Pittsburgh Steelers with changes in preparation for Miami

Change in first-team nickel, Le'Veon advises new back, and more.

PITTSBURGH -- Steelers first-round draft pick Artie Burns didn't have time to sulk about his snap count dipping from 85 percent two games ago to 22 percent this past Sunday, because Burns has been moved to the first team this week.

"First team nickel," Burns corrected. "That was just the nickel package. But it's progress."

It's major progress, considering the nickel package has become the Steelers' primary defense.

Burns is no doubt preparing to play the outside corner -- as he did when Sean Davis sat out two games ago -- with Will Gay kicking inside to the slot position. Ross Cockrell has been the other outside starting cornerback this season.

That leaves Davis out. The rookie slot corner confirmed on Wednesday that he worked behind Rob Golden and Mike Mitchell as a second-team safety.

"We're dealing with some injuries, me and my body, so we don't know how long it will stay that way," said Davis. "We're just taking it day by day."

For Burns, a starting spot would make for an exciting homecoming against the Dolphins. The Miami native said he's already received ticket requests from family and friends and that "I'll be getting as many as I can give them."

Burns wasn't a Dolphins fan growing up, because "Me and my dad always watched the Cowboys and Steelers." But he said he supported the Dolphins as he matriculated through Miami Northwestern High School and the University of Miami.

With the Steelers, Burns has yet to intercept a pass, but his tackling improved from a disappointing performance in Week 3 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Burns' tackle over the middle last Sunday against the New York Jets was something the coaching staff wanted to see, as were his two interceptions in Wednesday's practice.

"Gotta transfer that to the game and then we'll be good, we'll be solid," Burns said. "Tackling and picks. That's what I'm going to work on."

And the mental part?

"I'm getting the defenses down," he said. "You learn something every week, every day. Just got to keep it going. Keep learning on a daily basis and get better."


The Steelers added running back Karlos Williams, the younger brother of linebacker Vince Williams, to the practice squad in a move that could have positive ramifications down the road -- if Karlos can stay out of trouble.

Just off a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, Williams said he stayed in shape and is at his playing weight, which at the 2015 NFL Combine was 6-0 3/4, 230 pounds.

"I think he's really good," said Le'Veon Bell after watching Williams in his first practice. "He's a big back. He runs with a lot of power. You can tell he's one cut and go, no games. He'll get downhill right now."

That's what Williams, the fifth-round pick of the Buffalo Bills, did last year as LeSean McCoy's backup. Williams gained 517 yards with a 5.6 per-carry average for the Bills. He also scored nine touchdowns.

But he learned about his suspension in July and then showed up at training camp a reported 20-25 pounds overweight. He was released on August 20.

"I definitely think they'll have him lose a couple pounds," Bell said. "I was a big guy at Michigan State and I thought I felt good. But he'll understand once he actually loses a couple pounds he'll feel a lot better and he won't want to get back to how big he is now."

Vince Williams refused comment on his brother -- even though they were on friendly speaking terms -- so Bell was asked if he might provide guidance for the talented runner.

"I'm going to try to," Bell said. "I know he's got a lot of talent. I definitely want to lead him in the right direction. He can definitely be a big part of this team eventually down the road, so I want to lead him in the right direction. I know he's got a good head on his shoulders and he's a good talent, so I want to do that for him."

On Tuesday, the Steelers added safety Jacob Hagen and offensive tackle Austin Shepherd to the practice squad to replace Al-Hajj Shabazz and Matt Feiler, who were promoted last week. To make room for Williams the Steelers released RB David Cobb.


Sitting out Wednesday's workout were WR Sammie Coates (finger), OT Marcus Gilbert (ankle), DE Cameron Heyward (hamstring), LB Ryan Shazier (knee), S Shamarko Thomas (groin), C-G Cody Wallace (knee), WR Markus Wheaton (shoulder) and RB DeAngelo Williams (not injury related).

Returning to full participation were Golden, CB Justin Gilbert, FB Roosevelt Nix and WR Eli Rogers.

"Right back where I left off," Gilbert said of his status with the team, and he may as well have been speaking for the rest of the returnees as well.


Ben Roethlisberger expressed concern on his Tuesday radio show that perhaps the team's physical practices are the reason for the number of injuries. He didn't back down from the commentary Wednesday.

"We go as hard as anybody in training camp and during the season," said Roethlisberger. "Obviously, I’m not one to complain, because I don’t get hit like the other guys do. But, I will stand up for the guys up front and running backs, guys who take a pounding every day during a long season. The season is super long as it is and very physical. And when you’re doing it over and over and the guys’ shoulders are getting sore, knees start getting sore, and hips, and hamstrings, and quads and things, and then, they re-occur, you have to take a look at maybe what you’re doing. I know we pride ourselves as Pittsburgh Steelers of being a physical football team, so I know it’s a fine line you have to walk."

The last Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2011 curtailed tackling in training camp and created a limit of 14 padded practices per year, 11 in the first 11 weeks.


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