It was only the first day of training camp at Latrobe, and it was a lightning-interrupted, rain-altered session with OTA-like rules of only helmets and shorts only, to boot, but the Steelers’ offense appear to be still looking vertical.
Sure, there were plenty of the hated ‘bubble’ screen drills that we’ve learned to love/hate over the past few years, but the spring-theme of throwing down the field to their wide receivers more than they did in Todd Haley’s first year as offensive coordinator is undeniable.
Now, does that mean they will do that Monday when they put the pads on for the first time in 2013? Does that mean they will do that when/if Ben Roethlisberger is getting pressured by Geno Atkins Week 2 in at Paul Brown Stadium?
Well, stay tuned on that.
Still, what’s encouraging isn’t that the Steelers are throwing more passes down the field in training camp, but that they seemingly have player with the skill set to thrive at it.
Antonio Brown has never been asked to stretch the defense.
In the slot the majority of his career, Emmanuel Sanders’ job wasn’t to get down field. (Read more about this from the Trib’s Dejan Kovacevic)
Just because you aren’t asked to do something doesn’t mean that you can’t do it – that’s the way Brown and Sanders feel.
During Saturday’s practice on the turf field at St. Vincent College, it was a matter of moments of each other that Sanders raced past William Gay for deep completion and Brown doing the same to Ike Taylor.
There were a couple others as well – Kashif Moore hauled one in and somebody got behind Curtis Brown for a long incompletion. You couldn’t make it out who the ball was thrown to probably because of the booming voice of Mike Tomlin getting on Brown for letting this receiver behind him was quite distracting.
So, what does this all mean?
Actually, it means very little.
We all have acknowledge that Haley/Roethlisberger needs to loosen things up down the field more than they did last year even if it does mean taking a shot to the ribs for Big Ben from time to time.
According to ProFootballFocus, only 47 passes of Roethlisberger’s 449 attempts last year went 20 yards down the field – 25th in the NFL. To put that into perspective, Jake Locker and Mark Sanchez had more and Brandon Weeden and Ryan Fitzpatrick completed more.
But 20 yards isn’t that far down the field. That is a deep square out. What about 30 yards down the field? Try 19 of the 449 attempts, according to ESPN.com.
Don’t be fooled by the numbers. Even in the Mike Wallace hay day, the Steelers weren’t airing it out. In 2011, 27 of Roethlisberger’s 513 attempts went farther than 30 yards; in 2010 it was 19 of 389, and in 2009 – Wallace’s rookie year – it was 24 of 506.
The gap isn’t huge, but sometimes one attempt a game is all you need.
And it appears the Steelers might feel that way, too … at least for now.