By Christina Rivers
The Pittsburgh Steelers took full advantage of the extra time between a week 11 win over the Tennesse Titans and their week 13 hosting of the New Orleans Saints to get players healthy for the last few weeks of the 2014 NFL regular season. At Heinz Field on Sunday, a day that will cap off the 40th Anniversary Celebration of the Steelers’ first championship in Super Bowl IX, Pittsburgh will only be without defensive tackle Steve McLendon and cornerback Cortez Allen.
McLendon continues to struggle through shoulder issues, something that is difficult to play with at the center of the defensive line. The wear-and-tear of pushing offensive linemen added to the pounding NFL linemen take along both sides of the line aggravates injuries of this nature, and it has been no surprise that McLendon has been working back into shape to start at the position for a couple of weeks. Daniel McCullers and Cam Thomas are likely to share time at the nose tackle position in place of McLendon.
Cornerback Cortez Allen’s name on the injury report for Sunday came as no surprise due to breaking a thumb and being forced to have it surgically repaired. Linebacker Ryan Shazier and tackle Marcus Gilbert both suffered ankle injuries that have limited them in practice throughout the week ahead of the week 13 home game. While Allen is listed as ‘out,’ Shazier and Gilbert were moved to ‘questionable,’ although they likely will not play on Sunday. If Gilbert is unable to go on Sunday, the Steelers may bring Mike Adams back into the lineup on the offensive line.
The Steelers defense gets a morale boost if nothing else in news that safeties Troy Polamalu and Shamarko Thomas and cornerback Ike Taylor are available to return to the lineup. Polamalu missed practice time on Wednesday and Thursday, but it was not related to injury and likely was spent resting for a return to the field. Thomas was able to go full-speed in practice all week, as was Taylor. Taylor is coming back from a severe forearm fracture that required surgery and steel plates to repair the damage, but has spent the time away from the playing field working on non-contact drills, making his return from what could have been a season-ending injury all the more remarkable.
New Orleans announced that veteran nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley has been moved to the injured reserve list with a quadriceps injury, moving John Jenkins to start at the position. “This is my second year in the league, (Bunkley) was my mentor,” said Jenkins on Thursday, “like a big brother to me…I just try to go out there, do the best that I can to help the team out.” The defensive line of the Saints has struggled in consecutive losses to the San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens who used the run. While Jenkins’ performance has improved the line overall, Pittsburgh could still capitalize on the lag by setting up an efficient rushing game to balance their offensive performance.
Several other players on the Saints roster did not participate or were limited in practice on Thursday, including Kyle Knox (linebacker), Khiry Robinson (running back), Jonathan Goodwin (center), Ben Grubbs (offensive guard), Keenan Lewis (cornerback) and Curtis Lofton (linebacker). Running backs Travaris Cadet, Charles Thomas and Mark Ingram look ready to go as does wide receiver Robert Meachum. Lewis and Lofton are expected to be available for the Sunday matchup.
Steelers Injury Recap
Cortez Allen (CB, thumb)
Steve McLendon (NT, shoulder)
Marcus Gilbert (OT, ankle)
Ryan Shazier (LB, ankle)
Martavis Bryant (WR, illness)
Brett Keisel (DE, not injury related)
Heath Miller (TE, not injury related)
Troy Polamalu (S, not injury related)
Ike Taylor (CB, forearm)
Shamarko Thomas (S, hamstring)
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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