Jason Nuttmeier / SCOUT

Daryl Richardson showed the Pittsburgh Steelers toughness in pads

The first day in pads gave Jon Ledyard a better look at the talent the Steelers have on hand. Here's his breakdown.

Once the heir apparent to Steven Jackson in St. Louis, the past three seasons have been filled with disappointment for Daryl Richardson since his promising rookie campaign in 2012.

The former seventh-round pick rushed for 475 yards that season on just 98 carries, but played in only eight games the next season despite beginning the year as a starter. After spending the 2014 and 2015 seasons on various practice squads, Richardson hasn’t appeared in an NFL game since Week 8 of the 2013 season, almost three years ago now.

Nevertheless the running back remains hopeful and hardworking, and given the lack of proven depth behind the possibly suspended Le’Veon Bell and veteran DeAngelo Williams, winning a roster spot with the Pittsburgh Steelers is a distinct possibility.

'“I feel good, man,” said Richardson. “Football is a tough sport. You got your ups and downs, dealing with an injury and trying to get right after that. That’s the past, though. I’m living for now, working hard, believing in God and preparing myself for this opportunity.”

He looked prepared during Sunday’s practice, showing off his prowess as a pass protector during the ultra-popular backs-on-backers drill. Richardson stoned several linebackers, earning praise from Mike Tomlin and Bell.

“I try and be a good, quality, complete back,” Richardson said. “That’s one of the keys, if you can’t block you’re not gonna be on the field. That’s one of the most important things, obviously running the ball, too, but protection is a must.”

Mastering the offense will be crucial for Richardson, who comes in a little behind the eight ball compared to his top competition on the Steelers roster, Fitzgerald Toussaint.

“I have pretty good experience with both gap and zone schemes,” Richardson said. “This is more of a gap-scheme team, so I’m still getting used to that. It’s a little easier mentally, but tougher physically.”

Toussaint knows the battle will be tough, and that every moment of camp matters, regardless of the fact that he’s been here longer. The intensity he brings to the field every day is evident, but the third-year back struggled Sunday during backs-on-backers,. He was beat a few times by L.J. Fort and Vince Williams.

“Every day is a work in progress,” said Toussaint. “You can’t put a stamp on anything after a couple days. I feel like it is going to all unfold at the end of this thing. It’s about going through the grind and coming out here and being more consistent every single day.”

PRACTICE NOTES

- Couple major takeaways from Sunday, the first being that Ryan Shazier is becoming someone on this team who stands out every day in almost every drill. The third-year linebacker absolutely blew up Cameron Stingily during backs-on-backers, flattening the running back to the ground. He won every rep he was involved in handily, earning substantial praise from Tomlin.

Then, during 11v11, Shazier flew into the backfield to drop the ballcarrier for a loss, before burying Stingily as soon as he took the handoff in a late session. Shazier’s an impact player who can be as good as he wants to be as long as he can stay healthy.

- L.J. Fort is proving he belongs. He’s adept in coverage, excellent on special teams and was almost as unstoppable as Shazier during backs-on-backers, hitting swims and spin moves to keep running backs guessing. He’s going to be very difficult to cut.

- Couple of depth chart battle takeaways from backs-on-backers: Fort was better than Steven Johnson, who relied heavily on the bull-rush, and Richardson was far better than Toussaint or Stingily.

- Bud Dupree didn’t win any reps cleanly, but Anthony Chickillo was an absolute beast, at one point splitting a double-team, getting tripped, and recovering instantly for the would-be sack. His love for the physicality of the game had Joey Porter raining praise on him. Chickillo buried Brandon Brown-Dukes on one rep, prompting Tomlin to yell at the diminutive back: “Get your weight up, Mercyhurst!” Brown-Dukes did improve as the drill went on.

- Travis Feeney really struggled to match power-for-power, as expected given his lanky frame. He’s not a natural pass-rusher, and that was evident from these drills, which are slanted for the defense to win given the amount of space they have to work in. Jordan Zumwalt looked out of place as an OLB, but he did win one rep with a swim, although he failed to bend the edge and finish the rep strong. “Nice move, but you gotta finish with more body lean to get around him!” hollered Tomlin.

- Bell was given one rep during backs-on-backers, and he dominated Lawrence Timmons’ every move. That’s why he’s one of the most complete backs in the game today. James Harrison had one rep and ripped the edge on David Johnson for the sack. Two studs, making the most of their opportunities.

- Quote of the day, from Tomlin: “Attack the day, don’t warm up to it.”

- Ben Roethlisberger had the day off, and offensive lineman Quinton Schooley did not practice. Shamarko Thomas returned to practice to make two early tackles-for-loss during the first 11v11. Xavier Grimble was again carted off near the end of practice dealing with cramps and the heat, while Brandon Johnson and Roosevelt Nix were both banged up as well.

- You know Mike Mitchell couldn’t wait for the pads to go on. First snap in 11v11, Mitchell came straight downhill in his run fill, blowing up Toussaint despite several teammates already latching onto the running back.

- You’ve all been waiting for Javon Hargrave news, and I’ve got some. The third-rounder was excellent today, beating B.J. Finney for a sack during the team session, before showing off his athleticism and quickness in OL/DL one-on-one drills. The rookie bull-rushed Chris Hubbard nearly off the ground on his first rep, then lined up again when Tomlin wanted them to run it back. That time Hargrave hit the overaggressive lineman with a swim move, getting in unscathed on the “quarterback."

- Ryan Harris and Alejandro Villanueva got beat a couple times today in one-on-ones, with Chickillo and Feeney hitting them with stutter-step moves. Villanueva did lock up Harrison nicely during one 11v11 rep I watched. I still think it’s his job to lose.

- Dupree also didn’t have any wins in the one-on-ones against offensive linemen that I saw. It’s just one day, but those drills are slanted in favor of the defense, so a little disappointing not to see him experience much success.

- After a great day yesterday, Sammie Coates had a number of drops today. Not gonna read too much into it, but he has to stay focused and continue to stack consistently strong performances if he wants to take snaps away from Darrius Heyward-Bey.


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