PITTSBURGH (AP) — The anxiety among the Pittsburgh Steelers after defensive end Stephon Tuitt left two plays into their season-opening win over Cleveland with a left biceps injury has been replaced by something else: optimism.
Not only will Tuitt be back in the huddle at some point this season, coach Mike Tomlin thinks there’s a chance — albeit a small one — Tuitt will be available for next weekend’s visit by Minnesota.
“It’s really positive compared to what it could be,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “His injury to his bicep is not season-ending. He was evaluated yesterday, we’re optimistic there.”
Tuitt signed a six-year, $61 million contract extension on the eve of the opener, then exited Sunday after tackling Browns running back Isaiah Crowell for a 9-yard loss on Cleveland’s second play from scrimmage. Tyson Alualu and L.T. Walton played well in Tuitt’s absence, though neither gives defensive coordinator Keith Butler the kind of options Tuitt’s versatility provides.
“We’ll go through the week and see what he looks like day to day and see if he’s functional, see if he has strength, see if it’s safe,” Tomlin said. “And if it is, we’ll leave the light on for him.”
The Steelers survived without Tuitt, though a stiffer test awaits against the Vikings. Minnesota dominated New Orleans on Monday night, and Tomlin is aware his team needs to be considerably sharper than the one that piled up 144 yards in penalties, including four flags for unnecessary roughness and six for holding.
“We’re not going to overreact to the penalties,” Tomlin said. “We’re simply going to acknowledge what they are. We’re going to continue to do what we’ve been doing and that’s developing the skills associated with our positions, and we expect the penalties to go down as a consequence of that.”
There was one call, however, that drew Tomlin’s anger. Cornerback William Gay was flagged for unnecessary roughness on Cleveland wide receiver Ricardo Louis after hitting Louis while he was defenseless. Tomlin has no issue with the penalty itself, just the lengthy delay between the end of the play and when the flag was thrown.
“Look, I’m a big player safety guy, obviously,” Tomlin said. “I’m on the competition committee, so very rarely are you going to hear arguments from me regarding calls relevant to that, provided they’re done in real time. I thought they called it off the Jumbotron and I won’t accept that.”
NFL spokesman Michael Signora said in an e-mail to The Associated Press on Tuesday that officials are not permitted to use replays on the stadium scoreboard. Tomlin declined to get into specifics when asked if he was given a reason behind the delay, saying it occasionally is difficult in the heat of the moment to get “legitimate” answers.
“Maybe some of the time it has to do with the nature of which I ask the question,” Tomlin said. “I need to be more politically correct if I want an answer in some of those instances.”
#Steelers have re-signed LB Steven Johnson and terminated LB L.J. Fort.
— Bob Pompeani (@KDPomp) September 12, 2017
NOTES: The Steelers released linebacker L.J. Fort and re-signed linebacker Steven Johnson. … Tomlin declined to blame running back Le’Veon Bell’s slow start (10 carries, 32 yards) on his absence during training camp. “You can sing that Le’Veon Bell camp song all you want,” Tomlin said. “He’s here. He’s working. It’s Week 2. We’re getting ready to play the Minnesota Vikings. I’m done with it.”
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