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Sean Davis brings more size, physicality into box for Pittsburgh Steelers

Mike Tomlin says size doesn't mean anything if you don't play big, and Sean Davis played big in the slot at Wednesday's practice. Jon Ledyard has the full practice report.

The frustrating tenure of Senquez Golson’s two-year Pittsburgh Steelers career was confirmed by Mike Tomlin on Wednesday: The cornerback may need surgery following a LisFranc injury suffered during Monday’s practice.

Golson missed all of last season with a shoulder injury and has appeared in just three full training camp practices and zero games since being drafted in the second round in 2015. If it's determined that Golson needs to go on Injured Reserve, the corner could be looking at almost three years between his most recent football game and his next one.

Nevertheless, the team pushes on with rookie safety Sean Davis stepping into the slot, an important position given that the Steelers were in nickel far more than any other defensive formation this past season.

Davis brings a far different element to the field as a 6-1, 202-pound nickel corner, compared to Golson’s 5-9, 176-pound frame. Golson may fit the stereotype of a slot cornerback, but Davis’ safety-like build could be an underrated asset to the Steelers in the box. Tomlin was asked how that size would benefit the defense.

"The blitz game," Tomlin said. "But I'm not overly concerned with size or stature. I tell the big receivers all the time if they don't consistently play big they might as well not be big. I'll say the same thing about a big-statured guy in there. If he's not using his size as an asset in the run game or not using his size as an asset in matchup against backs in the blitz game than size is irrelevant. It's about the ability to consistently use that size to your advantage."

“If Sean learns the playbook and learns what he has to do, his athletic ability will show,” said safety Robert Golden. “Sean is a very versatile type of guy, so he actually brings more physicality at the nickel back position, which we can use.”

Davis played outside corner and safety at Maryland, but the slot will be a relatively new spot for him, although he did play there throughotu the spring and with the second-team defense behind Golson early in training camp.

In the Steelers cover-3 scheme, Davis will be allowed to play a role where his athleticism and instinctive style of play can stand out. The defender’s stout frame and aggressive nature could also be crucial against the run, as his role closer to the line of scrimmage gives the Steelers a more formidable presence out on the perimeter.

If Wednesday’s practice was any indication, Davis should prepare for a heavy snap count moving forward. The former Terrapin played in the slot with the first team and the second team at times, while also taking some reps at safety. Montell Garner played in the slot on a few snaps, while safety Ross Ventrone saw action as the third-team slot corner.

PRACTICE NOTES

- Before practice began, the Steelers announced they had waived/injured tight end Mandel Dixon and wide receiver Shakim Phillips to make room for tight end Jake Phillips and cornerback Kevin White.

- While going through agility drills, Tomlin quipped to Phillips, “Man, you’re like the third guy we put in No. 49 this week,” drawing laughter from the fans.

Jarvis Jones and James Harrison returned to practice Wednesday, as did Devaunte Sigler, who passed his physical and was removed from the NFI list. Bud DupreeStephon Tuitt and Artie Burns did not practice and are expected back soon. Ryan ShazierDemarcus Ayers and Canaan Severin were all injured during practice. Tomlin said Shazier was just shaken up, while Ayers hurt his ankle during punt return drills and Severin injured his shoulder landing on the ground after leaping to high-point a tough catch near the sideline.

- Davis looked good as the first-team nickel corner. Mirroring Eli Rogers is tough, and Davis applied a slight hold on the slippery receiver. The big defensive back stuck with him stride-for-stride in man coverage on one play. Davis also came flying into the box to lay a big hit on one ball carrier, a few plays before laying out Sammie Coates after a reception down the far sideline.
 
- Xavier Grimble’s hot-and-cold ways continued. He didn't get his foot down even though he had plenty of room in the back of the end zone during seven shots, and couldn’t come up with a few relatively tough grabs during 1v1s. His inconsistency could prove to be his downfall, especially if David Johnson can continue to build on what was a strong practice today. The veteran shook Jones in coverage twice, drawing praise from his position coach.

- With Burns and Golson out, and Will Gay getting some veteran time off, Donald Washington took first-team reps opposite Ross Cockrell during the final team session. Pretty telling that Doran Grant still wasn’t promoted, even in that situation.
 
Arthur Moats has never been known as a great coverage linebacker, but he had some exceptional reps against Jesse James in 1v1s, playing through the tight end’s hands to rip free a pair of would-be catches.

- James has to start playing more aggressively, especially when the ball is in the air. My biggest knock on him coming out of college was that he was a 6-7 tight end who plays small. If you’re not an elite athlete, and James is not, you’ve got to be able to win contested catches more consistently.
 
Anthony Chickillo continues to impress. He showed great physicality at the line of scrimmage in jamming each back he faced in 1v1s, then had some clean footwork and reaction skills to close on the ball for a couple of pass breakups. He’s having a great camp.

- After watching Vince Williams get torched by Daryl Richardson on a vertical route, Lawrence Timmons decided his best shot at stopping the journeyman running back was simply to tackle him at the snap of the ball. The move drew laughter from Tomlin, but Richardson won his fair share of reps on the day regardless. He broke off a couple nice runs as well during the team sessions.

- Coates and Fitzgerald Toussaint were the first-team kickoff returners; Toussaint obviously the blocker of the two.

Markus Wheaton did very little today. He and Dupree worked pulling the sled on the far field to further strengthen spring leg injuries.
 
- Really impressive to see how much more physical Cockrell has been in practice. He said it was the most important thing for him to improve this season, and watching him force Darrius Heyward-Bey out of bounds on a go route with aggressive positioning and hand usage made it obvious the hard work is paying off.

Cody Wallace and Ryan Harris have struggled the most during OL/DL 1v1s. Wallace can’t stop bull-rushers (Caushaud Lyons ate him up) and Harris struggles mightily to block inside counter moves. Chickillo has been killing him that way.

- I’m beginning to regret being so low on Jerald Hawkins coming out of LSU. His 2015 tape was bad, but perhaps his health had more to do with it than I thought. He hasn’t been matched up with anyone formidable during 1v1s, but he’s put more people on the ground than anyone else. Knocked Roy Philon on his butt today.


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