By Alan Robinson
What we learned from the Mike Tomlin news conference on Tuesday: Not a whole lot new.
The one bit of news is that Cam Heyward, second on the team with nine quarterback pressures (Brett Keisel has 13), will start ahead of Ziggy Hood at left defensive end. That’s a bit of a switch because Heyward has been getting most of his snaps as Keisel’s backup.
Tomlin emphasized all three would play – Keisel is taking series off regularly – and that Heyward’s promotion is more because of how he’s playing. Hood has more tackles than Heyward – 16 to 6 – but Hood has been credited with only three QB pressures.
“We just want Cam to be playing more than he’s playing,” Tomlin said.
Tomlin also confirmed what became obvious in practice, that left tackle Mike Adams has lost his starting job. It’s likely that either Kelvin Beachum or Levi Brown will start Sunday against the Jets at MetLife Stadium. Beachum might have to move over to left guard if Ramon Foster’s pectoral muscle injury persists.
How Adams responds to his demotion could be career defining for him – and also draft defining for the Steelers. They expended a second-round draft pick on him last season, yet Adams has already reached a critical juncture of career – according to his head coach – before he’s played a full season.
If Adams proves to be a washout, it will be yet another Steelers draft error that partly explains why they are off to their worst start in 45 years. But Adams has time to get turned around, according to Tomlin – the Steelers like how he played during his six starts at right tackle last season, a stretch that coincided with their best offensive line play of the season.
“The most important thing is not maybe what has happened to him to this point, it’s how he responds to it and moves forward,” Tomlin said. “I think it’s going to have the opportunity to define him and his career. There are a lot of solid professional players that have been through ups and downs, the emotions and so forth, and the guys that that show staying power and the guys that respond to it appropriately. That roll their sleeves up and go to work – solid, steady players, even within our organization.”
Tomlin also said:
— Sixth-round draft pick Vince Williams will continue to play ahead of Kion Wilson at inside linebacker, although he had a rough game against the Vikings.
“We feel he’s earned it,” Tomlin said.
— He liked running back Le’Veon Bell’s debut against the Vikings (57 yards rushing, two touchdowns) but “I think he’s capable of more.”
— Nose tackle Steve McLendon “has played some good games … and I think he’s had some plays he’d like back.”
— It “depends on the circumstances and situations” how much quarterback Ben Roethlisberger should improvise. Teammate Ryan Clark said over the weekend that Roethlisberger needs to “tone down” his tendency to improvise because it is creating too many sacks and turnovers.
— He is very impressed with Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith, saying he can “make any throw on the field” and is showing “toughness.” Smith led a late fourth-quarter game-winning drive at Atlanta on Monday night that pushed the Jets to a surprising 3-2 record.
“He is a poised guy,” Tomlin said. “He is a physically and mentally tough guy. He is capable of absorbing punishment, standing in the pocket and delivering the football.”
— The Steelers aren’t having trouble being focused despite their 0-4 start.
“I like the demeanor and approach of the guys in terms of addressing it and dealing with it,” Tomlin said. “I don’t believe that focus has been an issue at all for us, to this point.”
The Steelers, by the way, must win to avoid their first 0-5 start since 1968, when they lost their first six and went on to finish 2-12. They’ve had great success on the road against the Jets, beating them nine times in 12 games, but they lost during their last two visits there in 2007 (a stunning 19-16 overtime loss) and in 2003.
This will be the first time they’ve played the Jets at MetLife, where they beat the Giants 24-20 a season ago.