PITTSBURGH — The Steelers are 2-0 this preseason — like the 2010 team, like the 2005 team.
Should fans begin making Super Bowl plans?
“It’s a good start,” Cam Heyward said with a friendly shake of the head. “I don’t put all my eggs in the basket that way. But we’re winning games and still learning a lot — whether it’s up front, being more sound in our assignments. I thought we got some good pressure on the quarterback.”
Heyward’s excited about the mental acuity of his defensive teammates. They kept the vaunted Chiefs offense and NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes off the scoreboard for two series before Mahomes was replaced at QB Saturday night.
The Steelers didn’t sack Mahomes, but they got to Chad Henne on the third series when Bud Dupree got “home” on a stunt with Heyward.
“We talk about our communication on the fly,” Heyward said. “We were able to do that (stunt) and just execute it really well.”
Heyward emphasized the improvement in communication, but was asked if this might be the most athletic defensive unit of his pro career.
“That’s interesting,” Heyward said. “I like to think that before Shay got hurt (in 2017) we were approaching good territory then. We’ll see. Only time will tell. But we’ve got a good foundation, a good group of guys. I think our technique has improved a lot, from the front end to the back end. Hopefully that translates to winning some more games.”
Heyward’s impression of Devin Bush?
The rookie inside linebacker/playcaller out of Michigan missed the K.C. game with a sore shoulder but returned to practice this week.
“We haven’t had a chance to play on the field together,” Heyward said. “I think he’s a heck of a kid. Shoot, watching him the first game I was like ‘Damn, this kid has a lot of talent.’ And I don’t like saying that about a lot of Wolverines.”
Heyward, of course, attended Ohio State.
SKIPPER OF THE BOAT
He was born in the Bronx, bounced from group homes to foster homes since the age of six, attended three elementary schools, two middle schools and three high schools in Connecticut, went back to New York for junior college, received a scholarship from Toledo, tore his ACL as a junior, came back as a senior season and led the Rockets with 8.5 sacks.
He’s seen the underbelly of life, but has been able to sidestep it because he’s driven to play in the NFL.
But Tuzar Skipper wasn’t drafted, wasn’t signed. He only became one of Pittsburgh’s 90 this year after impressing coaches in a tryout at rookie minicamp.
After two preseason games, Skipper two sacks, five tackles, five QB hits and a fumble recovery. Teammates are bringing up the name James Harrison to him.
“They do, but I just want to be myself,” said the 24-year-old rookie. “I just want people when they talk about me to talk about me, not other past players.
“Don’t get me wrong. He’s a Hall of Famer. No disrespect to him. But I just want to be Tuzar.”
Skipper certainly smiles more easily than Harrison. But the 6-2 3/8, 248-pounder does have Harrison-like strength. At his pro day, Skipper only ran a 4.89 40, but with long 33-inch arms he pushed up the bar (225 pounds) 30 times. That’s O-line strong.
While he’s not much for dropping back into coverage, Skipper’s more of a defensive end whose best pass-rushing asset is a punch that jumps out on preseason tape when he staggers opposing tackles.
“My high school coach always said I had a punch,” Skipper said. “I never really knew what he meant by that in high school. You’re young and you don’t really know. You think you know everything, but you really don’t. And then once I got to Division One, to Toledo, I realized how effective that punch can be. Now that I’m here at the ultimate level, I realize, ‘OK, this punch is something serious.’ It’s not like a little punch. It’s something really serious.”
Skipper has used it to step into the second team as a replacement for former college teammate Ola Adeniyi, who’s expected to miss a month following meniscus surgery.
Does Skipper have a nickname yet?
“You’re the second person to ask me about a nickname within 24 hours,” he said with a laugh. “I’m waiting for them to give me one. I just want to go out there and give them a show. Whatever nickname they give me that’s suitable, I’ll rock with it. They call me Tooz, Skip, Zar. Usually it’s more like Zar, Skip. I don’t mind being called Skipper. Once they call Skipper, I let them know I’m the captain of this boat now.”
“He’s been a bright spot,” said Heyward. “He plays with good pad level. He’s making a lot of plays. Not a lot can be said in just two preseason games, but I like his attention to detail when it comes to pass rush.”
POUNCEY: FEILER THE RT
Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro returned to practice this week and according to Pouncey we saw the starting line out there as Matt Feiler moved back to right tackle after a week-plus spent playing both right and left guard.
“The guys were looking good out there,” Pouncey said. “Everybody’s passing things out the right way, running the ball the right way. Really good practice.”
And Feiler’s the first-team right tackle?
“Oh yeah, hell yeah,” Pouncey said. “He was starting last year. He went out and balled out. To take that position, you gotta go out there and be an All-Pro. He deserves it.”
ROOKIE LB REPORT
Sutton Smith returned to practice this week. The sixth-round pass-rusher who compiled 29 sacks and 56.5 tackles-for-loss the last two seasons at Northern Illinois missed the first two preseason games with a rib injury.
“It’s definitely eating at me,” Smith said. “I want to get out there. It’s football time. I’m ready to go.”
Another sixth-round pick, ILB Ulysees Gilbert, also out of the MAC, the University of Akron, is coming off his second impressive preseason showing, this time much earlier and against better competition.
In two games, Gilbert has six tackles (five solo), 1.5 sacks, four QB hits, a forced fumble and a special teams tackle. He also showed off athleticism and instincts in a couple of other plays Saturday night.
In one, Gilbert ran stride for stride with speedy slot receiver Mecole Hardman, and in another Gilbert backed off a block that allowed Diontae Spencer a 38-yard punt return.
“I just tried to get in front of the ball and put my hands up so I wouldn’t hit (the punt gunner) in the back, and it was perfect,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert’s impression of Spencer as a return man?
“He’s really good,” Gilbert said. “He’s fast.”
Like Hardman? The speedster out of Georgia?
“Number 17, right?” Gilbert asked. “Yeah, Coach (James) Daniels was talking about him today, said he runs like a 4.2, 4.3.”
Gilbert was timed by the Steelers at 4.46 at his pro day, and that speed has been evident on the field.