Steelers Notebook: Blake Eyeballing Promotion

Secondary revamped? Practice squad rebuilt? Beachum renegotiated? Answers and more from the South Side of Pittsburgh.

PITTSBURGH -- When the Pittsburgh Steelers traded a draft pick for Brandon Boykin, it figured to be a matter of days before he would replace, say, Antwon Blake and become one of the top three Steelers cornerbacks.

But Blake has refused to yield.

In fact, Blake appears to be heading in the opposite direction to that of starter.

"I believe so," Blake said when asked whether he will take the first defensive snap of the Steelers season Thursday night against Tom Brady.

"I hope so," he added.

Blake has been disappointed before. He was leapfrogged last year by Brice McCain for the No. 3 spot when Ike Taylor was injured. Blake did become the No. 3 five weeks later when Cortez Allen was benched and McCain became the starter.

Blake started one game last season and started again in the fifth preseason game this year.

That game could turn out to be Blake's dress rehearsal. At least he took congratulations for it Monday.

"I appreciate it," Blake said. "But I still gotta show up."

The apparent promotion of Blake comes a day after Shamarko Thomas said he had been replaced at strong safety by Will Allen.

HEALTHY STEELERS ADD CENTER

Only quarterback Landry Jones (head) missed practice Monday as the Steelers are relatively healthy for Thursday's opener.

The team's only hole is at center, with Maurkice Pouncey on short-term IR. The Steelers are well-stocked at the position with:

* Cody Wallace joined the team when Pouncey went down in 2013 and is well versed in Mike Munchak's system.

* Doug Legursky is an experienced NFL vet who's also replaced Pouncey in the past.

* Barrett Jones became a third competitor Monday when he was signed to the practice squad.

A former fourth-round pick out of Alabama, Jones was in the thick of the St. Louis Rams' battle for the starting center spot. It was a three-way battle and Jones found himself the loser and out on the street. He heard from a couple of other teams but signed with the Steelers.

Jones played three different positions -- right guard, left tackle and center -- on three different national championship teams at Alabama, and is the only player ever to win the Rimington (best center) and Outland (best offensive lineman) awards in different years at different positions. Center is now his primary position, but he said he played guard at Monday's practice.

Jones measured 6-4 1/2, 306 at the 2013 Combine. He played 11 games in two seasons with the Rams while overcoming foot and back injuries.

PRACTICE SQUAD OBLITERATED

Before bringing back Doran Grant and Anthony Chickillo on Monday evening, Mike Tomlin sent the message that if you don't show, you will be gone.

Gone Monday morning were TE Harold Spears, OT Antonio Johnson, RB Dominique Brown, WR Jarrod West and C Reese Dismukes.

Here Monday afternoon were TE Xavier Grimble, OT Matt Feiler, RB Fitzgerald Toussiant, WR/RS Isaiah Burse and Jones.

Quick hitters on each:

* Grimble (6-4 1/4, 257, 4.90) caught 69 passes at USC and signed as an undrafted free agent with San Francisco in 2014. He was cut Saturday.

* Feiler (6-6, 330, 36 reps) started 34 games at LT for Bloomsburg. He signed as an undrafted free agent with Houston in 2014 and spent the year on the Texans' practice squad.

* Toussiant (5-9, 204, 4.49 40, 6.59 3-cone, 24 reps, 35.5 vj) had his best college season at Michigan in 2011. He signed with Baltimore as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and has been cut four times by the Ravens.

* Burse (5-10 1/2, 188, 4.58, 3.94 ss) caught 210 passes at Fresno State and also averaged 22.5 per kickoff and 11.9 per punt return. He signed with Denver as an undrafted free agent in 2014, made the team and returned 29 punts (7.3) and one kickoff (7.0). He fumbled three times and lost one.

CB Grant and OLB Chickillo, the fourth and sixth-round picks last April, were signed to the practice squad at the expense of DE Ethan Hemer and OLB Shayon Green.

The three holdovers from Sunday's practice squad are S Jordan Dangerfield, ILB L.J. Fort and WR Shakim Phillips.

CAP ROOM FOR BEACHUM

The Steelers won't extend contracts once the regular season begins, so they have three days to work something out with Kelvin Beachum.

The Steelers did complete a full restructuring of Lawrence Timmons' contract Sunday and have approximately $5.5 million in available cap room, according to Ian Whetstone of SteelCityInsider.net.

Whether that's a tip-off to an extension, Beachum wasn't saying.

"You know I've been pretty quiet about all that stuff," he said. "I've been busy so I let the money people talk about that. It's up to them."

BACKUP RB CRAMMING

Recently acquired running back Jordan Todman is also in a three-day rush, but his task is to learn the playbook.

Todman was let go by the Carolina Panthers on Saturday and joined the Steelers on Sunday. He's the top backup to another former Carolina running back, DeAngelo Williams, due to the two-game suspension of Le'Veon Bell.

Does Todman feel like he's cramming for a final?

"That's a good way to put it," he said. "It's something like cramming for a final, but maybe a little less information. You go in there with a game plan, you have X amount of plays, and you'll study the protections, you'll study the runs, you'll study the blitz. I've got a couple of days. Being a vet helps. Just (a matter of) changing up the terminology from different teams and going out there and practicing and doing it over and over until it becomes a habit."


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