The Steelers are considering several options for rookie cornerback Senquez Golson, including having him undergo season-ending shoulder surgery.
In the meantime, All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey came off the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and joined his teammates in practice this afternoon. He was dealing with what coach Mike Tomlin called a “very minor” foot injury.
Golson has been on the PUP list since the start of training camp July 25. He went through spring practices with no apparent issues but later told team officials he thought he injured his shoulder during those practices.
His injury is part of the reason the Steelers traded for cornerback Brandon Boykin from the Philadelphia Eagles for a conditional fifth-round draft pick Saturday night. That pick reportedly could become a fourth-round pick if Boykin plays in 60 percent of the Steelers’ defensive snaps this season.
Although only 5-9 and listed at 176 pounds, Golson’s 10 interceptions last season for Ole Miss were second in the nation – only behind the Steelers’ seventh-round draft choice, Louisville safety Gerod Holliman, who had 14.
The Steelers will practice Boykin both inside in the slot, where he played for the Eagles, and on the outside, where he will have a chance to compete with Cortez Allen and William Gay to start. He also will see practice time returning punts, starting this afternoon in practice.
The Steelers held their annual night practice at Latrobe Memorial Stadium Friday night. Here are some of the nightlights:
*Landry Jones directed the first-team offense in the goal line drill. After an incomplete pass he threw consecutive touchdowns to Jesse James and Antonio Brown. The offense made it three scores in a row when DeAngelo Williams scored.
*In the backs on backers drill, fullback Roosevelt Nix, a converted defensive lineman, demonstrated impressive strength and blocking ability. Linebackers Vince Williams, Ryan Shazier and Anthony Chickillo also stood out.
*In one-on-one pass rush drills, Jarvis Jones had three opportunities to rush against offensive tackles and failed to win. Kelvin Beachum won twice and reserve Alejandro Villanueva beat him once.
*I wrote about Dri Archer and kickoff returns in today’s paper. Danny Smith tells me some interesting things might happen with the new PAT rules this year, too. The most intriguing aspect is the head coaches can change their minds about kicking or going for two after penalties are called.
“Let’s say the ball is at 15 and we’re kicking PAT, and we grab the facemask of the edge rusher,” Smith said. “It’s a hands-to-the face, 15-yard penalty. Now we’re kicking a 48-yard extra point. Or let’s say they jump off sides. Now we can put it at the 10 and kick it, or take half the distance to the goal and put it at the 1, and run it in. There are things that are interesting about the rules.”
I also asked Smith about PAT personnel now that defenses can return blocked kicks for two points. Why not have smaller and faster players on the field for those situations?
Smith said they are practicing for different scenarios but said it’s important to make sure the opposing players are blocked first. That is easier with bigger (and slower) personnel because they take up more space and have a larger wing span, which helps in protection.
*NFL officials visited Steelers camp the past two days and met with players on rules changes. The one new rule that did not get much publicity over the offseason was this: officials will call a personal foul for aggressively pulling opposing players off piles. This happens most often when there is a fumble and a scrum for the ball. Officials said there were some fights that stemmed from these situations in years past, and they’re working to eliminate those fights.
With an extra week of training camp this year, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is taking the opportunity to rest many of his veteran players. Many of them, like James Harrison, haven’t even participated in a practice yet while others are receiving reduced repetitions.
The byproduct is the coaching staff is getting a good look at many second- and third-teamers who otherwise wouldn’t be playing as much.
Here are some random thoughts on some young players who have stood out:
*Rookie sixth-round pick Anthony Chickillo has been more noticeable than first-round pick Bud Dupree. Chickillo has a knack for rushing the passer. He has a motor, and he competes well. It’s not that Dupreee has been disappointing, just that Chickillo has been able to make a few more plays.
The Steelers only kept three outside linebackers last year and Chickillo has at least four players (Harrison, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats Bud Dupree) in front of him on the depth chart, but he is making the staff take a long hard look at him.
*The newest offensive lineman is holding his own in drills. The Steelers signed Kevin Palmer shortly before camp started because Mike Adams had back surgery. Palmer was undrafted out of Baylor and is already with his third team this year. He originally signed with the Cardinals and was cut in May. The Chiefs picked him up but cut him in June.
*Palmer has been taking reps at right tackle and has more than held his own the first couple of days the team has practiced in pads. In a run-blocking drill against 2014 practice squad player Ethan Hemer, Palmer twice reached Hemer and pushed him three or four yards down the field.
Some other observations from one-on-one drills between the offensive and defensive lines on Thursday:
*Ramon Foster had a rough time in one-on-one pass rush drills. He was twice matched up with Cam Heyward and twice was beaten baldy. On the first rush, Heyward pulled Foster forward and easily got into the backfield. On the second he executed a bull rush and pushed Foster backward.
*Kelvin Beachum and Jarvis Jones went at it three times in a row. After Jones got the better of Beachum on the first rep, Beachum won the final two. On the second one, he muscled Jones to the ground. It was only one snapshot from a long practice but it was too reminiscent of Jones struggling to get off blocks and show any kind of violent force.
*Right tackle Marcus Gilbert didn’t get lazy the year after signing a big contract. He was impressive again on Thursday. In a run-blocking drill, he had a pancake block against Stephon Tuitt, last year’s second-round pick.
*Cody Wallace is getting the first-team reps at center with Maurkice Pouncey on the PUP list and playing well for the most part. He won one and lost one against starting nose tackle Steve McLendon in the one-on-one pass rush drill.
*The Steelers hold their annual night practice tonight at Latrobe Memorial Stadium.
It’s time for the Steelers to go get another backup quarterback. Now.
Bruce Gradkowski did not practice for most of the spring because he had a sore arm and he opened training camp on the physically unable to perform list for what the Steelers term “arm fatigue.’’ It is ironic that Gradkowski would have a tired arm because he has not thrown a pass in his two regular seasons with the Steelers.
The other day, Gradkowski was quoted as saying he thought it might be a few weeks before he starts practicing. In the meantime, the quarterbacks behind Ben Roethlisberger have been dreadful in the early goings of training camp, continuing their showing in the spring. It’s so bad that they have trouble handling shotgun snaps from center, dropping them and ruining yet another practice play. Wednesday was particularly bad for them.
Landry Jones and Tajh Boyd cannot be the No. 2 quarterback. Quarterbacks-to-wide receivers-to-quarterbacks Devin Gardner and Tyler Murphy should not be taking snaps at all. Murphy wears No. 16 and the Steelers probably wish the man who used to wear that number at quarterback was back in that position, Charlie Batch, instead of preparing to broadcast games for them on KDKA-TV.
But there is one quarterback out there available. He has a little age on him and he carries some old baggage. His name is Michael Vick, who turned 35 last month.
He comes from the same Tidewater area of Virginia as coach Mike Tomlin, who made inquiries about signing Vick after he was released from federal prison in 2009 after serving 21 months for his dog fighting conviction. The distractions, though, were considered too much for the Steelers and it was never seriously pursued. He signed with the Eagles that August.
Vick has since gone about working to rebuild his reputation. His teammates in Philadelphia voted him the winner of the Ed Block Courage Award. He has worked to try to get passed the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act in Congress.
He also long has had well-documented financial problems.
But he can still play football as the Steelers found out last November when he threw two touchdown passes and no interceptions in he New York Jets’ 20-13 upset victory against them. He also ran eight times for 39 yards in that game.
The Jets were Vick’s second team since his pre-jail days in Atlanta with the Falcons. He played five years for the Eagles and last season for the Jets, who did not try to re-sign him when he became an unrestricted free agent in March.
He’s been trying to find another job with an NFL team since then with no luck. Last week, he issued a video of himself through Twitter to remind all that he can still throw a football.
“I think that I’ve done a lot throughout the course of my career,’’ Vick told the NFL Network in June. “I’ve proved that I can win games and play with some consistency and be a leader. I think those are the qualities that you want in a quarterback.’’
The Steelers have one of those already in Ben Roethlisberger, who has not missed a regular-season snap to injury in the past two seasons. They are praying right now that he can do it for three in a row because the alternatives could be disastrous.
What they need right now is a quality backup, someone who can at least handle a snap from center and does not have a mysterious sore right arm. That first preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings will look more like the Hall of Shame game with anyone but Roethlisberger playing quarterback for the Steelers with Gradkowski out. And Mike Tomlin is not about to let Roethlisberger play much in that game.
Vick is by far the best free agent quarterback available. The Steelers are in desperate need to find one. Tomlin knows him. What could it hurt to sign him? Now.
Some reaction to the news on Le’Veon Bell and Tom Brady:
--- It was interesting to me that some local news stations led with the news on Brady and not on Bell. Brady is a much bigger story nationally but Bell does play for the Steelers, is an All-Pro who was the NFL’s second-leading rusher last year and there was news because his suspension was reduced. Just a curiosity, that’s all.
--- Another thing that grabbed me was that Brady sent 10,000 texts in the four months from the time he got a new cell phone until he destroyed that phone on the eve of his hearing in late June. Ten thousand! I did the math – that comes to an average of 83 texts a day, every day, over the course of four months. Does he do anything else in the offseason besides write texts? His thumbs must really hurt. I just looked in my phone and I sent 8 texts yesterday. What, is the guy 14 years old?
--- As I’ve written and said many times, Bell’s suspension should have been either one or two games, not three. They disciplined him under both the old and new drug policies and that was not fair.
--- For a 10-year veteran, halfback DeAngelo Williams sure does get touchy about softball questions of how much he believes he is going to play this year. We now know he will not start in the third game of the season. And if he thinks he’s going to split time as he did in Carolina, he should look at some game tape of Le’Veon Bell last season. Bell did not need to be spelled last season and he won’t this year either, barring injury and blowout victories.
--- There’s still a good chance the Steelers will face Brady in the opener because all he has to do is sue the league and get an injunction to halt his suspension until the legal proceedings end, which often they never seem to do.
--- I’m not quite sure why the NFLPA is suing the league over this. The union agreed to all the wording in the CBA and Roger Goodell followed the CBA wording to a T. The Steelers players, you might recall, were the only ones among the 32 NFL teams to vote against the new CBA during the 2011 training camp. They did so mainly because it gave Goodell the kind of power he wielded on Tuesday. Do you think Tom Brady urged his teammates to vote for it so there would be no more work stoppage and he could continue to collect those fat paychecks?
--- The NFL sent out a treatise to the media announcing its Brady decision and then explaining what went into it. They sent out nothing on Bell. They never officially announced Bell’s original 3-game suspension and they never officially announced that it was reduced.
--- Another Saint Vincent 50th anniversary camp story:
The Steelers lost Leon Searcy in free agency to the Jacksonville Jaguars early in 1996 and went looking for another right tackle to take his place. They drafted Jamain Stephens of North Carolina A&T in the first round. He was terrible and I drew the ire of Bill Cowher one day when I asked him bluntly if he were a bust. I was correct, and it was proven definitively during the annual run test to open training camp in 1999.
Stephens was terribly out of shape and hardly could run at all that day. He finally just gave up and walked through the rest of the series of 40-yard “dashes” that were left. It wasn’t the first time he had done that during a run test – he once collapsed and lay prone as Greg Lloyd famously waived a towel over him -- but it would be his last. Cowher was so disgusted with the ongoing performance or lack thereof from Stephens that he cut him that night.
Cincinnati picked him up and he played into 2002 for the Bengals before Marvin Lewis, Cowher’s first linebackers coach with the Steelers, cut him in 2003 when he became head coach in Cincinnati.