By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — It’s not too often that a head coach gets a chance to assess an opponent by watching them play less than a week before the two play, but that was the case for Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
Tomlin viewed the Monday Night Football telecast between the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots like many other NFL fans. The game featured the NFL starting debut for Chiefs quarterback Tyler Palko, a West Allegheny High School and University of Pittsburgh grad, that ended in a 34-3 loss.
The Chiefs (4-6) face the Steelers (7-3) Sunday night at 8:20 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
“We’re familiar with (Palko),” Tomlin said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. “He’s been a part of us. He’s a Pittsburgh guy. What we do know about Tyler is he is an extremely sharp football guy (and) a quick study. He’s very good above the neck and makes good decisions.
“We know that he’ll be excited about playing us, to be quite honest with you. Being a Pittsburgh born-and-raised guy, this is an awesome opportunity for him (and) one that I’m sure he’s excited about and preparing to take advantage of. I assessed him from his time here. He learned our offense very quickly.
“He’s a very intelligent young man,” Tomlin added. “He’s a son of a coach, and I think that oozes out of him during a conversation. And he’s just a good football man. (He’s) one that we respect. … (And) one thing that I do know (is) that young man is up to the task (to face the Steelers).”
Palko originally signed a rookie free-agent contract with the New Orleans Saints in 2007, but they kept only two quarterbacks. He also spent time with the Arizona Cardinals before being signed to the Steelers’ 53-man roster late in 2009 before moving on to Kansas City for the past two seasons.
Tomlin also touched on various other topics:
Tomlin and Steelers president Art Rooney II spoke with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last Thursday.
“I thought it was very productive,” Tomlin said. “We exchanged some ideas. It was born out of a conversation between Art and the Commissioner. They thought it would be productive for all of us to sit down and talk.
“It was my first opportunity to see the new (NFL) offices, and they were impressive. It’s good bye-week stuff, if you will, but that’s in my rear-view mirror today. And we’re beginning our preparation for Kansas City.”
Tomlin added that although there’s frustration about NFL rulings every season that he’s been around, he insisted that there is not a problem.
Tomlin preferred to leave specifics from the conversation between he and the Commissioner between them.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (right thumb fracture) “is going to be able to play,” but to what extent the injury will affect him will be determined. … Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) and wideout-special teams ace Arnaz Battle (hamstring) are questionable right now, and unless they progress immensely this week they are unlikely to play. … Wideout Emmanuel Sanders (right knee) “appears to be working his way back.” Sanders practiced some Monday and should increase his workload as the week goes on.
Tomlin believed the second-year wideout has continued to develop this season.
“Just like I expect of all second-year men, he’s improving in all areas, in route-running, coverage recognition, in being quarterback friendly and an overall understanding of the game and how he fits into the big picture,” Tomlin said.
“But that’s what we expect from a second-year man, to grow by leaps and bounds in all areas, and he has done that to this point.”
Ward appears to have slipped to fifth on the depth chart, even though he has said that the Steelers have not told him anything on the topic. The pecking order at wide receiver is Mike Wallace, Brown, Jerricho Cotchery, Emmanuel Sanders when healthy and Ward. When you count tight end Heath Miller, Ward could be a sixth option at best for Roethlisberger.
“Hines is a capable man, as are some others, so we’ll do what’s best for our football team,” Tomlin said.
Tomlin added that Ward’s status for this week has still not been determined.
Outside linebacker Jason Worilds, who has started the past two games for Woodley, has played “above the line.” … Defensive end Cam Heyward “has a bright future” with the Steelers, but his limited play lately is more due to the team playing a lot of sub-packages with just two defensive linemen. … Nose Tackle Steve McLendon has been “solid,” and the second-year player has moved past Chris Hoke into the spot as Casey Hampton’s backup. … Tomlin noted that the Steelers “probably are fortunate to be 7-3 being minus-10 in the turnover ratio.”