LATROBE – If Monday’s initial day of practice in pads at Steelers training camp was, as head coach Mike Tomlin said, like the first day of school, top draft picks Jarvis Jones and Le’Veon Bell earned themselves some homework.
The Steelers, as has become their tradition under Tomlin, held a spirited backs on backers drill on Monday. And if either Jones, the team’s No. 1 pick, or Bell, the No. 2 selection, had any doubts about the intensity of the session, they were immediately erased when linebacker Marshall McFadden and running back Baron Batch nearly came to blows early in the period.
“Get out of there. Kick his a-- on tape,” running backs coach Kirby Wilson yelled at Batch as he pulled the third-year back away from the first-year linebacker.
For players such as Batch and McFadden, who are fighting for their professional lives, the hard-nosed drill, which simulates a blitz pickup for the running backs, is a litmus test of their toughness.
For Jones and Bell, it marked a welcome-to-the-NFL rookie moment.
Bell, a 6-1, 244-pound running back, got plenty of action, drawing outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, then inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons on his first two attempts.
The drill consists of the two linebackers lining up at the line of scrimmage while the running back sets up in the backfield. A coach then signals to the pass rushers to let them know who is rushing, without letting the running back know. Toward the end of Monday’s drill, head coach Mike Tomlin levelled the playing field a bit by saying which linebacker he wanted to rush.
“We had drills like that in college,” said Bell, who split first-team carries at running back with Isaac Redman in the final team portion of the practice. “It was a little different, because we had to read who was coming. Coach Tomlin evened it out a little at the end by saying who was coming. At first, we had to read who was coming.”
“I acknowledge that it’s tough on the backs, let alone trying to figure out if it’s Woodley or Timmons coming at you,” Tomlin said.
Bell was bested in his first attempt by Woodley and didn’t fare much better in his second attempt against Timmons.
But he fared better in his next attempt, stopping third-year linebacker Chris Carter.
At that point, the coaching staff began pairing Bell and Jones, a 6-2, 245-pound outside linebacker.
On their first pairing, Bell held Jones to a stalemate.
“I like this,” Tomlin yelled. “Same two again. Move to counter (Jones). Don’t just stalemate.”
Jones, who led the nation in sacks last season at Georgia with 14.5, got the better of the next two meetings, driving Bell backward into the quarterback.
But it was Bell who finished off the feisty competition by battling Jones to a standstill on the fourth attempt, using some knowledge he had picked up from the first three to his advantage.
“The first one, I won; the next two, Jarvis got me,” said Bell, who is battling Redman and Jonathan Dwyer for playing time at running back. “The fourth one, I noticed that he kept hitting with his hands in a bull rush, so I got my hands up on him. So it was 2-2. I kind of wanted to go again to have the tiebreaker.”
That will have to wait for another time, perhaps later in the week.
“I think it’s an easy match, isn’t it?” said Tomlin. “Obviously, they’re two young guys, high draft picks and a lot is expected of them. To pit one against the other in competition is appropriate. I’m sure they’ll see more of each other.”
And the Steelers hope both continue to learn more through the experiences.
“That’s a process that we’ll continue to go through,” Tomlin said. “Obviously, there is some initial shock that is associated with the speed of the professional game. But over the next couple of weeks, there will be an opportunity to adjust to it in many ways.”
Odds and end zones
Three cornerbacks, Cortez Allen (knee), DeMarcus Van Dyke (hamstring) and Terry Hawthorne (knee) missed practice Monday. … The Steelers have a day off today before returning to practice on Wednesday. The 3 p.m. session is open to the public. … Jones had one of the best defensive plays of the day, batting a Ben Roethlisberger pass into the air as he rushed the quarterback. Roethlisberger caught the batted ball out of the air but was grabbed by another defender before he could advance.