By Christina L Rivers
One of the biggest challenges the past few weeks has been fielding a healthy defensive backfield for the Pittsburgh Steelers. With Ike Taylor just coming out of a walking boot due to a fractured ankle, the Steelers were prepared to go with younger guys. Unfortunately, some of those young players aren’t 100 percent for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field either. With the final injury report on Friday comes some good and bad news for a Steelers team that desperately needs the win this weekend.
Cornerback Keenan Lewis, who had been showing good progress earlier in the week, had a setback on Thursday and is now listed as ‘probable’ for the game. Slated to take Taylor’s spot, Lewis was expected to be assigned the task of covering Bengals receiver A.J. Green. With his status up in the air, it would mean that Cortez Allen. Allen was able to practice fully all week and will play on Sunday.
On Friday, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau told the media, “We’re looking for our cornerbacks to play well every week.” When asked about Lewis, LeBeau said, “I wouldn’t put everything on Keenan as to how we play. He’s got to play well but so do the other ten people out there.”
Curtis Brown, another young defensive back, was limited in practice on Friday and although he is listed as probable, his inability to have full practice this week may put even more pressure on Josh Victorian and Robert Golden. Justin King was signed this week and could be another choice if the Steelers see a lack of production in their defensive backfield. LeBeau said that although Golden is a safety, he is able to play corner as well as special teams, calling his abilities “one of the things we value in him.”
Four players that missed Wednesday’s practice sessions returned on Thursday and Friday. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders who has been dealing with a shoulder sprain and rib injuries was a full participant on Thursday and Friday and looks like he’ll be ready to play. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can use all the healthy targets he can get against Cincinnati.
Yet another week and the illness that has pervaded the Southside training facility took more victims. Outside linebacker James Harrison was only able to participate in a limited capacity on Friday, missing previous days. Although he is listed as probable, it seems unlikely that Harrison will miss the opportunity to hunt down Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton on Sunday. Also missing practice due to illness were center Maurkice Pouncey and defensive end Al Woods. Woods participated fully on Thursday and Friday while Pouncey was limited on Friday.
Despite his efforts earlier in the week, offensive tackle Mike Adams was unable to practice Friday after seeing limited time on the field. It’s a sure bet that David DeCastro and Kelvin Beachum will start side-by-side again this week as it appears Adams isn’t ready to go this weekend.
Safety Troy Polamalu and Cameron Heyward may have had some maintenance time this week, but both were involved in the game planning on Friday.
Overall, the Steelers are as healthy as they can be entering the playoff-like game against Cincinnati. The majority of Pittsburgh’s veterans will be on the field. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley believes that the players showed a sense of understanding the urgency to win Sunday’s game. “You see the tempo that you are going to see in preseason games. Then you have the regular season games,” said Haley. “Then you have playoff-type games. This is that type of atmosphere. That’s what it feels like. I thought [Thursday] was a good day and [Friday] was a real good day. You can tell these guys are trying to get ready to play the biggest game of the year.”
The Steelers will also be celebrating the 40th anniversary of Franco Harris’ “Immaculate Reception”.
The Bengals have their own share of players on the injury report. Adam Jones (cornerback) suffered a hamstring injury in Friday’s practice and is listed as questionable, as are backup cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (head), kicker Mike Nugent (calf, kicking leg) and running back Cedric Peerman (ankle). The following players for Cincinnati are listed as probable; RT Andre Smith (foot), LS Clark Harris (not injury related), defensive back Vontaze Burfict (illness).
Steelers Injury Recap
- CB Cortez Allen (groin)
- DB Curtis Brown (knee)
- OLB James Harrison (illness)
- DE Cameron Heyward (non-injury related)
- CB Keenan Lewis (hip)
- SS Troy Polamalu (non-injury related)
- C Maurkice Pouncey (illness)
- WR Emmanuel Sanders (rib, shoulder)
- DE Al Woods (illness)
- OT Mike Adams (ankle)
- CB Ike Taylor (ankle)
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Steelers news, see CBS Sports Pittsburgh.
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.