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For the 3rd consecutive year, the Pittsburgh Steelers have hosted Family Fest at Heinz Field and for the 3rd consecutive year, it was truly a success. I am impressed at the Steelers for taking the initiative of opening the stadium doors so that families of fans get the chance to experience seeing their favorite football team practice, get their favorite players autograph watch the Steelers alumni games and other activities. To me, it accomplishes 2 things: It not only allows fans a closer location if they can’t see the team practice at Latrobe, it also allows fans who can’t attend the Steelers games to at least see them practice while enjoying the stadium seats.
Just imagine if the Steelers had Family Fest at Three Rivers Stadium during their Super Bowl Years of the 1970’s. I’m convinced that the place would’ve sold out.
Before the team was introduced, several groups were acknowledged in special ceremonies: The U.S. Army held a special swearing-in ceremony, and the team paid tribute to high school football coaches from across Western Pennsylvania for their commitment to football. Before the ceremony, I stood next to some of the coaches and one of the Steelers officials thought I was a coach as well. Though I was honored, I had to chuckle.
Former Steelers Merrill Hoge, HOF Rod Woodson, Super Bowl 43 MVP Santonio Holmes, Dwayne Woodruff, Bruce Gratkowski, Bryan Hinkle and others were in attendance, interacting with the fans and wearing their sleek Steelers alumni shirts. Even actor Chadwick Boseman from Marvel’s Black Panther showed up (wearing a huge hat) as he mingled with players and signed a few autographs.
Yes, #Pittsburgh! @chadwickboseman is in town, filming #MaRaineyMovie (#MaRaineysBlackBottom) in which he is starring as a recording musician in Ma Rainey’s band in Chicago! #Steelers #SteelerNation #BlackandYellow #FamilyFest #DaBurgh #Pixburgh https://t.co/Cn7sUMSQWy
— Ma Rainey Movie (@MaRaineyMovie) August 6, 2019
After the Star-Spangled Banner, the players were introduced by position and were escorted by members of law enforcement and Special Olympics.
Just like in Latrobe, the practices began with drills with the offense and defense on separate ends of the field. On the defensive side, rookie CB Justin Layne was waiting for a pass, only to have it batted away by RB James Conner. I was impressed with his closing speed-only to remember that Conner was recruited by Pitt as a DE. Great memories there.
It was good to see LB TJ Watt see his first action as he was released from the Physically-Unable- To-Perform-List with a hamstring injury, along with rookie WR Dionte Johnson who missed Saturday’s practice after suffered a groin injury during the Friday Night Lights practice in Latrobe. However, it was not good to see Pro Bowl C Maurkise Pouncey leave the field with what Head Coach Mike Tomlin describe as a ‘minor’ injury.
When the offense and defense got together, they performed various drills, like the 7-on-7 drill which showed the talents of rookie RB Benny Snell Jr. who showed power and speed when he was given the ball. He also showed his inside and outside game during the goal-line drills as well.
As always, WR JuJu Smith-Shuster showed his skills as he hauled in spectacular catches and QB Mason Rudolph once again made some impressions and abilities to scramble and accuracy. Another RB also caught my attention: Trey Edmunds, the brother of Steelers S Terrell Edmunds (#33) as he powered his way into the endzone during the goal-line drills. The Steelers invited Edmunds to camp and his 6-2, 223 frame is hard to overlook. Conner also impressed at the goal- line as he muscled his way into the endzone several times, as did 2nd-year RB Jaylen Samuels who took handoff on the outside and walked into the endzone.
Two WRs also stood out: Trey Griffey (Son of Baseball’s Ken Griffey Jr.) and undrafted free agent Dionate Spencer (#82) Griffey hauled in some passes down the sideline and Spencer made a few diving catches. These upcoming preseason games will prove meaningful to them.
But it was the kicking drills that truly grabbed the most attention as Chris Boswell and rookie Matthew Wright duked it out. Both kickers participated in several drills that had them kicking from various yards on the field. At the closed end of the stadium, both made kicks from 33 and 39 yards, but Wright missed from 37 and 50 yards. In the more-challenging open-end, both made their kicks from 33, 41 and 42 yards, Wright missed from 54 yards, Boswell made his, which was met with a cheer from the crowd.
The night ended with the players signing special jerseys and autographs and inviting their families to join them on the field. All in all, it was a great night. I’m already looking forward to 2020
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