STEELERS – MONDAY
By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Monday during his final press conference that the club’s performance against the Cleveland Browns wouldn’t necessarily boost the 2013 franchise, he acknowledged that certain individuals could build on their respective strong performances for next season.
Tomlin didn’t provide evaluations for specific players, but he had overall comments on the team and then individual looks at the offense, defense and special teams as separate units.
“There’s a certain level of disappointment that comes with sitting here, even right now, having the season-ending press conference,” Tomlin said. “Those are never our intentions. Obviously, we desire to be a team that is consistently in the battle for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
“That didn’t transpire this year for a number of reasons. Primarily, we didn’t do enough, particularly in the closing moments of close football games. … We’ve been in eight games of three points or less, and we were 3-5 in those games. That will produce an 8-8 record that will have you on the outside looking in.
The good teams, the dominant teams,” Tomlin added, “aren’t necessarily dominant inside stadiums. But they are dominant largely in moments, and they do what is required to get out of stadiums with victories. We didn’t do that consistently enough. We just didn’t.”
Tomlin believed the Steelers started strongly enough on offense, dominating the time of possession and converting third downs, generally just possessing the ball and doing what it takes to win football games.
“Obviously, we were not ascending over the second half of the season in regard to some of those areas,” Tomlin said. “And that was an Achilles heel for us.”
Injuries and growing pains with a new coordinator also hampered the offense, but Tomlin didn’t believe those factors prohibited the Steelers from winning.
“Defensively, I thought we didn’t start out very well, particularly situationally, getting off on third downs, end-of-the-half- and end-of-the-game-type things,” Tomlin said. “I thought we grew into those roles and improved over the course of the season. It was really a good defense in the latter portions this season.”
There were not many significant plays, primarily forced turnovers, by the defense from the outset. The same could be said about the special teams.
“I thought we had some positive things, particularly in the kickoff return,” Tomlin said. “I thought we were in the top 5-10 for the better portions of the season. Shaun Suisham, of course, was rock-solid all season. I thought our punt-return game had potential, but it never really developed.
“We had some explosion plays called back due to penalties, penalties that we are responsible for, and Antonio Brown was limited with his ankle for the better part of the second half of the season. (So), we’re an 8-8 team on the outside looking in. We don’t feel great about it.
“And, as a matter of fact, we dislike it,” Tomlin added. “And we’re committed to doing what’s required from us to move forward to ensure that we’re not having similar conversations in the future.”
Injury Updates: QB Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder, rib), DE Brett Keisel (right knee MCL sprain), DE Cameron Heyward (rib fracture), CB Keenan Lewis (right knee MCL sprain), OT Mike Adams (ankle), CB Curtis Brown (ankle) and CB Ike Taylor (foot) will rehab their injuries, but no surgery is required.
Also, OT Kelvin Beachum (concussion) and OG David DeCastro (severe stinger) were injured against the Browns, but no long-term effects were expected. And FS Ryan Clark suffered a severe contusion to his left quad, and he was hospitalized overnight as a precaution. Tomlin said he spoke with him Monday morning after he was released, and Clark was resting comfortably at his home.
Players who had surgery, like TE Heath Miller (right knee MCL and ACL reconstruction), OT Marcus Gilbert (tendon damage in his right foot), CB DeMarcus Van Dyke (shoulder) and RB Baron Batch (plate inserted in broken right arm) are doing well, but no timetable is set for their rehab. Gilbert is on crutches and in a boot, as the surgery revealed a congenital problem that needs to be corrected in the other foot as well in a couple years.
Final notes: The Steelers had a team meeting Monday, while exit interviews begin New Year’s Day and run through the week. … OL coach Sean Kugler has left to watch his son play for Purdue in its bowl game, but Tomlin said he will not take any Steelers assistants to his new post as head coach at UTEP. … The Steelers have the 17th pick in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. … Tomlin said it’s more important to get the right guy than to rush to hire an OL coach.