By Christina Rivers
With so many questions about personnel and adjustments, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been using practice this week to find answers. Some players have recovered enough from injury to participate in a limited capacity. It may take all week to work out the kinks, as the Steelers will be on the road against the Baltimore Ravens, a second showdown in three weeks’ time.
On Monday, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was able to throw the football, as did Byron Leftwich. Neither one has shown that they are close enough to start the game at M&T Bank Stadium. Coach Mike Tomlin said, “Right now Charlie Batch is our quarterback. We are working offensively to put together a plan to complement his strengths.”
The coaching plan is to see how participation goes throughout the week and to get Batch as many reps as possible to be successful. The team won’t make any final decisions until Friday. In Tomlin’s Tuesday press conference, he pointed out that recently signed quarterback Brian Hoyer is on the fast-track towards a full understanding of the offense.
“He’s doing a nice job of picking it up and right now I guess he could be described as an emergency guy,” said Tomlin. “Hopefully, that changes over the course of this week and I think that is a possibility.” Batch thinks that the offense will need to take a bigger step this week. “Last week, we only put up one touchdown,” said Batch, “In order for us to grow…we’re going to go out there, work hard and continue to do what we need to do in order to make progress this week.”
Running back Jonathan Dwyer was announced as the starter against the Ravens by Tomlin. When asked if the endorsement by his head coach was gratifying, Dwyer responded, “In all reality, the success is great but I just want to win games and help us win games.” He continued by saying, “The fact that they want me to start is (the coaching staff’s) decision.” Dwyer insisted that despite the difficulties against the Browns by the running backs corps, the players are “still a close group”, and that it won’t change. Tomlin said the decision was based on the fact that Dwyer has “been consistently the most productive guy.”
On Monday, several roster moves were made to keep the team competitive. Offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert has been inactive for most of the season due to a bad ankle. Because his ankle may need surgical repair, the Steelers organization decided to play Gilbert on injured reserve and open a spot for offensive guard David DeCastro to return to the roster.
“DeCastro has been working here for a week in terms of practice,” said Tomlin. “He’s healthy enough to proceed. We slotted him and moved him up and we’ll just continue to work him in practice and see what he’s capable of doing.”
Due to Mike Adams’ injury situation, Kelvin Beachum stepped into his place against the Browns. Questions about whether or not Ramon Foster would move to tackle came up, to which Tomlin said, “Ramon is going to have to be tackle-capable. He could be the third tackle as I sit here right now.”
Tomlin pointed out that the team values flexibility among positions and that the players are being asked to apply all their skills to help the team get to where they need to be.
Tackle Willie Colon missed the Browns game due to swelling in his knee and he missed practice on Wednesday. Coach Tomlin believes he is improving. Meanwhile, center Maurkice Pouncey said, “If Willie Colon doesn’t play, I will play guard. I am glad Coach Tomlin put us in pads today. It gave me the opportunity to go out there and get my technique down…I got to see the different looks at guard than I do at center.” If Pouncey moves to guard, that could place Doug Legursky at center.
Receiver Antonio Brown participated fully in practice Wednesday. Signs are that he will play against the Ravens. Brown told the press that he was held back due to swelling issues to his ankle and foot.
“It’s always hard when you’re watching your teammates in battle and you’re not out there to help them,” said Brown. “I’m thankful I can be out there this week and help out.”
Joining Brown in practice was fellow receiver Jerricho Cotchery who saw limited time. Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders were named co-starters for the first time this season, causing some to wonder if it was a wake-up call meant for Wallace.
“Hopefully, it should be,” said Brown. “It will give him a spark and make him come back hungry to respond. You can’t take this league for granted. It’s something special to be a part of every year.”
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley did not participate in practice Wednesday due to an ankle injury and will be replaced by Jason Worilds if he is not able to progress this week.
Strong safety Troy Polamalu looks go so far this week. On Wednesday, Polamalu participated fully in practice.
Coach Tomlin’s word was that the staff, “are looking to get some guys back…but we are not going to hold our breath in that regard. We are going to continue to focus on reading the guys that are healthy and holding those guys to the standard that we are accustomed to, which is winning football.” Tomlin called the Ravens game “a big football game…divisional football versus our division leader.”
The Steelers know that the Ravens haven’t changed in two weeks, so they are focusing on once again containing Ray Rice’s multiple abilities and keep Joe Flacco off his game. “We better be prepared to match that level of intensity,” said Tomlin.
Jacoby Jones had a big game against the Steelers in their last matchup on November 18. Tomlin called Jones’ return against the Steelers “significant”. “We have to be better in coverage this time than we were then.”
“On defense, for us…it’s more about focusing on what we do well,” Tomlin pointed out. “Our readiness and making sure we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot, we can’t turn the ball over. We can’t be highly penalized. Within that, we do have some matchup things that we need to be concerned about because of what [the Ravens] are capable of.”
The Steelers will be working to help Beachum at the tackle position to help him keep Paul Kruger and Terrell Suggs away from the quarterback and out of the Steelers’ offensive backfield.
“For us, it’s about focusing on what it is that we do,” said Tomlin. That list including the Steelers playing to their unique strengths and minimizing their weaknesses.
- OT Adams, Mike (ankle) – DNP
- WR Brown, Antonio (ankle) – FP
- G/T Colon, Willie (knee) – DNP
- WR Cotchery, Jerricho (ribs) – LP
- QB Leftwich, Byron (ribs) – LP
- SS Polamalu, Troy (calf) – FP
- QB Roethlisberger, Ben (shoulder, rib) – LP
- T Starks, Max (back) – DNP
- OLB Woodley, LaMarr (ankle) – DNP
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Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.