By Christina Rivers
The Pittsburgh Steelers were blessed to have a week away from regular season play. After a shocking 0-4 start to the 2013 NFL Season, the team has made some moves to get away from negativity, focus on expanding roles of players, introduce changes and accept that they must find answers in a hurry. Garnering a few additional days of practice and new focus is nice, but for the Steelers it is essential. Expectations remain high in the organization and locker room, despite criticism from outside. Some players have underperformed and those issues are being addressed. Overall, the Steelers understand that moving forward means throwing out the past and focusing on what lies ahead.
Second-year offensive guard Kelvin Beachum has stepped up this season to assist an offensive line that was infused with youth but has struggled thus far. Mike Adams, having been moved to the left offensive tackle position, has had a difficult time keeping defenders out of the offensive backfield. Beachum was utilized early in the season to aid Adams, but was called into regular duty after Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the season, Marcus Gilbert had issues on the right side of the line and Ramon Foster suffered a pectoral strain against the Minnesota Vikings. “This week is a week to evaluate ourselves and get ourselves at the optimum level to perform at our highest level,” said Beachum. “We haven’t performed the way we know we are capable and now it’s time to make some changes, move forward, execute and get the job done.”
The Steelers made a move to acquire offensive lineman Levi Brown from the Arizona Cardinals, one that Steelers insider Ed Bouchette claimed was one made in a panic. Evaluation of Brown during his time with the Cardinals has shown him to be less than reliable, causing many to wonder why former Steelers offensive lineman Max Starks wasn’t asked back. Whether Brown is really the “turnstile” that Cardinals fans have claimed on message boards remains to be seen. To complete the acquisition, the Steelers traded a conditional draft pick for the seventh-year tackle. While reports have cleared up questions about salary cap room, Brown missed the entire 2012 season with a torn biceps muscle.
Cornerback Isaiah Green was released from the roster. Wednesday, head coach Mike Tomlin told the media that he will wait until he has the opportunity to meet with Brown before he makes any decisions on how the team utilizes him. “His ability to take-in and learn the information is going to be an element of it,” said Tomlin. “I’ll reserve all comment until it’s appropriate and we get all those things done. But we’re excited about acquiring a veteran offensive lineman.”
The Steelers defense has seen its share of questionable moments this season. Teams have taken advantage of the defensive line by forcing the run, then opening up the field to receivers who are beating the defensive backs. It’s something the Steelers aren’t used to. 2012 saw the defense at the top of the NFL. That isn’t the case in 2013. Cornerback William Gay admitted, “You don’t want to be standing here Week 10 or 11 saying, ‘yeah we finally did it.’ That’s something we don’t plan on doing and we are not going to do … We have to do it now. We have to get back to work.” When asked about issues on the defense, safety Ryan Clark said, “It’s not one thing you can put your finger on … It’s little spots everywhere where things are breaking down and that’s what causes you to lose football games.” Clark said that the team hasn’t been “sharp for 60 minutes.”
Due to the mandatory four days off under the collective bargaining agreement, the Steelers won’t return to practice until Monday. Some players have chosen to use the time off to reconnect with family or themselves. Cameron Heyward and Kelvin Beachum are two players who have chosen to remain in Pittsburgh. “I am staying here,” said Beachum. “I don’t feel like I deserve to go home. I am going to stay here and work out and think about what is going on. It’s the season and I am all in for every phase.” Heyward said, “When we get back here [on Monday] we are going to go full speed … We are going to continue to work and keep on driving.”
As far as injuries, there are no worries about quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, tight end Heath Miller or running back Le’Veon Bell. While they had minor issues, others are recovering nicely and will have extra time to heal due to the bye week. Foster will be limited to a “day-to-day” status depending on how much pain he experiences due to the pectoral strain. Rookie receiver Markus Wheaton had surgery to repair a broken finger and Tomlin said, “I think we have to get the stitches out before we even look at how we proceed from there.” Linebacker Kion Wilson is resting and rehabilitating a quad/hamstring injury. Steve McLendon is also slowly recovering from a hamstring issue.
On Tuesday, Roethlisberger addressed, for the record, why he made the statement that the Steelers were the worst team in the NFL by saying, “I was talking record-wise. If you look record-wise, we are one of (the worst teams in the NFL).” Roethlisberger admitted that he takes more pride from winning games than numbers, but losses have been painful because he puts a lot of blame on his own shoulders. As for what he sees from the offense, Roethlisberger was guarded, yet admitted, “Looking back at the film, we have done some good things on offense. We have gotten better every week. We just have to continue to improve, not take any steps back and keep trying to get better, because we feel that we are close.” Roethlisberger also addressed the horse-collar type tackle that happened at the end of the game against the Vikings in London, causing the Steelers to lose all hope at a possible move to overtime. “I got up and looked at the referee, and I kind of motioned for a horse-collar. He told me I was in the pocket … He is correct … Yes, the guy grabbed me by the collar, and outside the pocket it would have been a flag.”
Roethlisberger said that the team isn’t defeated, but that the team needs to give everything they have to get a win. The rest, mentally and physically, should get the team healthy for their 12-game stretch. When asked if the confidence level in the team had diminished, Roethlisberger answered, “Obviously, we are down and disappointed. It hurts, but confidence, I don’t think it’s low.”
For more Steelers news and updates, visit Steelers Central.
Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on