By Christina Rivers
A tenuous 2013 NFL season has the Pittsburgh Steelers smoothing out more wrinkles, looking for clarity and consistency and trying to prevent failures that could destroy any hopes at not only making the playoffs, but a successful end to an arduous uphill battle that has been two steps forward and one step back all year. Following a close loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving night that could have placed the Steelers in a wild-card slot, Pittsburgh is faced with more injuries that will require them to draw deep.
On Saturday, the Steelers placed center Fernando Velasco on the reserve/injured list and signed offensive tackle Rashad Butler and center Eric Olsen. To make room for offensive line replacements, Pittsburgh released cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke. Inexplicably, Butler left the team on Sunday for “personal reasons.” Butler was a free agent who last played with the Cleveland Browns, but left the Steelers with more questions than answers. Velasco, who had been a strong leader on the offensive line in place of the injured Maurkice Pouncey, was replaced by Cody Wallace during the Ravens game. Levi Brown tore a triceps before his first game with the team and went on injured reserve right away. Olsen and Guy Whimper are in reserve on the offensive line, but with injuries to left tackle Kelvin Beachum, Mike Adams and David DeCastro, depth is a serious concern moving forward for the Steelers.
“[Sunday] will be my first real NFL start,” Wallace said on Monday, “but I feel good about my conditioning level.” When asked if he had ever witnessed as many injuries to one unit as he has with the Steelers, Wallace admitted, “I really haven’t. This year has been kind of unusual in that way. Luckily, we’ve had guys that stepped in and have done a good job … [Fernando] Velasco has done a really good job of stepping in … He is alert and gets on the same plane as the guards. [Maurkice] Pouncey has strong hands and quick feet. I am just trying to take little things from each (of them).” Wallace has played in just 14 NFL games since he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers (fourth round) in 2008.
Olsen was enjoying Thanksgiving when the Steelers battled the Ravens only to be called on Friday to be told that Pittsburgh was going to sign him. Olsen was last with the New Orleans Saints in 2012 and started four games for the team out of 16 games. “I was spending time with my family,” Olsen said on Thursday. “We had football on all day … I saw the end of the [Steelers vs Ravens] game. It was rough on the offensive line.” As soon as Olsen got the call and landed in Pittsburgh, he got right to work on the playbook. “I was able to get with Coach [Jack] Bicknell and get a look at the playbook,” said Olsen. “Anytime you go to a new team, you have to catch up, especially this late in the season. Lucky for me, football is football. It’s coming along. It’s not an issue.”
As for how the Steelers will deal with the blows they’ve received heading into the game against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, Coach Mike Tomlin said during his Tuesday press conference, “We’ll make do as we always do. We’ll start with the healthy people. We acknowledge that there are some issues in that area that we are working on. We have capable professionals that we believe in and given a week to prepare we expect quality performance.” Tomlin expects the Steelers to still have an opportunity at 5-7 to squeeze into the AFC Division’s post-season race. Focusing squarely on the Dolphins, Tomlin said, “The reality is we have enough information to understand we don’t need to look outside of what it is we are doing right here, right now. That is preparing to play and defeat the Miami Dolphins and that’s where our energy should be.”
Update on Le’Veon Bell
After a great run for the end zone against Baltimore that resulted in Bell losing his helmet and consciousness, the rookie running back affirmed on Monday that he is feeling better despite suffering a concussion. The double hit on Bell as he tried to put the football over the goal-line caused many Pittsburgh fans to gasp and wonder if the young man would suffer long-term damage. Bell, however, says that fans can rest easier.
“I feel good. I felt like I started to feel better (on Friday),” said Bell. “After the hit, I was out of it a little bit, but the next day I woke up and was feeling better and have felt progressively better each day.” The scary part is that Bell doesn’t remember the hit or what happened immediately after. “It was a bad hit, but I got lucky,” Bell added. “I am glad nothing seriously wrong happened. It was an ugly hit and I am lucky to be okay.”
Coach Tomlin’s response to on-field incident
As Ravens receiver Jacoby Jones was blazing down the field on Thursday, coach Tomlin had his back to the play, but was partially standing on the field. Questions immediately swirled through the NFL world as to whether or not Tomlin had intentionally impeded the advancement of Jones. “My descriptions of my actions on that play are a lot of things,” said Tomlin. “I take full responsibility for my actions on that play.” Tomlin went further by explaining that while he was not intentionally in the field of play, his actions reflect poorly on the high standards that head coaches in the National Football League are held to. “I think my biggest error on Thursday night is not realizing that play jeopardized the integrity of the game from a perception standpoint,” added Tomlin. “Since I left the stadium it’s been shocking to me that my actions have been perceived in any way intentional. I would never do such a thing. I would never consider doing such a thing. It was a blunder.”
The NFL has yet to take action against Tomlin, but is expected to make some form of ruling that could result in a fine against the Steelers. Rumors that the team could lose a draft pick in 2014 have not been substantiated.
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