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Pittsburgh Steelers no doubt appreciate Grant's physical style of play

Second-year DB says he's ready for challenge of new position

It’s been rumored since his rookie season, and on a rainy, Sunday walk-through practice that was moved to the gym at St. Vincent College, Doran Grant played his first reps at safety in the Pittsburgh Steelers defense.

The extent of Grant’s transition to safety remains to be seen, and the defensive back isn't giving any hints, but his ability to tackle and play the run at a high level should be a huge help to him moving forward.

“This is definitely something new to me, but I don’t think it will be a problem,” said Grant. “Mike Mitchell and other guys were out there giving me pointers, telling me to read certain things from guys at the line of scrimmage. You can see a lot more in front of you at safety.”

Grant, a cornerback, has never played safety before but welcomes the challenge of learning a new position in order to enhance his versatility and chances of making the 53-man roster.

While Steelers fans were undoubtedly disappointed that the normal outdoor practice was canceled, Grant saw the schedule change as a chance for him to ease into the new spot.

“It’s still football,” Grant said. “Plus walk-throughs are always good. They teach you attention to detail and get you to understand exactly what you need to do.”

Mitchell and Jacob Hagen talked to him during much of Sunday’s walk-through, explaining how to fill against the run, which shoulder to use to take on blocks, and how to read through his run/pass keys efficiently.

The second-year defender had a rough start to camp but has improved as the month has gone on. He intercepted a poor pass from Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown Friday in the preseason opener. Grant also led the team in tackles with seven, a strength of his that defensive backs coach Carnell Lake had previously noted.

PRACTICE/GAME NOTES

- Obviously very little could be gleaned from an indoor, unpadded, walk-through practice. Anthony Chickillo (ankle), Jerald Hawkins (shoulder) and Marcus Gilbert were non-participants today. Mike Tomlin said after practice that Hawkins’ injury would be evaluated soon. Matt Feiler and Chris Hubbard took reps at the tackle spots.

- One of the most improved areas of this team in 2016 will be its defensive line depth. L.T. WaltonRicardo Mathews and Javon Hargrave are all significant upgrades as pass-rushers in comparison to Cam Thomas or even Daniel McCullers, and all three offer more range and athleticism against the run as well. The trio stood out repeatedly during Friday’s game, helping the Steelers get pressure in the Lions’ backfield early and often.

- One of the more disappointing positions to watch against Detroit was the Steelers’ offensive tackle group. Alejandro Villanueva allowed a sack early, and Ryan Harris continued to show poor body control and a significant lack of athleticism in his movements at left tackle. Hubbard’s versatility is appreciated, but he is an emergency-only offensive tackle, and if he has to jump into a game on Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside, the quarterback had better keep his head on a swivel. We'll monitor his development. Hawkins did some good things, although the shoulder injury is troubling.

Dustin Vaughan wasn’t great Friday, but he also wasn’t given much help. The bigger story may be Bruce Gradkowski leaving the game with a hamstring injury, yet another sign that the 11-year veteran’s body may not be suited for the rigors of the NFL anymore. If the 33-year-old continues to struggle to stay healthy, Vaughan may win the No. 3 job, regardless of how he performs in the preseason.

- Until Sammie Coates can consistently catch and protect the football in real live NFL action, expect Darrius Heyward-Bey to run ahead of him.

Daryl Richardson continues to look solid, showing great burst through the hole. Early on in camp I was worried about the Steelers' depth behind DeAngelo Williams, if Le'Veon Bell’s suspension is upheld, but Richardson is making everyone feel much better.

- Many were ripping Sean Davis for giving up a few plays on Sunday, the biggest of which was a 30-yard grab by Anquan Boldin from the slot. Nickel corner is one of the toughest positions in a defense because the full route tree is basically available to the receiver. You’ll often have help vertically, but a sliver of separation underneath could be enough for a substantial gain. That’s why your slot corner is typically your best technician, able to mirror movements and exhibit clean footwork at all times. Against Boldin, Davis opened his hips to the sideline far too quickly when the veteran jab-stepped in that direction, making it impossible for him to recover when the receiver countered inside for an easy catch.
 
- If Davis is going to be playing man coverage from the slot, he’s going to have more struggles early on. It’s simply not where his strengths lie at this time. Will Gay would be a better option in man coverage, but who would play outside? The loss of Senquez Golson has had a significant ripple effect on the defense so far, and it’ll be interesting to see what other changes occur if Davis continues to struggle there.


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