By Christina Rivers

On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers will enter Edward Jones Dome to face the St. Louis Rams with a few bumps and bruises, but no serious injuries. On the Wednesday and Thursday participation report, the Steelers only had a handful of players listed with one looking more like veteran time off. After a Week 2 performance against the San Francisco 49ers that saw several career and franchise-record performances, Pittsburgh looks to improve their record against the NFC West and Rams, who are currently in second place (1-1). The Steelers (1-1) are tied for second in the AFC North.

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Cornerback William Gay was the only player on the Steelers roster that saw time out of practice on Wednesday. Gay likely took veteran time off, which is not uncommon for the Steelers. On Wednesday, Gay was joined by defensive tackle Daniel McCullers and linebacker Ryan Shazier off of the field while cornerback Cortez Allen was a full participant in practice. Things changed a bit on Thursday, as receiver Markus Wheaton was held out of practice due to a chest injury, defensive end Cameron Heyward had an injury and was limited, and Gay returned fully. Allen was able to give 100 percent returned in a limited capacity on Thursday.

Shazier suffered a painful shoulder stinger in the fourth quarter of last week’s game, a neurological injury that causes stinging or shooting pain that travels from the shoulder down the arm and can involve numbness and weakness. Tomlin indicated on Tuesday that he did not suspect the injury to be a serious trauma, but the time to heal from such an injury varies depending on whether the neck is also involved, according to sports medicine experts. Shazier has had two spectacular performances in back-to-back weeks, and with him listed as ‘out’ on Sunday, Pittsburgh will rotate both Terence Garvin and Sean Spence at inside linebacker.

As for Allen, the Steelers used a combination of Antwon Blake and Ross Cockrell at the right cornerback position with success and are likely to return to a similar game plan against the Rams. That Allen is listed as ‘questionable’ seems to indicate Pittsburgh is ready to go that route once again.

With McCullers and Heyward banged up, more will be expected from Steve McLendon and Cam Thomas at their respective positions.

Defensive coordinator Keith Butler told the media that the Steelers defense is on a much better track when it comes to communication and getting a feel for playing together, even with the rotations, saying the “more and more they play together, the better they will communicate. It’s like being married. They got a lot better this week and they will continue to get better, I think.”

With the offense getting Le’Veon Bell back this week, the team released wide receiver Tyler Murphy and then re-signed him to the practice squad after he cleared waivers in order to maintain their 53-man roster. Receiver Isaiah Bruce was cut from the practice squad. That leaves the Steelers with Bell, DeAngelo Williams, Dri Archer, Will Johnson and Roosevelt Nix in the offensive backfield and Antonio Brown, Wheaton, Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey at receiver. Martavis Bryant is not eligible to return to the team until Week 5. This may be the week Coates gets his first regular season start.

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Bell could factor more highly in the passing game against the Rams, especially if Wheaton is unable to go on Sunday. “Some guys are just more natural than others,” Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said of Bell. “Through time he has become much more detailed in what he is trying to get done and to make sure he is on the same page as Ben (Roethlisberger). The talent is there, and he keeps refining the skill.”

Haley, like Tomlin, is focused on how well the offensive line does against the Rams’ stout defensive line. “It’s going to be a great test, starting with Aaron Donald,” said Haley. “They are a fast, quick group. It will be the best group we’ve seen to date. So, we are going to have to communicate well.”

Fantasy outlook

Right now, Ben Roethlisberger still looks to be a viable option to start, though he’ll be tested by the Rams defense. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell should start in almost every league this week. Wheaton may be a bit of a question mark and it is unclear how many touches Williams will get from the offensive backfield. The Steelers defense is moving up in value to fantasy owners, but they still sit at the middle of the pack of available teams on most fantasy sites.

Injury Recap

Out
Daniel McCullers (DT- knee)
Ryan Shazier (ILB – shoulder)

Questionable
Cortez Allen (CB – knee)

Probable
William Gay (CB – Not injury related)
Cameron Heyward (DE – elbow)
Markus Wheaton (WR – chest)

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Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a journalist 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 as well as a published author. Her work can be found on
Examiner.com.