By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ bye week seems to have come at a fantastic time for the team—at least in terms of getting healthy.
The Steelers (6-2) listed two players on their initial Week 10 injury report. This is quite different than their Week 8 injury report that included five players, three of which ended up not being able to play against Detroit. In fact, there has not been a week where the Steelers have had everyone available, which includes the season’s opening week.
Starting free safety Mike Mitchell was limited in practice due to an Achilles injury that he suffered against the Lions. He reportedly suffered the injury late in the game, which was initially diagnosed as a calf strain. On Tuesday, during his press conference, coach Mike Tomlin said that Mitchell was day-to-day. So it’s a good sign that the 30-year-old was out there, though it is too early tell whether he will definitely play Sunday.
In the meantime, veteran James Harrison was unable to practice as a result of back issues. This was a bit of surprising news as Harrison did not play at all against Detroit in Week 8 despite dressing, marking the second time this year that has occurred. The 39-year-old, who has been inactive two times this year, has only been on the field for 29 defensive snaps.
Despite the lack of playing time, linebackers coach Joey Porter said that the franchise’s all-time sack leader is in the team’s future plans.
“James is never out of the picture,” Porter. “We’ll use James when we feel it’s time to use James.”
With those two on the report, that is good news for right tackle Marcus Gilbert, along with defensive end Stephon Tuitt and tight end Vance McDonald. Tuitt (back) and Gilbert (hamstring) have missed the last two games, though both have indicated that they are ready to go against Indianapolis. There was no word on McDonald’s back trouble, so it seemingly bodes well for his return this week.
In other news, Tomlin said that wide receiver Martavis Bryant will be active and likely start this week. Bryant was inactive against the Lions.
JuJu Smith-Schuster gets drivers license
The last year or so has got to seem like a whirlwind for Steelers rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster. First, Smith-Schuster hauled in seven passes for 133 yards and a touchdown to help the USC Trojans earn a 52-49 come-from-behind victory over the Penn State Nittany Lions in the prestigious Rose Bowl. Then he decided to forgo his senior campaign and declare for the NFL where he, of course, was selected with the No. 62 overall pick in the second round by the Steelers.
Smith-Schuster started the year sixth on the Steelers’ depth chart, though he served as the team’s kick returner against Cleveland in the season opener, returning one kick for four yards. He caught his first pass and scored his first touchdown on a 4-yard toss from quarterback Ben Roethisberger against Minnesota in Week 2. The 20-year-old became the youngest NFL player to reach the end zone since 1964, and the second youngest ever to catch a touchdown pass.
Smith-Schuster, who became the first player in the NFL to score three touchdowns prior to reaching his 21st birthday when he reeled in a 31-yard pass for a score in Week 7, had a breakout game against Detroit in Week 8. Versus the Lions, Smith-Schuster made his first start of the season and had seven receptions for 193 yards, including a 97-yard touchdown reception. The 97-yard passing play was was the longest in franchise history.
This week the script flipped for the youngster. Instead of being the first of something, he became the last current player to earn the right to drive when he passed his driver’s test on Nov. 7. Schuster-Smith made news a couple weeks ago when he reported that someone stole his bike that he rode to practice. He did eventually get the bike back.