STEELERS – TUESDAY
By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — As Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday to open his weekly press conference, this was the start of a busy week for the team. So, we’ll get all the highlights from the 20-minute session:
*First, Tomlin addressed the previous game, which he said wasn’t all bad.
“In the midst of it, as miserable as it was, at times, we had our opportunities,” Tomlin said. “We didn’t, of course, capitalize on them. I thought we were an explosion play or two away from really being in the game. There were a couple balls that we threw down the field at we weren’t able to convert. Obviously, I thought we had an opportunity at the onside kick.
“We had a couple balls tipped up in the air defensively that fell harmlessly to the ground on third-down stops. Then, their punter had a great day, so the next snap the ball is going 45 yards down the field. I just thought we needed a short field, under the circumstances. They got a short field on a turnover during the game and got the ball at midfield. That’s the drive that they scored a touchdown on, and in games like that, plays like that are the difference.”
The other significant part of the game was the third-and-one at the 5 when running back Isaac Redman fumbled into the end zone. There clearly was confusion, so why not call a timeout? The Steelers have had problems in the red zone and have not scored many touchdowns from close range, so why not call a timeout? Here was Tomlin’s response.
“We were capable of using a timeout there, but we felt comfortable that in the midst of the personnel issues that we were going to be able to get the play off functionally,” Tomlin said. “Time was not an issue in regard to the execution of the play. Obviously, we’re not looking to turn the ball over. We did.
“It was a double-whammy, because it was a double situation. It was a third-down situation, and it was in the red area. It cost us definitive points. It was unfortunate, but the miscommunication prior to the snap had very little to do with the execution of the snap. If we had any level of discomfort with that, we would have utilized the timeout.”
*The bulk of the presser was used on personnel matters that occurred. Inside linebacker Larry Foote had surgery this morning to repair his torn right biceps. Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling will have surgery Wednesday to repair his right ACL tear, while center Maurkice Pouncey’s surgery for a similar injury is Thursday. Then, he discussed the players added to those three roster spots.
Fernando Velasco (6-foot-4, 312 pounds), a fourth-year player, started 13 games at center for the Tennessee Titans last season. They released him Aug. 31. He appeared in all 48 games with the Titans from 2010-12 with 19 starts, including all 16 games last season. Velasco spent the 2008-09 seasons on and off the Titans’ practice squad and active roster. He originally signed with the Titans as an undrafted rookie free agent May 2, 2008.
Jonathan Dwyer was reacquired to replace Stephens-Howling. He was cut by the team Aug. 31, and Tomlin said: “We’ll get him back into the fold. It’s a positive when you can add somebody who knows your culture, knows what you’re trying to do schematically. So, he’ll be a quick plug-in there.”
How much Dwyer will play, however, was another story. Tomlin noted that “depends on his dependability. Obviously, his ability to get up to speed with the game plan, things he’s been away from here for a couple weeks now. Obviously, I don’t anticipate that being a major problem. But we’ll play it by ear and see how he looks on the practice field and in the classroom.”
In hindsight, was it a mistake to let Dwyer go?
“Like I said last week, we kept the guys that we kept because of the things they did and not for the things Jonathan didn’t do,” Dwyer said. “We were encouraged by the versatility of LaRod Stephens-Howling and what he was able to do in spread packages and in the passing game.
“Obviously, he got hurt. That presented an opportunity to bring back who we believe is a capable NFL player. Thankfully for us, no one acquired him. Felix Jones just needs to continue to learn. He hasn’t been here as long as some of the others, since he was picked up late in the preseason.”
As he said after the game, Tomlin noted that Jones did not play more in the regular offense because he was unfamiliar with the no-huddle that was used by the Steelers as the game steadily got out of hand. Le’Veon Bell could be an option this week, but don’t bet on it.
“(Bell) is continuing to work his way back,” Tomlin said. “I haven’t had an update as of yet, in terms of what he’s doing today, but we’ll be interested in seeing what he’s capable of doing, particularly as the week wears on.”
*The other roster spot was taken by veteran place-kicker Shayne Graham, who was signed because Shaun Suisham suffered a Grade 1 hamstring injury to his right leg. The long week with an extra practice day Saturday, due to the Monday night game at Cincinnati, should help the health of Suisham. Graham was signed as a precaution, but Suisham should be better soon.
Count cornerback Cortez Allen` in that category as well. Allen was hurt again. This time, he suffered an ankle sprain and will be monitored throughout the week. If he can practice the last couple of days, he’ll play. If not, Will Gay will start. Safeties Shamarko Thomas and Robert Golden, who Tomlin praised for the special teams work and play in passing situations, will continue to get more time as well.
Tight end Heath Miller is listed as the starter with David Johnson as the backup and David Paulson as the third tight end with Michael Palmer.
“Heath Miller will continue to work his way back, as we increase his work this week and kind of have a better understanding of where he is after a full day of work on Wednesday,” Tomlin said. (His participation) will be determined as the week goes on. But as I sit here today, I would say that we’re going to increase his workload, and we’ll play it by ear from there.”
*Lawrence Timmons, as he said Monday, will make the defensive calls from his Mack inside linebacker spot. Timmons filled that role when Foote was injured, and Tomlin believed that would continue. He added that third-year pro Kion Wilson will take over for Foote at the Buck inside linebacker spot, and rookie Vince Williams is the backup. Rookie Terence Garvin backs up Timmons.
*Second-year player Kelvin Beachum is listed as the starting center with new player Velasco as the backup, while Cody Wallace — who was a last-minute replacement on the roster for John Malecki — is the backup to David DeCastro at right guard.
“As we prepare right now, Beachum is going to be our starting center, but we’re in the process of learning what Fernando is capable of,” Tomlin said. “Not only him, but Cody Wallace.”
Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones are listed as co-starters at right outside linebacker, but Tomlin said there will be a three-player rotation — with LaMarr Woodley involved like he was in the last game — but he never answered the specific question if Worilds would remain the starter.
“I thought Jarvis did some nice things, and Jason did some nice things,” Tomlin said. “The third guy is LaMarr. There was a rotation, but there was an ability to adjust it.” There was a snap count involved in the rotation decision.
Redman and Bell are listed as co-starters at running back, and Tomlin responded “absolutely” when asked if he remained confident in Redman.
“Obviously, he played a bad game, but a lot of us did,” Tomlin said. “He’ll be given an opportunity to redeem himself. We’ll see where that takes us.”
Tomlin said that new punter Zoltan Mesko was solid, but “I’d like to see a little better placement in our directional stuff,” Tomlin added. “But his distance and hang time was above the line.”
And, finally, Tomlin said he took no solace in the fact that the Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns are all tied for first and last place, simultaneously, in the AFC North Division because all four teams lost during Week 1 of the NFL season.