Steelers notebook: TE Green doesn’t say when he will start practicing
• Ladarius Green smiled when asked what type of injury he had to his left ankle, or if he knew what the surgical procedure he underwent to fix it was called. “I’m not that smart,” Green said before the first full practice session of training camp. “I know I got some plates put in, I got a tendon (repaired).” Green was placed on the physically unable to perform list Thursday. Green declined to give a timetable as to when he might be cleared to practice.
• With Golson and returning starters William Gay and Ross Cockrell ahead of him on the depth chart, first-round pick Artie Burns doesn’t have a clear path to play significantly on defense. So it’s possible Burns’ quickest path to make an impact is as a return man. Burns was fielding kickoffs in the first practice of camp Friday. “We’re just in the phase of getting to return the ball and seeing the patterns of the blocking and stuff like that,” Burns said, adding that special teams coach Danny Smith has discussed a returner’s role with him. Eli Rogers, Demarcus Ayers, Levi Norwood and Markus Wheaton also were taking reps returning kicks Friday.
• Le’Veon Bell still might be suspended before the start of the regular season. But by all indications, whether he’ll be healthy enough for it won’t be an issue.Bell, the Steelers former All-Pro running back, practiced without any apparent restrictions during the opening session of training camp Friday at St. Vincent College. Bell ran with the first team during the first rep of the team practice-opening “Seven Shots” drill, and he consistently ran reps at regular intervals as if he was not being held back by the coaching staff. Most importantly, Bell appeared nimble and quick — albeit in a setting in which there was not full pads or tackling.Bell hasn’t played since a Nov. 1, 2015, game in which two ligaments were torn in his right knee while being tackled by Cincinnati’s Vontaze Burfict.
Inside the ropes
• It was far from a perfect outing.It included at least two occurrences in which he mishandled the football, and he left practice early because of cramps. But Xavier Grimble emerged as a (very) early sleeper candidate for the 53-man roster during the first practice of camp. Not only did the first-year tight end take several reps with the first-team offense, he was targeted four times among the first dozen snaps of 11-on-11 drills.
• As expected and not unlike summer workouts, Alejandro Villanueva took first-team reps and new acquisition Ryan Harris was with the second team at left tackle.
• Senquez Golson, at long last, made his training camp debut, and was playing as the slot cornerback right from the first drill of practice. In other position battles on the defense — neither of which was a surprise — Robert Golden was the top free safety and Daniel McCullers the first nose tackle to take the field. Golden, incidentally, also carried his usual heavy special-teams workload.
• While he still wore the gray sweatsuit that’s been synonymous with him during recent training camps, James Harrison for this year’s first practice wore a No. 92 jersey over top of it. He was a participant in team drills. Last year, it was more than a week before coach Mike Tomlin let the now-38-year-old take part.
• Jerald Hawkins took regular reps as the second-team right tackle. That might not sound like much for the rookie fourth-round pick, but it can be taken as a positive sign of his standing. The early buzz surrounding Hawkins on draft day was that he was more of a long-range project. To be ahead of longer-tenured players on the first day of his first camp is a small victory.
• For the second time in three years, the Steelers have a 6-foot-9 converted defensive lineman they acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles in training camp as a project offensive tackle. Brian Mihalik looks the part of Villanueva, too.You’d barely be able to tell them apart if they weren’t wearing different jersey numbers.
Get to know … Brandon Johnson
Position: Running back
Height/weight: 6-foot-2, 228 pounds
Experience: Rookie free agent
College: Penn State
The release of veteran kicker Shaun Suisham opened a roster spot, buoying Johnson’s hopes of making the team. However, he knows it won’t be easy — even if Le’Veon Bell is suspended for the first four games of the regular season. Johnson, though, has beaten the odds. He made the Penn State roster as a walk-on. He participated in Steelers rookie minicamp before being released. Johnson will have to carve out a niche on special teams, considering he carried the ball only four times for 23 yards last season.
What did you do after the Penn State combine?: “They said they were going to work me out. I got signed, and it was exciting. I got a personal trainer and worked out twice a day during the summer.”
What are you trying to accomplish?: “Honestly, I’m just trying to find out where I fit. I’ll play anything. I’ll do anything to earn a spot on this team.”
Have you used your experience as a walk-on? “I’m used to being the underdog. I go out here every day with a chip on my shoulder because I have something to prove.”