Safety Robert Golden carved his niche in the NFL by excelling on special teams in his first two seasons. Pro Football Focus, a football analytics web site, ranked Golden as the second-best special teams player in the league last season.
But Golden eventually would like to earn a bigger role, and he has a chance to open some eyes this week with starting free safety Mike Mitchell out with a groin injury.
Golden, an undrafted free agent entering his third season, and Shamarko Thomas each took some reps with the first-team defense Wednesday afternoon.
Steelers Training Camp Report: July 31 Recap
Steelers beat writer Gerry Dulac and Ray Fittipaldo talk about what's happening at training camp. (Video by Peter Diana; 7/31/2014)
Golden played in some defensive sub-packages in the first four games last season, but once veteran Will Allen was re-signed after the fourth game, Golden’s playing time decreased dramatically. Of his 51 defensive snaps last season, all but one came in the first four games.
Allen had been taking the reps with the first-team defense in the first few practices in training camp.
“Any time you are able to get some reps out there, you want to take advantage of them,” Golden said. “I always want to take advantage of every opportunity.
“If it’s special teams, it’s special teams. But I definitely want to be a safety. I feel like I came in the league to be a safety. Coaches liked it when I played safety last year.”
Golden said coach Mike Tomlin gave him some specific advice on ways to improve over the offseason, including his angles to ball and finishing plays better than last season.
“I feel like I worked on them and now I want to prove what I can do,” Golden said.
Starting running back Le’Veon Bell missed his second consecutive practice with a hamstring injury. Rookie draft picks Rob Blanchflower and Jordan Zumwalt also sat out practice with injuries.
Blanchflower, a tight end, has a high ankle sprain that Tomlin said will keep him out at least a week. Zumwalt, a linebacker, is day-to-day with a groin injury.
Rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier bruised his leg when he broke up a pass in team drills, but he said he would not miss any time.
Left guard Roman Foster practiced after missing the first four days of camp mourning the death of his mother. … With Foster’s return, Chris Hubbard, who had been working with the first-team offense, dropped to the second team. Cody Wallace continued to take the second-team reps at center.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. RJ Schaffer contributed to this report.