LATROBE, Pennsylvania -- Steelers fans who crammed into Chuck Noll Field on Sunday were treated to the best of the four practices during Pittsburgh's first week of training camp. It was also the best practice so far for Kenny Pickett, who is expected to take a significant jump during his first full season as the team's starting quarterback.
Pickett was on the money early. After not being able to connect with Pat Freiermuth on the first play of Seven Shots (a seven-play drill between the offense and defense from the two-yard-line), Pickett hit George Pickens for a wide open touchdown (there appeared to be a miscommunication on the play between Joey Porter Jr. and Chandon Sullivan) to tie things up. The offense took the lead one play later when Pickett hit tight end Zach Gentry on the far side.
Pickett continued to look for his tight ends on the following play. He and Freiermuth hooked up for a score -- against the second-team defense -- as the offense took a commanding 3-1 lead. The defense, though, came back to win the drill after Pickett exited following his touchdown pass to Freiermuth.
The sun -- which beat down on the field throughout practice -- continued to shine on Pickett and the starting offense during the next phase of practice. Pickett evaded pressure before hitting Diontae Johnson, who then displayed some nifty running after the catch. Moments later, Pickett unleashed a wicked pump that was bought hook, line and sinker by rookie cornerback Cory Trice Jr., who was guarding Pickens on the near side. The pump fake led to an easy completion.
Pickett wasn't done testing Trice, who one day earlier came up with two big plays to help the defense win Seven Shots. Covering Cody White, Trice was unable to get between White and a bullet pass from Pickett that was thrown so hard it could be heard hitting White's shoulder pads 20-plus yards away.
Following a strong afternoon, Pickett then took time signing autographs for the fans who decided to stick around after practice. Overall, it's safe to say that everyone who took in practice left feeling better about the 2023 Steelers' chances when Pittsburgh opens up the regular season on Sept. 10.
Here's a rundown of some of the other notable moments from Sunday's practice. The Steelers will get Monday off before having their first padded practice on Tuesday.
- Cornerback Kenny Robinson was a defensive standout by virtue of his two interceptions on Sunday. His first came during Seven Shots and his second one occurred on a deep pass from Mason Rudolph that was intended for Calvin Austin III.
- Inside linebackers Cole Holcomb and Mark Robinson, perhaps inspired by the team's recent signing of Kwon Alexander, both made some solid plays in near succession. Holcomb made a nice pass breakup, while Robinson blew up a swing pass to Austin that never had a chance to get off the ground.
- Joey Porter Jr. continued his solid start to camp with a nice breakup of a pass intended for Austin. Porter was one of several young players who received a bigger workload Sunday with some of the veterans getting the day off.
- While he gave up a few plays, Trice did have a nice breakup of a pass intended for Hakeem Butler, who like Trice was one of the standouts of Saturday's practice.
- Alex Highsmith is looking like Lawrence Taylor reincarnated. Already a Pro Bowl level pass rusher, Highsmith appears to be on the verge of being an All-Pro performer in 2023.
- Just hours after signing with the Steelers, Alexander took part in team drills. While he said that he's willing to accept whatever role the Steelers ask him to rill, it's clear that Alexander is coming to Pittsburgh to be a significant contributor.