J. Hevesham Nuttmeier

Montell Garner is making the most of his chances with the Steelers

Sean Davis took care of his knee while Montell Garner took care of the slot. This, Antonio Brown's problems with an official and more from Jon Ledyard.

With Senquez Golson fresh off surgery to repair his Lisfranc, and Artie Burns nursing a left quad injury that will keep him out of at least the first preseason game, opportunities for bubble Pittsburgh Steelers cornerbacks to prove themselves have never been more plentiful.

As a result, Montell Garner is receiving a big bump in playing time of late. The first-year player runs with the first-team defense as the starting nickel corner when Sean Davis is working with the safeties.

“I played nickel when I was with the Rams, so I’m used to it now,” said Garner, who lasted until final cuts as a rookie last year. “The thing about nickel is that you have to be really patient. You have guys behind you, so it’s OK to let them by you vertically, you’ve just got to get leverage early. At corner, you’re more staying on top and working with your opponent on an island.”

Garner has seen plenty of reps at outside corner as well, but usually with the third-team defense, but the Steelers are determined to explore what he offers as a nickel, which makes sense given the fact that the position is new to Davis and defensive coordinator Keith Butler eventually has a more versatile role in mind for the rookie.

“They seem to like me most at nickel right now,” Garner said. “But some things I learned at nickel, I reverted that at corner, and that put me in the best position to make plays. It’s all about being able to work laterally. I think the game has changed to where you have to be able to work laterally instead of just up and back.”

Those zone concepts that Garner are learning are a staple of the Steelers defensive scheme and enabled him to make a few plays during the red zone period against the Detroit Lions on Wednesday night. From the slot, Garner jumped a quick hitch route underneath, slapping the ball free from the receiver’s mitts at the last second.

Then, playing left cornerback in man coverage, Garner ran step-for-step with Quinshad Davis on a fade route, playing the pocket beautifully to rip a would-be catch free in the back corner of the end zone.

Garner isn’t perfect, and can be overly aggressive at times in his footwork, but the ball skills and improved technique he’s shown in practice have clearly stood out to the coaching staff. The corner has developed a demonstrative swagger to his game as well, confident that he will continue to make an impact as pivotal preseason games loom on the horizon.

“I’m a guy that, wherever they need me, I’m gonna dominate,” he said.

PRACTICE NOTES

- Injury Roundup: Jarvis Jones, Bud Dupree, Jerald Hawkins, Artie Burns, Travis Feeney, Maurkice Pouncey and Markus Wheaton were all in street clothes.

- Ben Roethlisberger returned to practice after an excused absence, and Marcus Gilbert joined him following a scheduled day off.

- Sean Davis was again icing his knee midway through practice, earlier than he has in the past couple of practices. He walked off the field uninjured by all appearances, so this seemed more precautionary.

- The most entertaining bit from the evening occurred during the Steelers’ offensive two-minute drill session, when Antonio Brown got into it with official Terry Brown. The Steelers receiver made a fantastic catch in the back of the end zone with Lions’ cornerback Nevin Lawson draped all over him, but the official said his foot was out of bounds. Antonio wanted a holding call, chirping in the official’s face as the two walked shoulder-to-shoulder. From what I could gather, Brown said something to the official about the Steelers giving him a free lunch to be here and he still hasn’t thrown a flag all day, with expletives splashed in. Play continued, but Terry Brown walked past the media on the sidelines, telling us in no uncertain terms that if this were a game he would have ejected the receiver for his actions. The official added that he plans to report the Steelers star to the league as well.

- With one second left on the clock, the Steelers elected to dump the ball to Brown on a shallow crossing route with the Lions protecting the goal line in case of a Hail Mary pass. The receiver came up a bit short of the goal line, but David Johnson unloaded on one of the Detroit defenders with a killer block. The hit left Johnson shook up as the tight end knelt for a few moments before walking slowly off the field.

- Eli Rogers had a terrific cut to rip off a great return during the special teams period to start practice. With no tackling, it's sometimes difficult to gauge how successful a return is, but no Lions player was within reach of the shifty wide receiver.

- Steelers DL vs. Lions OL 1v1 session was an overwhelmingly positive period for the Steelers, begun by Arthur Moats and Stephon Tuitt bullying through the blocks of Riley Reiff and Larry Warford, respectively. Warford really struggled, getting blown up by Tuitt a few times. The guard angrily ripped his chin strap off after the final rep, clearly frustrated with his performance.
 
- The young defensive linemen for the Steelers keep showing up in 1v1s. Javon Hargrave got a rep against the Lions’ starters and won decisively, using a push-pull to yank Travis Swanson to his knees. L.T. Walton got in on the action as well, ripping under Geoff Schwartz to get some penetration, then spinning back inside when the veteran guard tried to ride him up the arc. Cashaud Lyons used a nice spin move to get in clean on the ‘quarterback,’ while Devaunte Sigler wrenched Chase Farris out of the way with a powerful rip move.
 
- Issac Blakeney made an incredible catch down the right sideline during the first 11v11 session, twisting backward and spearing the ball out of the air with one hand.

- Sean Davis looked good in the slot during 1v1s and in the team periods. He’s using his physicality and length to re-route receivers underneath, then closing quickly for ‘tackles.' The rookie blanketed Anquan Boldin in man coverage during the Lions’ red-zone possession, tracking him all the way across the back of the end zone.
 
- Golden Tate matched up with Will Gay during the red-zone period, beating the defender to the back corner of the end zone on a fade route thanks to a beautiful throw from Matt Stafford.

- L.J. Fort keeps popping up all over the field. The linebacker dodged a blocker, knifed through the Lions’ offensive line, and popped the Detroit running back in the backfield for what would have been a big loss. He later would've had an easy sack on the final and deciding play of the two-minute drill.

- Hargrave’s reign of terror carried over into the red-zone period as well, as he bullied a Lions guard into the backfield before shedding his opponent and wrapping up the runner for a loss.

- The joint practices weren't as chippy as we hoped they’d be, but Isaiah Johnson and Fitzgerald Toussaint did get into it today after the safety blindsided the running back with a hard hit after the whistle. Also, Le’Veon Bell exchanged words with Lions linebacker Josh Bynes at one point and even reached up and smacked his helmet/facemask. The ambulance-chasers got their scuffles after all.


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