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

through.

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

five touchdowns.

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

said.

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

purge.

”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

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