If you think the Pittsburgh Steelers couldn't wait to put on full pads Monday, their fans and media members who cover the team were just as excited because the training camp high-point known as "Backs-on-Backers" would finally be part of the action at Saint Vincent College.
Backs-on-Backers is a form of the old "Oklahoma" drill where linebackers blitz a "quarterback" (generally a ball-boy who appears to be scared to death), and running backs, fullbacks and tight ends have to pick up the blitz. The linebackers clearly have an advantage, because they get a running start at the blocker, but Coach Mike Tomlin "leveled the playing field" Monday by announcing who the blitzer would be instead of having two guys ready to go.
That didn't stop No. 1 pick Jarvis Jones from shining. By my count, he only lost one opportunity against Le'Veon Bell, got the better of Bell a couple times and won two other battles. Jones displayed speed, athleticism and strength. Some believed that size would be an issue for the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Jones, who does not appear to be that big.
"Coach already told me that he wanted to see what I could do when we got the pads on, and I was ready for it." Jones said. "I brought it. I gave some and took some, too. (But) we were trying to toughen up our running backs and give them the best looks that we can."
Jones went with his No. 1 blitz move more often than not.
"You know, I'm going to do down the middle and try to light 'em up," Jones said. "But, at the same time, you've always got to have a counter to keep my legs out of it."
Bell had a decent day, overall, and it didn't appear that blocking and picking up blitzers would be an issue for him if he has to do a lot of that this season. Bell is listed at 6-1, 244 pounds, and he is solid. He also looked good running the ball, especially behind the No. 1 line when he was the featured back.
"I know I still have a lot of technique work to do, but I'm working at it, and I think I'm growing as a player," Bell said. "I feel like I was pretty comfortable, especially in full pads. ... I was able to compete, and I feel like I held my own.
Bell's focus is on improvement.
"I've been going with the ones (first team) a lot. We all rotate in different situations on different days, but I wasn't surprised that I got with them so often, especially at the end in the final period. I just want to keep getting more reps and getting better."
Veteran linebackers Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley got a few chances to blitz, but the coaches know what they can do. So, others got opportunities, and several took advantage. Marshall McFadden (6-1, 233), a first-year player from South Carolina State, was on and off the Steelers active roster and practice squad last season -- after not securing a spot with an NFL team in 2011 -- and he should make an impact at least on special teams this year.
McFadden's opening collision with Baron Batch was spectacular, with Batch hold strong, but the young running back was faked out quite often after that and needs to work on his technique a little more. McFadden could be a player to watch, at least from his early efforts in camp, but he has more work to do in the regular defense. Special teams could be a way for both to make the team.
Smallish running backs Curtis McNeal and LaRod Stephens-Howling had a tough time, although they displayed toughness and strength. It's just that their lack of size made it difficult with the backers getting a flying start. Isaac Redman and Will Johnson were solid, while Jonathan Dwyer struggled in a couple chances.
Along with McFadden, Alan Baxter, Chris Carter and Stevenson Sylvester looked pretty good. Tight end David Paulson held his own, while Peter Tuitupou struggled during his opportunities.
Tomlin said that the status remained the same for cornerbacks Cortez Allen (knee) and DeMarcus Van Dyke (hamstring), but the two have a chance to return Wednesday afternoon after Tuesday's off day.