By Alan Robinson
So what do we know after the Mike Tomlin news conference Tuesday, which wasn’t as informative or as news-filled as the one a week ago – partly because much of the news was made Monday?
A few observations:
— Tomlin says he does play an active role every week in fashioning the offensive and defensive game plans. There have been numerous questions about the Steelers’ game planning for the Titans game, including this from Deion Sanders of the NFL Network: “I am not concerned about the Steelers because of Mike Tomlin. [However,] I am concerned about their rushing attack [and] offensive coordinator Todd Haley. It seems as if every place he goes, this happens.”
— Tight end Heath Miller (knee) will rejoin team drills this week, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to return from the lineup. He’s dealing with a long recovery from a very serious injury to three ligaments. On his KDKA-FM radio show, Ben Roethlisberger said Miller’s progress is measured on a day-to-day basis and how he reacts to the previous day’s workout; Roethlisberger hinted that Miller continues to deal with swelling in the knee.
— There’s no update on running back Le’Veon Bell. Mid-foot sprains are not insignificant injuries. Return too quickly, and there is a chance of a reinjury. The Steelers aren’t like to rush Bell, even if their running game badly needs him.
— For now, Fernando Velasco will back up Kelvin Beachum at center. It wouldn’t be a surprise if that changes by Monday. The Steelers need to get Velasco up to speed quickly because the offensive line’s play revolves around the center, who makes the play calls. As Roethlisberger said, Beachum is valuable to the Steelers as a blocking tight end – and a big-body one – until Miller returns.
— Tomlin wants cut blocking to remain in the game. Defensive end Brett Keisel certainly doesn’t, and he wasn’t outspoken in his opposition to the tactic after Maurkice Pouncey was hurt – by his own teammate, David DeCastro.
— Running back Felix Jones didn’t get a carry because he still isn’t fully knowledgeable about the playbook and couldn’t have adjusted on the fly in certain situations, especially in the hurry-up offense. That also explains why the newly returned Jonathan Dwyer is listed ahead of Jones, but behind co-starters Isaac Redman and Bell. Dwyer, by the way, ran for 122 yards on 17 carries in Cincinnati last season, when Pouncey also was injured an out.
—- Lawrence Timmons will wear the helmet with the headset and make the defensive play calls, which Larry Foote was making. Timmons is much more knowledgeable about the defense than Kion Wilson, who was out of football last season. Wilson will replace Foote and is listed as the starter at inside linebacker.
— Roethlisberger also said during his radio show that he went to the offensive linemen’s meeting room to support them after they were subjected to criticism – apparently from Tomlin – during players meetings Monday.
— Jarvis Jones is now listed as the co-starter with Jason Worilds at outside linebacker. Don’t look for the “co-starter” designation to last much longer. If the Steelers are to ramp up their sacks and turnovers – the stated goal of the defense – Jones likely needs to be on the field.
— Shayne Graham will kick Monday in Cincinnati against his old team only if Shaun Suisham’s hamstring injury is worse than the Steelers fear. By my count, this is Graham’s 15th NFL team, including teams he was with but didn’t play for, including the Browns, who cut him during training camp.
— Interesting factoid: Graham has twice been cut in favor of Billy Cundiff, with both the Ravens and the Browns. Cundiff is the NFL’s least-accurate kicker over the last two seasons, based on a minimum of 30 attempts.