By Christina Rivers
The Steelers will enter their week six game against the Cleveland Browns with only three players missing action. Overall, the Steelers are perhaps in the best shape of the season in terms of injuries, but will fill in for Ryan Shazier, Shamarko Thomas and Ike Taylor. Questions about the progress of other rookies came up this week, but the coaching staff all addressed the press with information that indicates that they are working them into the roster and games according to their level of experience and preparation. The Steelers defense will be facing an improved Browns offense than they saw at the beginning of the season and Pittsburgh is looking forward to the AFC North matchup.
Although rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier is working his way into shape from a knee injury and saw limited playing time in practice on Thursday and Friday, he will join Ike Taylor and Shamarko Thomas in watching the game from the sidelines against the Browns. Shazier is anxious to get back on the field, but the Steelers have been cautiously optimistic about him returning to full play.
“If (Shazier) is healthy enough…we will see where today and tomorrow takes us in that regard,” head coach Mike Tomlin said in his Tuesday press conference. Shazier wasn’t ready, and neither was Thomas who saw most rehabilitation time and no practice time during the week.
Questions about the progress of rookies, wide receiver Martavis Bryant and running back Dri Archer, were addressed by offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
“(Bryant) is making progress, no doubt about it,” said Haley. “Any missed time for a rookie is going to be a setback…this is a highly competitive situation when you are talking about those fours, fives and sixes at positions like receiver.”
Haley indicated that it would be head coach Mike Tomlin’s call, but that it wouldn’t be out of the question for Bryant to get times on special teams or on offense. As for Archer, his play was hampered against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“We have a real good back in Le’Veon Bell and a big dog in LeGarrette Blount. They are fighting for snaps. So (Archer) is going to have to fight and take advantage of his opportunities,” said Haley. “It’s a good challenge because he is a talented kid…I think he’s a god runner and that includes inside. I don’t think he can carry it 25 times per game if he were the feature guy.”
Haley said that he believes Archer has good vision, but has struggled when blocking breakdowns have happened, keeping Archer from turning opportunities into big plays.
While defensive end Brett Keisel, tight end Heath Miller, and safeties Mike Mitchell and Troy Polamalu all saw time off on Wednesday from practice, none of their absences were injury related. This is a trend that has been seen from the Steelers the entire season – giving time off to veterans. Whether they are simply allowing these players an extra day of rest or personal training time hasn’t been revealed, but it has shown to be effective in helping keep them healthy and game-ready so far in 2014.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau addressed questions about Stephon Tuitt and Daniel McCullers seeing more playing time. “Well, I think if you ask the same question (in) a couple weeks we’ll be answering it differently,” said LeBeau. “(Tuitt) is coming along really good. We’re looking to get him in there and get some action.” As for McCullers: “You’ll have to ask Mike (Tomlin) about that but I’m pleased with his development,” admitted LeBeau. “He’s got size and strength and he’s working hard and he’s another guy you can see on the field any given Sunday.”
LeBeau believes that the Browns will be very competitive this Sunday and that his defense will want improvement since these two teams last met in September. “Even though the win-loss total may not be indicative of really close competition, if you look at (the Browns and Steelers) games (and) if you’re in those games and on the sideline…you know that 99 percent of them were hard-fought, tough contests because there really isn’t much love lost between these two teams…There’s no question that (the Browns are) much better and going to get better.”
Steelers Injury Recap
Ryan Shazier (LB, knee)
Ike Taylor (CB, forearm)
Shamarko Thomas (S, hamstring)
Brett Keisel (DE, NIR)
Heath Miller (TE, NIR)
Mike Mitchell (S, NIR)
Troy Polamalu (S, NIR)
Note: NIR, not injury-related
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