NFL Nation: Tauren Poole

Most significant move: The Steelers cut a pair of players who appeared in games for them last season. In the process, their plans along the defensive line came more into focus. The team released defensive end Brian Arnfelt, who appeared in two games at the end of last season, and nose tackle Hebron Fangupo, who played in four games in 2013. Josh Mauro, an undrafted rookie, has the edge for the last defensive spot if the Steelers keep seven defensive linemen, and rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers, a sixth-round pick, is almost sure to stick on the 53-man roster. Defensive end Ethan Hemer may be the odd man out with defensive end Nick Williams and nose tackle Roy Philon likely grabbing spots on the practice squad. Arnfelt entered training camp with a good chance at making the team, but the second-year man fell out of favor with the coaches and Mauro passed him at defensive end. Williams still has a chance to unseat Mauro if he plays well in the Steelers’ final preseason game Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers.

Running back shuffle: The Steelers are down to five running backs after releasing three at that position Tuesday, including Tauren Poole, who got a long look from the coaches. A roster spot is there for the taking if either Josh Harris or Stephen Houston seizes the final opportunity against the Panthers. The Steelers may go with three running backs and fullback Will Johnson even given the uncertain status of starter Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. Coach Mike Tomlin has said the team is considering all options as far as punishment following their arrest on marijuana possession charges. (Bell has also been charged with driving under the influence.) That includes a suspension -- and the Steelers can maneuver around the collective bargaining agreement by simply deactivating Bell, Blount or both for the Sept. 7 season opener against the Browns. I don’t expect the Steelers to sit either for an entire game, and a suspension from the NFL wouldn’t come until next season. That means Harris or Houston will have to play his way on to the 53-man roster, or the two could be vying for a spot on the practice squad. The Steelers will also keep an eye on the waiver wire to see which running backs become available at the end of the week.

Steelers’ moves: Arnfelt, S Jordan Dangerfield, C Chris Elkins, Fangupo, WR C.J. Goodwin, RB Jordan Hall, LS Luke Ingram, RB Miguel Maysonet, OT Emmanuel McCray, WR Kashif Moore, Poole, CB Devin Smith, OLB Vic So’oto, CB Lew Toler, TE Eric Waters

W2W4: Pittsburgh Steelers

August, 16, 2014
Aug 16
12:00
PM ET
The Buffalo Bills (1-1) and Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1) play Saturday night at Heinz Field.
  • The first-team offense will get its first extended action of the preseason, and you can look for the starters to play at least a quarter. Ben Roethlisberger put together a nice drive in the only series the veteran quarterback played last Saturday night against the Giants, but the Steelers couldn’t finish it. They had to settle for a Shaun Suisham field goal after the offense stalled inside the Giants’ 10-yard line. “That’s certainly a trend we don’t want to start, not finishing off our drive,” tight end Heath Miller said. “We need to be better in the red zone.” The Steelers also need to be better when it comes to extending drives. They converted just 2 of 14 times on third down in the 20-16 loss to the Giants.
  • All signs point to rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier playing in his first preseason game. Shazier, who didn’t play against the Giants because of a bruised knee, was a full participant in the Steelers’ final practice of training camp. The speedy Shazier has been impressive when he has been on the practice field. Now it’s time for the first-round pick to show what he can do in a game. The first-team defense should be intact with Shazier’s anticipated NFL debut and strong safety Troy Polamalu also expected to play against the Bills. Coach Mike Tomlin didn’t play Polamalu against the Giants, but the eight-time Pro Bowler needs to get some game action with new free safety Mike Mitchell.
  • A number of players who showed progress in camp could make a move in the game, and that is critical to their push for a spot on the 53-man roster. Tomlin said that the last week of camp (which concluded with a pair of joint practices with the Bills at St. Vincent College) and the Steelers’ second preseason camp is when separation among players fighting for a roster spot really occurs. That should keep fans from changing the channel after the starters have been taken out of the game. Linebacker Dan Molls, who led the Steelers with nine tackles against the Giants, should see extended playing time if Vince Williams (concussion) and Jordan Zumwalt (groin) don’t play against the Bills. Other players to watch include defensive end Josh Mauro, tight end Eric Waters, running back Tauren Poole, outside linebacker Howard Jones and safety Jordan Dangerfield. “I told a couple of guys we’re calling for a third defense [in practice] and in a couple of weeks there will be no third defense,” Tomlin said earlier this week. “So if you’re on the third defense you better make a move.”
LATROBE, Pa. -- A seemingly forgotten linebacker has hit harder than some of the storms that swept through the area during the Pittsburgh Steelers' first week of training camp.

Vince Williams jolted Le'Veon Bell several times during a back-on-'backers drill last Friday night, leading to the first fight of camp. The next day Williams walloped running back Miguel Maysonet and Tauren Poole in separate drills, putting him among the players who have stood out since the pads have gone on and started popping.

"Vince brings a great deal of emotion and intensity to his work. He has that distinguishing characteristic," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He had it at Florida State and it continues. It's a good thing to build his game around."

Williams started 11 games last season following the loss of Larry Foote, and the sixth-round draft pick made significant progress during his rookie campaign. But he opened offseason practices behind rookie first-round pick Ryan Shazier on the depth chart at weakside inside linebacker, and Shazier has only tightened his grip on Williams' former job.

Williams lacks Shazier's speed and athleticism, two attributes that are vital with offenses increasingly spreading out defenses, but man can he deliver a shot. The Steelers will count on Williams doing that in a reserve role at linebacker as well as on special teams.

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. The Steelers have an abundance of talent at inside linebacker a year after they had to start a player who had previously worked as an insurance adjuster for two games at the position. Williams gives them solid depth inside and Sean Spence looks like he will contribute two years after suffering a career-threatening knee injury. The Steelers are so deep at inside linebacker that Terence Garvin, who played 15 games as a rookie last season, will have to battle to make the team. One of the final roster spots could come down to Garvin and rookie sixth-round pick Jordan Zumwalt.

[+] EnlargeVince Williams
Jason Bridge/USA TODAY SportsSecond-year linebacker Vince Williams has made an impact during Steelers training camp this summer.
2. Ben Roethlisberger has looked sharp and focused despite talk swirling around him about his contract situation and former teammate Emmanuel Sanders' claim that Peyton Manning is a far better leader than Roethlisberger. Sanders, who is now with the Denver Broncos, might reassess his evaluation if he watched Roethlisberger for a couple of days during training camp. The 11th-year quarterback has been coaching the Steelers' wide receiver as much as he has been throwing to them, barking at them if they run a wrong or sloppy route or drop a ball, but also praising them when they make a good play. He has also stayed after practice to throw to his receivers.

3. The offensive line has a chance to be really good if it can stay relatively healthy. The Steelers already appear to be set with their starting five, and that group can use camp and the preseason games to work together on the new technique and schemes the line is learning from new position coach Mike Munchak. The line, which returns four starters from 2013 as well as Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey from a knee injury, has taken to the coaching of Munchak. It has also taken personally that the Steelers averaged just 86.4 rushing yards per game last season. One of the offensive line's goals this season is for the Steelers to rank among the NFL's top 10 teams in rushing.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Running back LeGarrette Blount's on-field behavior has been a little unsettling, and you have to wonder if the raw emotion that he couldn't check when he dived onto Vince Williams during the first fight of camp will resurface if he doesn't get the ball enough during the regular season. Bell is entrenched as the starter and he is clearly the better all-around back then Blount. The Steelers also want to get speedy rookie Dri Archer involved in the running game. How many carries that leaves for Blount remains to be seen. If he becomes unhappy with his role in the offense that could become an issue.

2. Groin injuries haven't become an epidemic but they have been an issue at camp and cost several players valuable practice time. New starting free safety Mike Mitchell, who arrived at camp with a groin injury, has yet to practice and he needs to develop a good on-field rapport with strong safety Troy Polamalu. The two did not practice together much during the offseason since Polamalu skipped the voluntary organized team activities (OTAs) and it has to be at least a small concern to the Steelers that they have yet to work together in camp. Jordan Zumwalt also missed significant practice time with a groin injury stunting his development. Zumwalt has a real chance to make the 53-man roster, but after missing OTAs because UCLA's school year hadn't ended, the sixth-round pick needs to get as many repetitions as he can during camp.

[+] EnlargePittsburgh's Antonio Brown
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsAntonio Brown, who caught 110 passes for 1,499 yards last season, has been a popular target for Ben Roethlisberger during training camp.
3. Roethlisberger seems to be targeting Antonio Brown a lot during 11-on-11 drills, which is understandable considering the latter caught 110 passes for 1,499 yards last season. But Brown is going to need some help this season to keep defenses from throwing all kind of coverages his way. The reality is that the young wideouts who have looked so promising in camp have yet to prove themselves at this level. The Steelers will probably feel a lot more at ease about their wide receivers if Markus Wheaton and Justin Brown, among others, flash in preseason games instead of just practice.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Rookie outside linebacker Howard Jones has helped himself through the early part of camp. Jones, who signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent, has stood out during back-on-'backers drills, and last Friday night he twice beat tight end Heath Miller. "He has a chance to be a player," a veteran Steelers player said of Jones.
  • One of the young running backs is going to emerge and make the 53-man roster and my guess is it is either Tauren Poole or Miguel Maysonet. Both have had their moments running the ball, though special teams may be the biggest consideration as far as who the Steelers keep as a fourth running back.
  • Wide receiver Martavis Bryant is making the team. The question is will the Steelers essentially redshirt him during his rookie season by deactivating him for games. The answer at this time last week would have probably been yes. But Bryant has come on after a slow start to camp and the Steelers could badly use a 6-4 wide receiver inside the 20-yard line. Bryant dominated a red zone drill late last week.
  • The Steelers are through the grind of camp. They are off today following six consecutive days of practice, and they will only practice two more times this week before holding a walk through for their first preseason game. After playing the New York Giants on Saturday night, the Steelers will practice four more times at St. Vincent College before breaking camp.

Steelers Camp Report: Day 7

August, 2, 2014
Aug 2
7:15
PM ET
LATROBE, Pa. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Pittsburgh Steelers training camp:
  • The offense and defense battled to a draw in one of the most anticipated drills of training camp. The offense scored three touchdowns in six attempts from the 1-yard line in the goal-line drill. Ben Roethlisberger threw an easy touchdown pass to tight end Matt Spaeth off play-action to start the drill. The play call didn’t sit well with the defense and might have contributed to cornerback Ike Taylor and LeGarrette Blount later jawing at each other from across the field. Tauren Poole and Josh Harris each scored on 1-yard runs, but the defense held its own, stopping three runs other short of the end zone. Inside linebacker Vince Williams blew up Poole short of the end zone, putting an exclamation on an impressive day. Williams had delivered a monster hit earlier in practice when he obliterated running back Miguel Maysonet in an 11-on-11 drill.
  • Rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant had his best practice of training camp. The fourth-round draft pick made a handful of difficult catches. None were more impressive than when Bryant twisted his body while on the run to catch a Bruce Gradkowski pass that had sailed behind the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Bryant in the end zone. “He’s a big, so we expect him to consistently make big-guy plays,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Bryant. "I’m interested in him developing a complete game.”
  • Tempers flared again a day after the first fight of training camp broke out and nearly turned into a brawl. Outside linebacker Chris Carter and left tackle Kelvin Beachum had to be separated at the end of one play during a red-zone drill. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey and nose tackle Hebron Fangupo went at it during goal-line drills and punches were thrown before the two were separated.
  • Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey missed his second consecutive practice after sustaining a concussion last Thursday and linebacker Jordan Zumwalt remains out with groin tightness. Tomlin gave tight end Heath Miller and nose tackle Steve McLendon the day off in part so he could look at some of the younger players at those positions. Safety Mike Mitchell did some work, Tomlin said, and he might be close to returning. Mitchell, who signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Steelers in March, has been on the physically unable to perform list since reporting to camp with a groin injury.
  • Rookie running back Dri Archer showcased his speed in one-on-one passing drills. Matched up several times against Lawrence Timmons, Archer made an over-the-shoulder catch after separating from Timmons on a wheel route. Earlier in the drill, Archer caught a pass in front of Timmons, stopped and then ran right past him.
  • The Steelers practice Sunday and Monday from 2:55 to 5:30 p.m. ET. The players are off on Tuesday and practice will resume on Wednesday.

Observation deck: Panthers-Texans

August, 11, 2012
8/11/12
10:25
PM ET

This should come as absolutely no surprise, because it’s what the Carolina Panthers envisioned on draft day and what they’ve seen so far in training camp. But the world got to see the impact of rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly in Saturday night’s preseason opener, a 26-13 loss to the Houston Texans.

It didn’t take long for Kuechly to do what he’s done in practice every day -- make a big play. On Houston’s second drive of the night, Kuechly put a big hit on running back Arian Foster and forced a fumble that was recovered by safety Sherrod Martin. That turnover helped set up a field goal for the Panthers.

Kuechly left the game after the first quarter, but finished with two solo tackles, two assists and the forced fumble. Spread that out over four quarters and over an entire season, and it sure looks like the Panthers have found a playmaker at linebacker.

Some other observations on the Panthers:
  • It was hard to really get a read on quarterback Cam Newton’s performance. Statistically, it wasn’t great. He completed two of six passes for 16 yards, and also ran twice for 16 yards. But Newton didn’t get blocking from his offensive line and also had at least one pass dropped. Newton led the Panthers to a field goal before leaving the game after three offensive series. It also was pretty obvious the Panthers weren’t showing anything close to their full playbook.
  • Speaking of running back depth, rookie Tauren Poole, who had a short touchdown run in the second quarter, has a decent chance to make this team. At worst, he’s probably a guy the Panthers would like to keep on the practice squad.
  • The Panthers held middle linebacker Jon Beason out as he recovers from a minor injury that’s not related to the torn Achilles tendon he suffered last season. Jason Phillips started in Beason’s place and came up with an interception late in the first quarter. If Phillips continues to progress and Thomas Davis can get healthy, the Panthers could have some very nice depth at linebacker.
  • Speaking of linebacker depth, the Panthers have plenty on the outside as well. Jordan Senn, who was a part-time starter last season, is going to be a backup this season. But Senn was very productive Saturday night, leading the Panthers with 13 tackles.
  • The Panthers went to great lengths to try to improve their special teams in the offseason. So far, that’s not paying off. Carolina allowed Trindon Holliday to return a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.
  • I'm not sure rookie Joe Adams will have much of a role as a receiver, because there's so much depth at the position. But, after watching his spectacular third-quarter punt return, I'm thinking there's a good chance Adams has a big role in the return game.
  • I think Louis Murphy already was in the mix to be the No. 3 receiver. But he might have moved into the lead for that job Saturday night. Murphy had a nice leaping catch on the sideline in the second quarter, and also caught another pass where he put a nice move on the defensive back that resulted in some yards after the catch.
  • Forget any chance of Jeremy Shockey being re-signed by the Panthers. Gary Barnidge sure looks like he’s ready to be the No. 2 tight end.
  • Be sure to check out the Camp Confidential profile on the Panthers. It's scheduled to pop up on the blog early Sunday afternoon.

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