Tomlin says Steelers’ reserves looking ‘salty’
LaMarr Woodley heard it everywhere he turned after the
Pittsburgh Steelers were mauled by Houston nine days ago. On TV. On
the radio. In the paper. On the Internet.
The consensus was the same: The defending AFC champions were
No James Harrison. No Casey Hampton. No Rashard Mendenhall. No
Bryant McFadden – again. They couldn’t possibly resurrect their
season with a group of nobodies, right?
”People were saying the Pittsburgh Steelers was banged up, and
they didn’t have any guys to fill the roles,” Woodley said. ”But
we had guys that was ready to come in and play.”
And play well.
Buoyed by familiar – and not-so-familiar – faces in familiar –
and not-so-familiar – places, the Steelers rolled by Tennessee
38-17 on Sunday and spent 60 minutes reminding the rest of the AFC
why they went to the Super Bowl last year.
The Steelers did it with backup running backs Jonathan Dwyer and
Issac Redman gashing Tennessee’s defense for 156 yards. They did it
with reserve cornerbacks William Gay and Keenan Lewis continuing
their solid play in McFadden’s absence. They did it with Lawrence
Timmons disrupting things at outside linebacker while Harrison
watched from the sideline with his right eye patched up after
undergoing surgery last week.
They even did it with a left tackle – Max Starks- who hadn’t
played in nearly a year.
”We had a lot of guys filling in so we just got back to the
basics, I think, on both sides of the ball,” Woodley said. ”And
that really helped us out.”
Lewis and Gay have played so well while McFadden nurses a
lingering hamstring problem that coach Mike Tomlin is in no hurry
to get McFadden back on the field.
”When those guys step up and are given an opportunity and play
at a high level, than you are not going to fix it if it’s not
broken,” Tomlin said.
Tomlin called McFadden ”pretty close to healthy” but has been
impressed with the way Lewis and Gay have helped Pittsburgh shore
up its pass defense. The Steelers ranked fourth in the league in
passing yards allowed (174 yards per game) and are first in the NFL
in yards per attempt (5.6).
”We have some guys who have answered the call … and have
showed us that they are capable of playing salty football,” Tomlin
said. ”So those are good issues.”
Not all the reserves will keep their jobs on Sunday when the
Steelers (3-2) face reeling Jacksonville (1-4).
Mendenhall is expected to return against the Jaguars, though
Tomlin stressed Mendenhall’s workload won’t be determined until he
sees how the hamstring responds.
If he has to split carries, it’s likely Redman would get the
first crack. He ran for 49 yards against the Titans and was a
valuable blocker, helping quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throw for
Tomlin was ”pleased but not surprised” by Redman’s
contributions. Dwyer’s play was a little more intriguing. He ran
for 107 yards and did some of the little things that Tomlin loves.
He had two tackles on special teams and looked comfortable picking
up blitzes when staying in to block.
”He is growing in all areas, and that is what is going to be
required for him to continue to move forward and retain his helmet
as some of those guys who are injured get healthy,” Tomlin
While the starting backfield should be in place, the offensive
line remains in flux. Chris Kemoeatu, who sat out last week with a
knee injury, is questionable. If he can’t go, then Doug Legursky
and Ramon Foster likely will start at the guard positions. Right
tackle Marcus Gilbert is iffy with a left shoulder injury, meaning
Jonathan Scott would get the nod if the rookie can’t go.
Center Maurkice Pouncey is fine after sustaining a contusion on
his right knee and Starks will be thrown right back out there. He
appeared to not miss a beat against the Titans, getting the start
five days after re-signing with his old club. Starks hadn’t played
in a game in 11 months when his 2010 season was cut short by a neck
injury and he was cut before training camp in a salary cap
”It’s really amazing what Max did this week, to basically come
off his couch, work three days in practice and then start an NFL
game, you have to take your cap off to him,” Foster said.
It was like that all over the field against the Titans. Timmons
looked at home at outside linebacker while filling in for Harrison,
who likely will be out a month while recovering from surgery to
repair a fractured right orbital bone.
Timmons collected a handful of tackles and had little trouble
moving around at the end of the game to let reserve Chris Carter
get some playing time.
”We value position flexibility,” Tomlin said. ”Lawrence has
done it before. We expect him to do it, and do it well. It was a
good start. He is going to have a few more weeks there, and we
expect him to continue to improve.”
Follow AP Sports Writer Will Graves on Twitter at