Unfortunately for us “ambulance-chasers,” as Mike Tomlin referred to the onlookers hoping for a few tense moments, the first didn’t occur in any capacity. But Brown and Slay had more than their fair share of exciting matchups throughout the day.
The two met most often in 1v1s, where the Steelers' star wideout won most of the reps. Two were on vertical shots, but Brown dropped one despite gaining a few steps on the Lions' stud corner.
During the team sessions, Brown was more often matched up against Nevin Lawson, whom the receiver beat on a hitch route thanks to a well-placed throw by Landry Jones, low and inside away from the defender. Brown put Slay on his heels with a great outside-in jab step on a post pattern later in the period, but the pass went elsewhere.
Perhaps the best matchup of the day was Lions star defensive end Ziggy Ansah against the Steelers' tackles, particularly Alejandro Villanueva. The two squared off in 1v1s, with Ansah using a speed rush around the edge to beat the towering offensive tackle. Villanueva ran him up the arc a few steps, but couldn’t quite close down the corner against the athletic Ansah. On the thirdt rep, Ansah used a spin to evade Villanueva’s punch, winning inside the tackle cleanly. The second-year starter battled back and locked up Ansah on the final matchup for a decisive victory.
The two lined up across from each other during the next 11v11 period as well, and Villanueva shut down the edge rusher, using his long reach to stymie Ansah’s attacks.
It's vital for Villanueva and the rest of the Steelers' offensive tackles to get reps against an explosive pass rusher such as Ansah. No one on the Pittsburgh roster comes close to offering the amount of skill, athleticism and variety that Ansah does off the edge, making him a tall task to block. It was a great opportunity for Villanueva to help solidify his starting spot, especially considering how, in my opinon, Ryan Harris has struggled.
Villanueva asserted himself well on the day, but his footwork remains a work in progress. Ansah will continue to test that weakness during Wednesday’s practice as well.
- Injury Roundup: Artie Burns, Travis Feeney, Marcus Gilbert and Jarvis Jones did not practice today. It was a scheduled day off for Gilbert according to Tomlin. Ben Roethlisberger had an excused absence.
- Bud Dupree participated in some of the team sessions early in practice, but sat out the second half. James Harrison was limited.
- Roy Philon (ankle, carted off) and Jerald Hawkins (shoulder, walked off) were both injured during practice.
- A special teams session kicked the practice off, with the Steelers running their punt team against the Lions' return team on the near field. Ross Ventrone, Marcus Tucker, L.J. Fort and Steven Johnson all stood out with excellent coverage stops during a period that pleased coordinator Danny Smith.
- Watched a little of the Steelers' tight ends and running backs vs. the Lions' linebackers and safeties. Pittsburgh doesn’t offer a formidable group of tight ends, but the Lions struggled in coverage, with safety Glover Quin victimized twice. Le’Veon Bell torched linebacker Tahir Whitehead on a vertical release and safety Miles Killebrew was beaten badly on an inside-out stem by Michael Cooper.
- You were all hoping for some Wallace Gilberry nuggets, I know, but the only time I even noticed the defensive lineman was when Paul Lang stood him up with a ferocious block during an early team session.
- Weird day for Lang. He had some good moments, but he’s such a limited athlete, and a crucial hold on Anthony Zettel -- whom had whooped Lang on an edge rush -- wiped out one offensive drive. Lang has suffered several drops during training camp, and added another today on what should have been an easy grab in the flat.
- Harris started at right tackle for Gilbert, but it didn’t help his performance any. Someone beat him for a would-be sack during a team period, and he continued to give up inside counters with ease during 1v1s. His feet are really troublesome.
- Another strong day for Sammie Coates despite not having Roethlisberger in the lineup. He blew by Isaiah Johnson on a nine route, the first of several big plays he created on the day.
- Daryl Richardson and Bell both had strong blitz pickups during 11v11s, an area of the game in which all four of Pittsburgh’s top backs seem to stand out.
- Peeked over at Steelers defense vs. Lions offense 11v11. Anthony Chickillo kicked out to the slot and blew through a receiver’s block on a bubble screen, redirecting Golden Tate inside, where Shamarko Thomas made the stop.
- Tyler Matakevich showed great anticipation to break up a shallow crossing route for one Lions running back, slapping the ball to the grass.
- The Steelers' starting offensive line didn’t fare very well against the Lions' front four in 1v1s, but Ramon Foster did bury Tyrunn Walker with a big-time pancake block. Cody Wallace continued to struggle, getting ripped cleanly by Stefan Charles. A few reps later, Khyri Thornton stood him up and walked him straight back with a bull rush.
- Hawkins, B.J. Finney and Chris Hubbard all had really good reps in 1v1s. Even Valerian Ume-Ezeoke got in on the action, gripping up A’Shawn Robinson and stone-walling the much bigger defensive tackle.
- Zettel had a great day for Detroit. The Penn State product ripped the edge on Brian Mihalik during 1v1s, showing some bend and quickness. He was a man without a true position coming out of college but Nittany Lion fans will be happy to know he stood out as a pass rusher throughout the day.
- Really fun battle between Lions wide receiver Jay Lee and Steelers cornerback Al-Hajj Shabazz during the final team session. Lee turned the defender around with a nice move on a nine route, but slowed up on what appeared to be a nice toss from Dan Orlovsky. A few plays later Lee redeemed himself by adjusting beautifully on a back-shoulder throw that Shabazz defended extremely well, toe-tapping his feet in bounds a few yards short of the goal line. Immediately Darrius Heyward-Bey turned to Doran Grant on the sidelines and said, “Who is that, D.G.? That was a nice catch.” Shabazz got his revenge by tipping away a fade route for the big receiver on the next play, before locking Lee up with a terrific jam at the line of scrimmage to end the session.
- Overall, the Steelers' offensive line, which was beaten early in practice, improved steadily against a strong Detroit front that has top-notch starting talent and quality depth. It's a good test for this group and Wednesday's practice will no doubt be a continuation of this challenge.