Mike Tomlin still isn’t sure when injured defensive stars James Harrison or Troy Polamalu are going to be healthy enough to play.
The Pittsburgh Steelers coach isn’t against amending one of his longtime rules either, if it means one or both of his perennial All-Pros will be on the field in Oakland on Sunday.
Harrison, who is recovering from right knee surgery, and Polamalu, who is dealing with a strained right calf, will have informal workouts this week.
Tomlin hinted Tuesday that neither veteran would have to practice to face the Raiders (0-2). Traditionally Tomlin likes his players to get at least one day of training in during the week leading up to a game before letting them loose on Sunday.
He’s willing to make an exception, however, for two cornerstones of Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense.
”I handle all of those situations really on a case-by-case basis,” Tomlin said, ”with the understanding that the younger you are, the more inexperienced you are, the more practices are necessary before I consider utilizing you.”
Meaning the well-established Harrison or Polamalu might not have to see the practice field. Harrison hasn’t played since a playoff loss in Denver nine months ago, while Polamalu’s calf didn’t respond quickly to treatment last week after sustaining the injury in a season-opening loss to the Broncos.
The duo was hardly needed in a 27-10 romp over the New York Jets on Sunday. The Steelers (1-1) shut down New York in the second half, holding the Jets to just 91 yards over the final two quarters to win going away.
Tomlin insisted, however, his team was far from perfect. Pittsburgh struggled to run the ball, finishing with just 66 yards on 28 carries. Through two weeks, the Steelers are ranked 30th in the league in rushing yards.
While he was pleased the Steelers were able to run effectively on a game-clinching fourth-quarter touchdown drive, Tomlin believes there’s more work to be done.
”That’s not what I’m looking for,” he said. ”I’m actually looking for better than that.”
Help could come in Oakland. Running back Rashard Mendenhall is inching closer to returning after January surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee. Mendenhall has practiced in each of the last two weeks and could see an even heavier workload in the next few days.
”Maybe we will bump him around a little more in practice this week,” Tomlin said. ”He has done a nice job of running and cutting at full speed. Now, let’s see if he can play a little football.”
The Steelers may need Mendenhall sooner rather than later now that backup Jonathan Dwyer is dealing with turf toe. Dwyer has been a pleasant surprise through two games, providing what little spark the running game has seen and proving to be nimble catching passes out of the backfield.