PITTSBURGH -- Two players who didn't play in Sunday's loss to the New England Patriots took the practice field Monday for the Steelers in the first of their two bye-week practices.
One was a surprise participant. The other was Ladarius Green.
Yep, the premier free-agent acquisition from a year ago participated in his very first practice -- counting springtime OTAs and minicamp -- with the Steelers, who now have three weeks to activate him or keep him on the PUP list the rest of the season.
And the surprise was the quarterback throwing Green passes, Ben Roethlisberger, who missed Sunday's game after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery to clean up a meniscus issue.
Roethlisberger is hoping to return for the Nov. 6 game at Baltimore, and so is Green. To that end, Roethlisberger, who worked only during the individual practice period, threw the 6-6 tight end some high passes so Green could test the ankle that's given him so much trouble since last season when he was with the San Diego Chargers.
"I was working on jumping so that was good to get out there and jump," Green said. "He wanted to see what I could do and I just had to jump up for it and trust it. It held up."
What did he look like?
"He made some nice catches," said rookie safety Sean Davis. "Ever since I've been here he's been rehabbing, but for his first time to be out here he looked good."
"He looked great," said safety Jordan Dangerfield. "It looked like he didn't miss a beat. I was excited to see him in person for the first time. I think everybody was. He did really good: speed, hands, route-running. I think he's the full package for a tight end, blocker, too."
Green, who caught 37 passes for 429 yards and four touchdowns last season, was asked if he could play against the Ravens with only six practices.
"I would hope so," he said. "I just have to see how I feel that week and how the coaches feel about it."
FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Since the Steelers' loss Sunday, the defense has been under attack by those closest to it.
Inside linebacker Ryan Shazier said after the game that "We're looking like garbage." The next day, injured defensive lineman Cam Heyward said, "It was like we just quit" after Rob Gronkowski caught his second long pass, the one that set up the Patriots' final touchdown.
Defensive line coach John Mitchell was asked about the commentary, and he merely shrugged.
"Guys are free to make their own opinion," said Mitchell. "Freedom of speech. That's the way they feel. I'm glad they feel that way. Maybe we'll play a little harder."
Mitchell was asked for his opinion.
"I'm not pleased with the way we've played against he run," he said. "But you've got to realize when you're not stopping the run it's 11 guys. It's not the front. It's not the linebackers. It's not the DBs. We've got to fit properly. The thing that hurt us in the last two games, our proper fits. The guys were not in the gaps they're supposed to be in, and the good football teams with a good running back, they're going to find those gaps."
In the last two games, since Heyward's been out with a hamstring injury, the Steelers allowed opposing rushers 7.1 yards per carry. With Heyward in the lineup, they allowed 4.1 yards per carry.
Are teams exploiting Heyward's absence?
"I won't say that," Mitchell said. "But it's the same thing as a quarterback. He sees a rookie or a guy who hasn't played at corner, he's going to go at him. That's just playing football."
The Steelers used to draft thicker, run-stuffing cornerbacks to patrol their cover-3 zones for whatever came their way. But now, with 197-pound first-round pick Artie Burns playing outside in the team's primary package, and 191-pound Ross Cockrell on the other side, teams are finding that if they can make it around the corner there's extra yardage awaiting.
"Artie's not that skinny," said DBs coach Carnell Lake. "But, he (pause) you know, he's not tackling. He's having -- it's a wake-up call is what it is. I'm hoping that he takes that challenge and does something with it."
Cockrell appears to have the "want-to" when it comes to tackling.
"Ross is a true pro," Lake said. "He has the want-to and he doesn't mind a challenge, whether it's playing the top receiver, matching up from week-to-week and following that receiver around. For a guy that we got at the beginning of the season last year, was cut by Buffalo, to be our No. 1 guy and covering big-time receivers, it's impressive. We still hold a high standard but that, for Ross, that game is still developing for him, too. He's still a young guy. So I'm not pushing the panic button on any of those guys. They just have to grow up and grow up quickly."
Are teams running wider on the Steelers this season?
"I think any offense would probably not be a good offense if they didn't challenge perceived weaknesses, or they didn't try to run on a corner," Lake said. "If your running game can get downhill on corners all day, they must feel they've got an advantage, whether they do or not. But that's where the corner has to make a statement, and so that's going to be the challenge going forward."null