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Inside the ropes: Contested catch brings new rule into focus

August 12, 2018
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Steelers tight end Jesse James pulls in a catch between Nat Berhe and Matthew Thomas during practice Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018 at Saint Vincent College.

The NFL’s new catch rule, in which a receiver no longer has to “survive the ground,” was tested Sunday at Steelers practice on a pass from Landry Jones to tight end Xavier Grimble.

The Steelers were working on goal-line situations when Jones called a fade to the left corner of the end zone. Running back Fitz Toussaint blocked a linebacker, and Jones feathered the pass that was defended by linebacker Vince Williams.

Grimble made the leaping catch with Williams in tight coverage. But when Grimble fell to the ground, the ball became dislodged.

Two officials - not from the NFL - conferred and signaled touchdown. While the offensive players celebrated, those on defense questioned the call.

Cornerback Mike Hilton, watching from behind the end zone, chirped to the officials, “How much are they paying you?”

Coach Mike Tomlin preferred not to enter the debate.

“You guys can chew on that and talk about that,” he said. “For the purposes of unique and good discussions, let’s say it was a catch under the guise of the new rule. I didn’t have a good enough look, to be honest with you. The play was moving away from me.”

Practice highlights:

• Because of the inclement weather, the traditional “Seven Shots” drill was truncated to “Five Shots.” The offense snapped an eight-practice losing streak by scoring a 3-2 edge over the defense. Ben Roethlisberger connected on a fade with James Conner and a slant with Justin Hunter before turning the drill over to the second team. Jones threw a touchdown pass to tight end Bucky Hodges, but had a pair of incompletions to tight end Pharoah McKever.

• Roethlisberger’s work in team drills ended after “Five Shots.” Jones, Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph finished practice under center.

• On a short-yardage play, Rudolph lofted a nice pass to tight end Jesse James along the right sideline. James made the catch and tumbled out of bounds with safety Nat Berhe and linebacker Matthew Thomas in coverage.

“It’s important that we make situational combat catches,” Tomlin said. “That’s really exciting. Jesse ... getting a significant chunk of grass. It’s important you make defenses defend a vertical field on a short field so you’re not playing in a closet. That’s what that play was about.”

• On goal-line running plays, the offense converted just one of five attempts. James Conner was 1 for 2, finding the end zone on his second try. Jaylen Samuels ran wide left and was tripped up by safety Jordan Dangerfield. Stevan Ridley was brought down by Tyler Matakevich on a run to the right side. Jarvion Franklin also was stopped short on a run to the right side.

• The goal-line defense package included little-used nose tackle Dan McCullers on the field next to Javon Hargrave.

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