The Steelers will break up the monotony of training camp today and Thursday when they play host to the Buffalo Bills for two joint practices before the first home preseason game Saturday night.
The joint practices will be a first for coach Mike Tomlin and most of his players. Outside linebacker Arthur Moats, who played for the Buffalo the past four seasons, has kept an eye on some of the other joint practices around the league and expects the workouts to have an edge.
“Anytime you have two professional teams going at it, regardless of whether it’s a practice setting or game setting, you know it’s going to be competitive,” Moats said. “Anytime you get a chance to compete against another professional team, you get to gauge yourself. It’s the game before the game for us, so we’re excited about it.”
In addition, the practices will give the Steelers an opportunity to work against a 4-3 defensive front for the first time this summer.
“They’re a good dance partner for us because they do things a little bit differently than we do,” Tomlin said. “It will be great to get in a practice situation and hone our skills. I’m sure they feel the same way.”
Offensive line coach Mike Munchak held joint practices with the Atlanta Falcons when he was a coach with the Tennessee Titans. He said such practices give coaches a chance to evaluate their personnel in a much different setting than the standard training camp practices.
“We did it quite often,” Munchak said. “I think it’s great. It is a lot different. You get comfortable going against each other. After a few days of camp, you’re familiar with each other. You know plays, tendencies. This is something where you get to see guys adjust on the job without a lot of preparation.”
Munchak the lobbyist
Munchak said he will lobby to keep nine offensive linemen, one more than the team kept last season. Munchak said there are reasons for keeping four reserves.
“You want to have as many guys as you can,” he said. “It’s hard to find one. You always think you can find them on the street, but they’re hard to find, especially if you want them to come in and help right away and especially with the things we’re doing on offense.
“These guys have to be versatile. With the things we’re doing with the no-huddle, three tight ends, two backs … you hope to have guys from within that will play the season.”
That roster spot could come from the tight-end group. The Steelers kept four tight ends last season, but that could change this season because Will Johnson is making the transition from fullback to tight end and can serve a dual role.
When the Steelers hired Munchak to coach the offensive line, it was widely assumed he would implement the zone-blocking scheme and make it a staple of their running game. But Munchak has not force-fed the zone scheme on his linemen. For now, Munchak said the zone runs will complement the power game the Steelers used in previous years.
“We have it in,” Munchak said. “In practice, we’ve been mixing it in quite a bit. If [the starters] had played longer, you’d have seen four or five more opportunities. There may be games we stick that [in] more. It’s important to have it available. They can block it. We’ll be good at that. It will complement what we’re trying to do.”
Inside linebacker Vince Williams left practice early and is being evaluated for a concussion, Tomlin said. … The only starter to miss practice was outside linebacker Jarvis Jones. … Inside linebacker and first-round draft pick Ryan Shazier (knee) participated in a limited capacity for a second consecutive day. … Practices continue to be feisty. Wide receiver Antonio Brown and rookie cornerback Shaquille Richardson fought, as did offensive tackle Mike Adams and defensive lineman Cam Thomas in a one-on-one pass-rush drill. … The Steelers placed punter Adam Podlesh on the reserved/did not report list. Podlesh, signed this spring, has not participated in training camp because his wife recently gave birth after a difficult pregnancy. Podlesh can return to the team later in camp. Tomlin said he does not have any plans as of now to bring in another punter. Free agent Brad Wing continues to take the punting reps in camp.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.