Salty attitude doesn't spill over onto the playing field for Steelers, Lions

It wasn't a good day for Pittsburgh ambulance chasers, backup quarterbacks or tight ends at the joint Steelers-Lions practice.

LATROBE -- Most of the players dodged the media on Tuesday, and Coach Mike Tomlin called reporters "ambulance chasers" following the Pittsburgh Steelers joint practice with the Detroit Lions on Tuesday.

But that salty demeanor didn't envelope the teams during a practice that was tame when compared to some of the brouhahas which have marked joint practices around the league the last few years.

"I think we're more of a group that is very professional," said Steelers safety Mike Mitchell. "Attitude reflects leadership (and) our coach is very professional. We had the right mindset coming into this week."

The teams used three of the four fields at the St. Vincent College spread. The Steelers' defense scrimmaged the Lions' offense on the far field and the Steelers' offense scrimmaged the Lions' defense on the near field.

There was one flare-up involving a heated Shamarko Thomas during a 2-on-1 gunner drill but players from both sides quickly calmed Thomas.

"They had one and we had one that was like, 'Come on guys' but other than that I thought both teams handled it well," Mitchell said. "When it's time to get down and dirty and nasty, we'll get down and dirty and nasty in real games. But out here we're just trying to sharpen our own sword."

Tomlin said he didn't have to give a warning shot to his team about scrapping with a team that includes former Cincinnati Bengals bad boy Wallace Gillberry.

"I thought that both teams handled the opportunity well," Tomlin said. "I thought they represented themselves and football well in terms of the professionalism, but at the same time, remained very competitive."

Tomlin was asked to expand on the term "professionalism."

"I meant what all you ambulance chasers came to see, you didn’t see," Tomlin said. "We were two professional football teams working cooperatively in an effort to get better."


Seven takes from watching the Steelers on Tuesday:

1. Ben Roethlisberger was excused from practice and it was "Back to the Future" in that the other Steelers quarterbacks appeared as if they were playing for the team in the 1980s in providing a glimpse at the team post-Ben.

2. Chris Hubbard and B.J. Finney are involved in a roster battle from which the loser will likely be claimed by another team. Finney is bigger and has a higher upside but Hubbard moved to left tackle in an injury emergency Tuesday. Hubbard's C-G-LT versatility will loom large.

3. Rookie tackle Jerald Hawkins was enjoying his best practice yet before he was sidelined with an injured shoulder. A couple of linemen told me they believe it's a minor injury and agreed that Hawkins improves every day.

4. The Lions have a defensive coach who wears his cap backward, spreads his legs and puts his hands on his knees at the line of scrimmage, and screams before, during and after every play. I thought I was watching a bad high school coach.

5. Le'Veon Bell cuts right and then left in a fraction of the time it takes to say it. If the Steelers are right in that Bell will win his appeal, he's ready.

6. Antonio Brown broke wide open deep but Landry Jones didn't see him until the DB recovered, and then Brown had to fight him off for a sideline catch in which his foot came down on the line. Brown was correctly ruled out of bounds but was still complaining some five snaps later.

7. An inline blocking tight end will be a high priority for the Steelers next offseason. They don't have one. And their best blocker, H-Back/fullback David Johnson, might be their best receiving tight end, too. Even if Ladarius Green gets well, he's not a blocker.


Tomlin said the key to the rise of second-round draft pick Sean Davis into contention for a starting job on opening day is his conditioning.

Lack of conditioning for rookies has become a bugaboo of Tomlin's. He's bemoaned the NCAA's cutback of athletic hours because coaches have met the requirements by cutting back on conditioning instead of on-field work.

Davis, though, managed to come to camp in great shape.

"He’s one of the few rookies I’ve seen that really looks like he’s come prepared from a conditioning standpoint," Tomlin said. "That’s not a knock against the others. It’s really a tip of the cap to him. I think that’s the first place that allows him to grow and take extra reps. He’s playing some at strong safety, he’s playing some in the nickelback position, and some in our sub-packages. I think more than anything, from an assessment standpoint, his high level of conditioning allows him to get extra work, which, of course, accelerates the learning curve."


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