Steelers notebook: Backup running backs get extended looks

August 23, 2018
Steelers notebook: Backup running backs get extended looks
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Steelers receiver Damoun Patterson beats Brian Allen during practice Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018 at Saint Vincent College.

James Conner was a bystander before the end of the first practice session Sunday, watching the rest of practice with an ice bag on his right groin. Stevan Ridley also wasn’t involved in any of the team drills.

Was it a reason to be concerned for a Pittsburgh Steelers running back group that already is without Le’Veon Bell for a second consecutive training camp?

Not quite, coach Mike Tomlin said.

“I wanted to see some of the younger guys,” Tomlin said. “Like I’ve said to you guys repeatedly, there will be unique rotations, particularly as we get into this thing. I want to see guys in certain situations, so it might mean minimizing guys. In the end, we’re going to give everyone a fair evaluation.”

The absence of Conner and Ridley allowed veteran Fitz Toussaint to get work with the first team. Fifth-round pick Jaylen Samuels also saw a heavier workload.

Returning to practice were right tackle Marcus Gilbert (birth of a child) and center Maurkice Pouncey (day off). That gave the Steelers four-fifths of their starting offensive linemen, with Matt Feiler filling in at left guard.

B.J. Finney, who sustained a left quad contusion Thursday in the preseason opener, was back on the practice field but only for individual drills. Finney watched team drills and had an ice bag on his left quad.

Also getting closer to returning is outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who missed his 10th consecutive practice. Watt was involved in the team stretch and did some agility work before heading off to an adjacent field to work with conditioning coordinator Garret Giemont. Outside linebacker Bud Dupree (concussion/birth of a child) also did not practice.

The secondary was without starting free safety Sean Davis for the second day in a row. Fifth-round pick Marcus Allen, who left practice early Saturday, also did not participate.

Like Watt, tight end Vance McDonald sat out a 10th practice in a row.

“Nothing has changed,” Tomlin said about McDonald’s status.

Massive tackle joins team

The Steelers added depth to the banged-up offensive line by signing 6-foot-8, 360-pound tackle Zach Banner to a contract.

Banner, a fourth-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 2017, posted a picture of his signing on his verified Twitter account.

Banner provides competition for the team’s swing tackle spot. Jerald Hawkins was lost to a season-ending injury in organized team activities, and veteran Bryce Harris was released after he failed the conditioning test at the outset of training camp.

To make room for Banner on the roster, the Steelers waived/injured offensive lineman Kyle Meadows, who had been added to the camp roster in the wake of Foster’s injury

Despite being a fourth-round pick, Banner, 24, didn’t make the Colts roster at the end of training camp last year. He was claimed on waivers by the Cleveland Browns and played in eight games last season.

The Browns cut Banner in the offseason, and he spent two months on the Carolina Panthers roster. Banner became a free agent when the Panthers released him May 31.

Banner started 37 of 39 career games at USC.

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