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August 20, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: What does the Keisel signing really mean?

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-- Chaz Palla Photo Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel.

— Chaz Palla Photo
Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel.

The Five Ws – who, what, where, when and why.

You learn that in the first day of J-School.

When the Steelers announced that they’ve signed veteran Brett Keisel, I applied the Five Ws, and quickly came up with four answers.

Who: Brett Keisel

What: Signed a two-year contract

Where: Pittsburgh

When: Aug. 20

Why: Hmmmmmm …

Why is the question that rushes right to the forefront of the Keisel signing, now doesn’t it?

Why did the Steelers feel the need to bring back Keisel when they drafted Stephon Tuitt in the second round and signed free agent Cam Thomas to a 2-year, $4 million deal in the offseason to pair with the established Cam Heyward?

On the surface, it makes no sense.

The only thing that bringing Keisel back would do is stunt the growth and cut the playing time of Tuitt.

That statement is true today as it was last week.

But if the Steelers use Keisel correctly, and I assume they will, there really is no downside.

Let’s dismiss right from the start that Keisel was brought in because of the play of Tuitt. That’s not true.

One of the reasons Keisel is with the Steelers today has a lot to do with Thomas and the depth at nose tackle.

Remember, Thomas is learning the defensive end position and it’s been a little rocky going when it comes to gap integrity. I think he will be serviceable at that position, but it might take a couple more weeks.

The issue is at nose tackle.

The Steelers have Steve McLendon and really nobody else (right now) who they feel comfortable sliding into the spot other than Thomas. Daniel McCullers will eventually be leaned on, but not now, not this year (unless an emergency).

Keisel gives the Steelers the option to move Thomas to nose tackle for rotational purposes or even in case of an injury to McLendon.

The other reason is that the Steelers are an injury to a defensive end away from really being in a bind.

Mike Tomlin was burned last year not having a capable and ready backup to fill in at running back and inside linebacker in case of injury. He learned his lesson and is not about to make that mistake again.

Brian Arnfelt hasn’t made the jump that the organization was hoping and Josh Mauro, although talented, isn’t nearly ready to be counted on in a game day situation.

Yet another reason for the Keisel signing.

This is how I anticipate it playing out: Heyward, Keisel, Thomas and sometimes Tuitt will rotate in the base 3-4 defense; Thomas will spell McLendon at nose tackle; and Heyward, Tuitt and Keisel will rotate in the nickel as the two defensive linemen.

Defensive line coach John Mitchell loves to rotate and now he can.

Oh yeah, Keisel is a pretty good clubhouse guy, can help the youngsters and came cheap, so why not?

I didn’t think it would happen, but the Steelers are better off now than they were a day ago without Keisel.

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August 18, 2014
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Surprise! 3 Players you didn’t know in June who could make Steelers’ roster

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Howard Jones

Howard Jones

 

Three weeks of training camp over, two weeks of the preseason to go. Two short weeks, too, given the Steelers play exhibition games each of the next two Thursdays.

As coach Mike Tomlin said last week, if a player is down on the depth chart, this is the time to make a move because there is no third-team offense or defense once the season starts.

The Steelers shifted operations back to their South Side headquarters on Monday and there was a full house in their locker room; the first player cuts won’t occur until after the Thursday night game in Philadelphia.

So, who among those 90 players who are crowing into a room designed for far fewer has made a move since training camp opened July 25? Who is in better position to make the roster now than he was after the three-day minicamp finished up June 19?

Here are three who have made a major push to work their way onto the 53-man roster for the Sept. 7 opener against the Cleveland Browns.

JOSH MAURO, DE, 6-6, 282, Stanford. Mauro was very surprised when he wasn’t drafted. Going into the draft, he referred to himself as the most “tenacious” defensive end among all those available in the draft.

Mauro was a late-developing player at Stanford, where he was a fifth-year senior a year ago; he didn’t begin starting until 2012. He was on the scout team when Steelers RG David DeCastro played for the Cardinal. Last season, starting 11 games, Mauro made 51 tackles and was chosen to play in the East-West Shrine Game.

He was known at Stanford for his relentlessness, and defensive coordinator Derek Mason called him “a bull in a china shop.” Mauro has repeatedly practiced well for the Steelers and he had two sacks Saturday against the Bills. Given how playing time is divided among so many players in August, the Steelers sometimes don’t have a single player with multiple sacks in an entire preseason.

Mauro, by the way, has done some long snapping, but the Steelers apparently did not consider him as a fill-in during long snapper Greg Warren’s projected four-week injury layoff.

Mauro is listed behind Brian Arnfelt on the defensive end depth chart, but he appears to be getting more playing time than either Arnfelt or Nick Williams, who were with the Steelers last season.

HOWARD JONES, LB, 6-4, 238, Shepherd. Think he’s not getting a long look? The Steelers have been deficient in taking the ball away for several seasons, and along comes a Division II player who recovers three fumbles in two games. Jones alertly returned one for a touchdown against the Giants when every other player on the field relaxed, thinking the ball was dead, and he picked it up and ran it in.

A non-drafted player like Jones usually makes a roster mostly on his special teams play, and that’s been a point of emphasis for him.

“I’m learning from the older linebackers – Chris Carter, Jarvis (Jones), (Terence) Garvin – all the guys,” Jones said. “I learn from them and do what they tell me.”

It was somewhat surprising Jones wasn’t drafted; he was one of the standout linebackers at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, but his age (24) might have made some teams reluctant to draft him. He ended up at Shepherd, which is about a three-hour drive from Pittsburgh in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle, after he didn’t qualify academically to attend Virginia or Virginia tech coming out of high school.

I profiled Jones last spring during rookie mini-camp in May as a player who could end up figuring in the Steelers’ plans:

ERIC WATERS, TE, 6-5, 245, Missouri. Waters also felt like he should have been drafted, and he reported to training camp with the attitude of wanting to prove he belonged.

Some NFL rookies privately question themselves during camp, wondering if they truly belong. Waters never has. He practices with a confidence that, it seems, suggests he believes the Steelers would be making a big mistake by letting him go.

With veterans Michael Palmer and David Paulson and seventh-round draft pick Rob Blanchflower all pressing to back up Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, the Steelers have plenty of bodies at tight end. That means Water’s route to an opening day roster is through special teams, and it’s why the final preseason games against the Eagles and Carolina Panthers are very important to him.

“When you can do multiple things, you are so much better off,” he said.

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August 16, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: From safety to linebacker to cornerback for Polamalu? Well …

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-- Chaz Palla photo Troy Polamalu signs autographs for fans.

— Chaz Palla photo
Troy Polamalu signs autographs for fans.

Troy Polamalu can play safety, we all know that.

He showed that he can fill in at linebacker as well. He proved that last year.

What’s it going to be this year?

How about cornerback?

Well, the thought did cross Polamalu’s mind.

While monitoring the Steelers offseason moves and realizing that the team didn’t have much in the way of experience behind the top three cornerbacks Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen and William Gay, Polamalu couldn’t help but let his mind wonder a little.

“It’s so funny because this offseason I said watch, we may have corners go down and I may have to move outside,” Polamalu said just before letting out a hefty laugh.

Funny yes, but is it possible?

Well, Polamalu said he last played cornerback (not true corner but matchup corner) during his rookie season in 2003 and that safeties under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau are asked to play man coverage more than just about any other team.

And don’t forget that defensive backs coach Carnell Lake made that move in midway through the 1995 season when Rod Woodson was lost early in the season that year with a knee injury and Alvoid Mays just couldn’t quite cut it.

But really? Can Polamalu be the an emergency corner especially at age 33?

“I don’t know,” Polamalu said.

Lake’s answer was much more forward.

“He might be able to do it,” Lake said.

Would Polamalu at least be looked at in an emergency?

“Ah, no,” Lake said.

Well, there you have it.

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August 15, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Trib’s video of Sammy Watkins vs. Lew Toler goes viral

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As a reporter who covers the Steelers, I am always trying to find a different way to give readers a glimpse into the team I cover.

To be honest, it wasn’t that difficult a few years ago to do that.

Before the onslaught of social media limiting the exclusiveness of what we call a good “nugget” of information, all you had to do is was put something in your notebook in the next day’s paper and be done with it.

Not anymore. Twitter has changed that.

So, to try to provide something unique, I started to video portions of Steelers practice (that were permitted under the team’s guidelines) and post it to YouTube.

People would make fun of me and give me a strange look, but oh well, right?

Nobody was really watching anyway. It gave me something to do while watching practice.

I’d get 202 views, 576 views and on a good day, a video would bring in 1,500 views.

Then Thursday happened.

Impressed with what I saw from Sammy Watkins during Wednesday’s practice, I decided to shoot some video of Buffalo’s first-round pick on Thursday.

During a red zone drill, Watkins was going up against undrafted rookie cornerback Lew Toler (Rutgers) and made an ankle-breaking double move that resulted in an easy touchdown.

OK, I’ll post this one, I said to myself. People want to see Sammy Watkins, right?

Little did I know that 24 hours later there would be 200,000 views … 36 hours later there would be 400,000 views, and counting.

Does that qualify for being viral?

I think just may have shocked me more than Watkins’ move.

So, here it is. Take a look for yourself.

P.S.

Here’s another one if you want to check it out.

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August 13, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: ‘Pittsburgh North’ invading Steelers camp for joint practices

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Bill's GM Whaley_0LATROBE, Pa. — Arizona is referred to as ‘Pittsburgh West’ around here because of the number of former Steelers now with the organization, and for good reason.

Five former Steelers are on the Cardinals current roster (Jonathan Dwyer, Larry Foote, Max Starks, Alameda Ta’amu, Reggie Dunn) along with five coaches (Bruce Arians, Harold Goodwin, Amos Jones, Brentson Buckner, Larry Zierlein) and a couple others with ties to the area (Roger Kingdom, Buddy Morris).

But there is also a pretty strong Pittburgh-Buffalo connection as well.

The Bills and Steelers will hold joint practices on Wednesday and Thursday before playing their preseason game at Heinz Field on Saturday. It’s the first time the Steelers have held a joint practice since the 1990s, so it should make St. Vincent College quite an interesting place for a couple days, especially with the amount of Steelers connections now associated with the Bills.

This is for sure: Directions to get around the St. Vincent College campus won’t be needed for the Bills.

Consider this:

• Bills GM Doug Whaley (Upper St. Clair/Pitt) worked as a Pro Personnel Assistant for the Steelers in 1995 and then as the Pro Scouting Coordinator from 1999-09

• Bills Director of College Scouting Kelvin Fisher (Ambridge) was a College Scout for the Steelers from 2000-12

• Bills OL Kraig Urbik was a third-round pick and a member of the Steelers during the 2009 season.

• Bills FB Frank Summers was a fifth-round selection of the Steelers in 2009.

• Bills P Brian Moorman spent the 2013 Training Camp with the Steelers.

• Bills DL Corbin Bryant spent time on the Steelers practice squad in 2011 and 2012.

• Bills OL Doug Legursky played for the Steelers from 2009-12.

• Bills LB Stevenson Sylvester played for the Steelers from 2010-2013.

That alone should make it an interesting couple of days to wrap up Camp Tomlin 2014.

Throw in some poor weather expected and some usually hot tempers associated with joint practices and what a way to end a three-week stay at St. Vincent College.

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August 12, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Jarvis Jones is more than a one-trick pony this year

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-- Photo by Chaz Palla Jarvis Jones celebrates his sacks against the Giants on Saturday.

— Photo by Chaz Palla
Jarvis Jones celebrates his sacks against the Giants on Saturday.

Jarvis Jones is just like every other football players in the NFL – he watches a lot of film.

Saying that, it’s pretty certain that the film Jones has been studying isn’t being looked at by any other linebacker in the league.

Jones said has been watching tape of former Steelers linebacker and current defensive assistant Joey Porter to help his pass-rushing repertoire.

It’s already paying off.

Jones, who had only sack as a rookie first-round pick last year, sacked Eli Manning on the fifth defensive play of the first preseason game.

Sure, it was only the preseason and came against backup Charles Brown, but it was encouraging because of how he got to the quarterback – an inside move.

Jones is a speed guy and really didn’t use an inside move last year. It made him predictable and easy to block. Jones was being labeled as a one-trick pony. Not anymore.

“Last year I was always (rushing) outside, outside, outside rather than going inside,” Jones was telling me on Monday. “I didn’t start to go inside until near the end of last year. If they sit there and watch film and see you go outside all the time, they are going to jump you outside. They see I am going inside they now have to play both ways. You just can’t jump me off the line. Now you have to honor my speed up field and the inside.”

And you know darn well mixing up pass rushing moves is something that Porter has been preaching.

During training camp, you can hear Porter coaching up the pass-rushers by constantly reminding them to mix up their moves from outside, inside and bull rushes. Not only that, but what moves to use on what players.

During a practice last week, Porter made it quite clear that guys like Jones shouldn’t be using their good moves against tight ends. To paraphrase Porter: Tight ends don’t want to block you.

“He’s been a great help to me since Day 1 he has been here,” Jones said. “He is slowing the game down for me a whole lot as far as detail work and technique, hand placement, getting off the ball and reading keys and stuff like that. He is helping me become a great pass rusher.”

Porter did have 98 career sacks in which 60 of them came while with the Steelers from 1999-2006. The Steelers hired Porter in the spring to specifically work with the pass rushers and most notably Jones.

“When you go back and look at the film, we kind of play the same way,” Jones said. “He was very athletic – probably more athletic than me. I go back and watch film and some of the moves he made to add different things to my repertoire. What really works is when you get to see it and transition it into the game.”

So far, so good.

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August 7, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Does Tuitt have the ‘integrity’ to start right away?

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-- Photo by Chaz Palla Rookie defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt has impressed early in training camp.

— Photo by Chaz Palla
Rookie defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt has impressed early in training camp.

Mike Tomlin absolutely loves Stephon Tuitt, and really, when have you heard Mike Tomlin gush over anybody?

When was the last time you heard Dick LeBeau praise a rookie, let alone a rookie two weeks into training camp?

Usually it goes something like this when you bring up rookies to LeBeau: “It’s not a defense you can come in and play right away. I will never apologize for my defense being hard to learn” or something along those lines.

Yeah, the rookie second-round pick out of Notre Dame has been that impressive two weeks into camp.

Impressive enough to shove Cam Thomas – a guy they gave $4 million over two years in the offseason to play end – to nose tackle to fill in for the concussed Steve McLendon so Tuitt can get reps with the first team.

Thursday will be the fifth consecutive practice that Tuitt lines up at left defensive end with the first team. It is almost assured that he will start Saturday’s first preseason game against the Giants.

This is about when and where we should temper the enthusiasm on Tuitt … at least for now.

Defensive ends in LeBeau’s 3-4 scheme very well could be the most difficult position to learn because of the discipline needed to be successful.

How many times have you heard “gap integrity” or “gap sound” come out of somebody’s mouth. It’s a real thing and it can be devastating, especially to a 3-4 defense.

What is gap inegrity? What that means is that for LeBeau’s defense to stop the run, everybody needs to be in a specific place. If you deviate from your gap assignment, it usually results in a pretty significant gain.

What makes it difficult for a defensive end like Tuitt – or any young defensive lineman — is to be discipline enough to be where you are supposed to be rather than where you think you should be.

How many times did you see Brett Keisel out of his gap over his career, and he’s one of the best to play for LeBeau.

Get out of your gap and the integrity of the defense is shot.

Gap integrity is not easy. Tuitt was a playmaker at Notre Dame and to shove that down the list of priorities for him won’t be a walk in the park.

Now, Tuitt was a pretty good with his gaps in Notre Dame’s 3-4, but this is a whole new level, as we all know.

So, maybe we all should be listening to defensive line coach John Mitchell right now instead of Tomlin or LeBeau. Mitchell told TribLive Radio’s Ken Laird last week: “We’ve been in camp five days and you guys want to make somebody out of something.”

Saying that, Tuitt is pretty good.

But remember, patience.

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August 6, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Mystery solved — McLendon has a concussion

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-- Photo by Chaz Palla Steve McLendon talks to coach Chris Hoke during practice on Monday.

— Photo by Chaz Palla
Steve McLendon talks to coach Chris Hoke during practice on Monday.

(UPDATE: Tomlin confirms McLendon is dealing with a concussion after practice on Wednesday, or 4 hours after this initial post.)

Speculation has been rampant on why nose tackle Steve McLendon sat out of the last three practices – one of which he wasn’t even on the sidelines watching.

From Mike Tomlin wanting to get a good look at rookie Stephon Tuitt to McLendon being in Tomlin’s doghouse have been floated around as reasons why McLendon has been out.

The speculations have been warranted.

After all, Tomlin never gave a reason of why McLendon wasn’t practicing and McLendon told me early Wednesday that: “I’m OK. It’s Coach Tomlin’s call. It’s up to him. It’s his call.”

Turns out the reason why McLendon hasn’t practiced since Friday night is because he is dealing with a concussion.

McLendon did not show up to practice on Saturday at all. He was in shorts and a T-shirt on Sunday and Monday relegated to watching. The Steelers were off Tuesday.

It’s unknown when McLendon will return to practice.

McLendon is the second Steeler to miss time with a concussion this camp.

Receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey has been out since July 31 with what has been diagnosed as a concussion. Heyward-Bey said it’s the fifth concussion of his career, which includes one against the Steelers in 2012 in which he was unconscious for 10 minutes after a brutal hit was delivered by Ryan Mundy.

Heyward-Bey said that he and McLendon have talked about their symptoms.

“I saw him and asked him how he is doing. I say how is yours and how do you feel,” Heyward-Bey said. “His is different than mine and that’s just how life is.”

Heyward-Bey hit his head on the ground diving for a pass during a practice on July 31 and has yet to been cleared to participate.

“It’s not like another injury,” Heyward-Bey said. “It’s not a knee that you can tape up. There’s no rehab for it. You just have to wait until you feel 100 percent.”

 

 

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August 4, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Camp Tomlin has been physical, but smart … so far

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-- Chaz Palla The Steelers' Maurkice Pouncey (53) and Hebron Fangupo (yellow) get into a fight during practice Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, at St. Vincent in Latrobe

— Chaz Palla
The Steelers’ Maurkice Pouncey (53) and Hebron Fangupo (yellow) get into a fight during practice Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, at St. Vincent in Latrobe

Mike Tomlin has done this training camp thing a number of times already, so I am pretty sure he knows what he is doing.

Camp Tomlin No. 8 is nearly halfway over here at St. Vincent College and this one ranks up there as one of the most physical under his watch.

Well, as physical as it can be under the new CBA that limits a whole bunch of stuff, most notably two-a-days.

Still, this one has been intense. This one has been hard-hitting. This one has been chippy. Shoving, punching, hitting, fighting, jawing – you name it and it has/is going on.

Oh yeah, and physical.

There have been at least two live hitting drills – backs on backers, tight ends/outside linebackers, pass rushing/blocking, Oklahoma – and one competition team period during every practice.

That might not seem like much, but I would imagine that it would hard-pressed to find another team with that much live hitting in training camp.

All this hitting in camp and preseason seems like a disaster waiting to happen, right?

As previously mentioned, Tomlin knows what he is doing.

First of all, Troy Polamalu takes part in none of these live drills or periods, and rightfully so. The last thing you need is your All-Pro safety getting hurting in August.

During linemen drills, the first team on both sides of the ball go once – if they are lucky.

Ben Roethlisberger had a day off and so did Heath Miller.

Tomlin is taking care of the players who matter while pushing the younger guys to the brink to see how they react. He wants to see if there is legitimate player out there among the 40 or so he knows little about, and that’s good.

This camp is very unlike Tomlin’s first camp when he wore the down with double-digit two-a-days in August that surfaced near the end of the season and in the playoffs.

So, who is my camp phenom so far?

Will you believe Mike Tomlin?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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August 2, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Detailed account of ‘Friday Night Fights’

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-- Chaz Palla LeGarrette Blount dives on top of Vince Williams.

— Chaz Palla
LeGarrette Blount dives on top of Vince Williams.

Friday night under the lights quickly turned into Friday Night Fights at Latrobe Memorial Stadium.

And this one was brief, but a real doozy.

Midway through the much-anticipated and highly intense “backs on backers” drill, a melee broke out after linebacker Vince Williams and running back Le’Veon Bell refused to relent after the drill was clearly over.

Williams ended up on top of Bell in the back portion of the end zone, which apparently didn’t sit well with fellow running back LeGarrette Blount.

Blount, in street clothes and as a pure spectator, took such exception to Williams taking Bell to the ground and staying on top of him that he decided to do something about it.

Blount immediately tried to clear Williams off Bell with a diving forearm.

After that, it got interesting.

Players from the offense and defense gathered around pushing and shoving. Blount somehow found himself outside the mob, but that didn’t stop him.

Blount dove back in trying to get after Williams.

This is where things really got interesting.

Defensive assistant Joey Porter, who once got kicked out of a game in Cleveland for fighting running back William Green an hour before the game even started, turned into “Peacemaker Peezy.”

Porter grabbed Blount and yanked him off the pile. Porter then stood in front of Blount preventing him from going back after Williams. Blount had a couple words with Porter before finally walking away.

Williams had his helmet ripped off his head. His facemask was yanked so violently that it got pulled through the hard plastic clips that keep it secure to the helmet.

The fight was over, but there were some more fireworks after that.

Throughout the remainder of the drill, Blount and Williams were jawing at each other across the field. The one thing I heard was: “I’ll get you tomorrow.”

Afterwards, Mike Tomlin addressed what happened.

“It’s the ebb and flow associated with team development,” said Tomlin. “The tight ends kicked the linebackers butts the other day, and the linebackers came back today with a vengeance. It’s what team development is about. I would imagine the backs and tight ends come out here tomorrow with a get-back attitude. It is an emotional game, and they do lose that element of it sometimes. But those things are growth opportunities, and opportunities for us to teach. All of that is part of team development, even when it’s a little bit negative.

“It is emotional, and at times you’re going to feel like you’ve been wronged, but at the same time you have to keep your wits about you, because we step into stadiums with one goal in mind, and that’s to win. Obviously, 15-yard penalties don’t help us in that cause.”

Throughout the melee, Tomlin never moved a muscle. Although he did have a word with Blount a little after it all settled down.

The fight definitely was escalated by Blount’s actions, but how can’t you like a guy sticking up for his teammate and backfield partner like that?

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