right back at the Steelers' DBs on a daily basis. In fact, on Monday, Brown smacked rookie corner Shaquille Richardson twice in the helmet with an open palm after scoring a touchdown against him. The two had to be separated, and, on Brown's next rep, little-known corner Devin Smith moved up into Brown's facemask and began pushing Brown with his chest. Those two had to be separated by offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
But it turns out Brown had good reason.
"He told us that the Bills were coming in and he told us he's trying to get us all ready," Gay said. "We were trying to get each other amped up. That's all that was."
The Steelers' DBs certainly were amped up. While respectful of Watkins' speed, the sideline taunted the Bills' other starting receiver, Robert Woods, after the DBs repeatedly broke up Manuel's passes to Woods' side. After Woods caught a short pass for a minimal gain, the group of DBs on the sideline began chanting, "He caught one! He caught one!"
"He was talking early so everyone was just gettin' on him." said Thomas. "And we stayed on him all day."
"This shouldn't be nothing for you," Gay reminded this reporter. "You see this every day. That shouldn't be nothing new for you."
But how good is Watkins?
"Aw, man, to be honest with you we're just focusing on us, trying to get better," Gay said.
"We get to look at some different receivers, get some different releases, some stances and all that stuff, so that's what we're focused on, not the jersey number or name on the back."
The Steelers could lose veteran long-snapper Greg Warren to an injury Mike Tomlin called "a potential significant one," after Warren left the field with an injured leg.
One of only five current Steelers who've been through the last three Super Bowls, Warren is in his 10th season with the team and had little competition this camp from first-year LS/TE Bryce Davis. A source with the Steelers said a serious injury to Warren "would be a significant loss for us."
A MIXED PRACTICE
Tomlin summed up the mixed practice with the Bills and Steelers this way:
"It was a great practice. I thought there was great etiquette. I appreciate the restraint and professionalism by both teams. I think that doesn't get reported often enough. We like to turn on the TV and see gory, unfortunate incidents like what happened between Dallas and Oakland, and we're here to prove that teams are capable of coming together and doing it in a productive and professional manner. I compliment both teams for how they did it today."
The two teams will practice together again on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. They'll culminate their week with a preseason game 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Heinz Field.
RUN GAME BLUES
The Steelers repeatedly ran into a brick wall and had little success Wednesday, but Ben Roethlisberger gave two reasons:
1.) "Identifying a 4-3 defense compared to a 3-4."
2.) "Only going one full-go period. It's not the easiest thing to do, but I like where we are so far."