THURSDAY’S STEELERS BUZZ
By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said he really didn’t know how the Cincinnati Bengals were using James Harrison this year, primarily because he has been studying that team’s offensive performers.
However, when asked about his own young linebackers, LeBeau was effusive in praising players such as Kion Wilson — who will start in place of injured veteran Larry Foote — and rookie sixth-round pick Vince Williams.
“I think our young backers are very alert people, and I think we probably have a little more depth there than we’ve had in some years,” LeBeau said Thursday. “But with Larry going down, we’re definitely going to need it. Again, they’re just young players, and they’re just learning what to do.
“But I think they’ve all made great progress to this point, and they’re probably going to get some OJT (on the job training) pretty damn quick. But I’m confident that they’re going to play physical and hard. We’ve just got to coach them to get them in the right place.”
Williams primarily was a special teams performer last week, but he is expected to hit the field in the base defense as well Monday night at Cincinnati.
“I think he’s ready, and he’ll see some time,” LeBeau said. “I was pleased with how those two young guys progressed and played during the preseason, and I’m sure that’s why Mike kept them.”
Nickel and Dime
Another rookie, safety Shamarko Thomas, got a lot of on the job training last week. When cornerback Cortez Allen suffered an ankle injury, Thomas came in the game when the Steelers went to five defensive backs. Will Gay replaced Allen as the starting corner.
“(Shamarko) did fine, but he better get used to it, because you never know what’s going to unfold in a game,” LeBeau said. “And you’re only one snap away, not only from playing nickel, but strong safety all the time.
“So, we tell our players all the time that you better practice as if you’re in the game, because a lot of these games it’s going to happen and you’re going to have to be a factor. It just happened early for him. He probably was a little excited, but I thought he played very well in there. He’s a good football player, and he’s still learning. But I’m glad we drafted him, and he’s on our defense.”
While Thomas has displayed solid coverage skills, he developed a reputation as a strong blitzer at Syracuse University.
“I think he’s a good blitzer,” LeBeau said. “He’s a good tackler, and he’s got good quickness. And he’s very compact and solid, with some acceleration, which makes you a good tackler.
“And he’s a willing tackler, so those kind of guys generally make good blitzers. But he just needs experience. You can’t expect him to be a veteran safety after just one game.”
Fantasy Football Alert
Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor believed that he would be covering standout Bengals wideout A.J. Green when the two AFC North rivals meet Monday night at Cincinnati.
“My focus is Green,” Taylor said. “Everything starts with Dalton, at first, A.J. and everything else falls in line.”
Taylor was asked how badly the Steelers want to avoid starting at 0-2.
“You don’t even think about it,” Taylor said. “You only look at this being a divisional game, and like I’ve said earlier you always want to win your divisional games. So, our divisional game came fast this year. It’s Monday night, the whole world will be watching, so why not show off?”
Suisham Still Not Getting Kicks
Due to a Grade 1 left hamstring injury, the mildest type, Steelers place-kicker Shaun Suisham has been limited this week and didn’t offer much of an update on his status. The Steelers brought in veteran Shayne Graham to take his place.
“I tweaked it,” Suisham said. “I’ll be fine.”
Suisham added that he did not know when it would be determined if he could kick this week, either. And how did he hurt it?
“Kicking,” Suisham said. “It just happened.”
Cornerback Cortez Allen (ankle), running back Le’Veon Bell (right mid-foot sprain) and cornerback Curtis Brown (illness) did not practice Thursday. Defensive tackle Steve McLendon (hamstring), tight end Heath Miller (right knee) and place-kicker Shaun Suisham (left hamstring) were limited.
“Heath has now been out here, and it looks like he’s making progress,” Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said.
“But that will be Coach’s and the doctor’s decision. So, it’s just been great seeing him out here practicing with the guys, and as the week goes on I’m sure those decisions will be made.”
Safety Jeromy Miles (hamstring) and offensive guard Mike Pollak (knee) did not participate in practice for the Bengals, while linebacker Vontaze Burfict (thigh), cornerback Brandon Ghee (concussion) and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth (knee) were limited.