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Tomlin's Threat Difficult to Back Up

By Ed Bouchette
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1 year ago

Good morning,

Mike Tomlin’s threat that if players don’t focus on getting better they “aren’t going to be a part of us” was forceful, but was it realistic?

Change to football teams is difficult to make once the season begins. Sometimes it’s forced on teams by injury, such as the season-ender to center Maurkice Pouncey. The Steelers were fortunate to find another accomplished starting center in Fernando Velasco one day after Pouncey’s injury in the opener.

That was rare, getting a player outside the team, plugging him in and starting him the next game. They did that with Max Starks in 2011 but Starks had been with them for years.

Here is Tomlin’s threat, made right after their fourth straight loss Sunday:

“We are going to focus on getting better. That's what's going to change the outcome of these football games. Those that don't, aren’t going to be a part of us. I have great patience. We'll continue to work and get better, as long as I see belief and effort and continued improvement in detail, because that's what's going to change the outcome of these games. Those that don't, they won't be a part of it, whoever it may be. It's just that simple.”

Yet it’s really not simple at all. It’s not like the Pirates, where they can call up a pitcher from the minors who is performing well. The Steelers have an eight-man practice squad and most of those players are undrafted rookies and first-year players who can be signed by any of the NFL’s 32 teams at any time. Other teams have such practice squads as well.

The Steelers really do not want to go there. So, if Tomlin is going to follow through on his threat – remember, he did not say he would make changes, just that he would if he saw players not focusing on getting better – it will have to come from his 53-man roster.

So, let’s see some of the changes he could make.

--- He could use Jarvis Jones more often. Jones played 35 snaps vs. the Vikings to 17 for Jason Worilds but then, according to analysts at Pro Football Focus, Worilds had a slightly better game.

--- He could start Markus Wheaton at wide receiver instead of Emmanuel Sanders. Wheaton played 36 snaps Sunday, Sanders 67. Both had similar overall PFF ratings. But Jerricho Cotchery, who does not start, played 39 snaps and led them all with 103 yards receiving.

--- He could start Kelvin Beachum ahead of the swinging gate that Mike Adams has become at left tackle. But who would he play at left guard if, as it seems, Ramon Foster won’t be back for awhile? Guy Whimper, one of the lowest rated tackles in the league last season? Or Cody Wallace, cut by Tampa? San Francisco drafted Wallace in the fourth round in 2008 and the Steelers are his fourth team. He’s played 10 games, started none and has yet to pull on a uniform for the Steelers in the regular season.

--- If Adams

--- He could start someone else at left cornerback instead of Cortez Allen, such as William Gay. That would not be a popular choice among many fans but Gay has played far better than Allen. Problem is, in the nickel and dime defenses, they’d have to find someone else to play for Allen, perhaps safety Shamarko Thomas.

--- There really is no one to play right tackle other than Marcus Gilbert with Foster hurt and Beachum forced to play left tackle.

--- One change he can make is to have someone, anyone, return kickoffs other than Felix Jones.

--- Vince Williams did not have a very good game at inside linebacker Sunday. He can go back to Kion Wilson or . . . re-sign Stevenson Sylvester, a move that should have been made earlier.

--- Cameron Heyward has been among their best defensive players and he’s only part-time. He played only 18 snaps Sunday compared to 38 for Ziggy Hood. It might be time to flip-flop them, start Heyward and bring Hood into the sub packages.

So, there are not many changes Mike Tomlin can make, not matter how much he threatens. There’s not a good talent pool floating out there to bring anyone in, either. What you see is what you get.

We will leave you with this, however. It’s a quote that may sound familiar to you:

"We always talk about next man up. We have a lot of talented guys on our team.’’

Tomlin or one of his veteran players? No. That’s from New England Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo after the apparent season-ending injury to five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork.

The Patriots are 4-0 despite missing one of the NFL’s best tight ends Rob Gronkowski for all of those and their No. 1 wide receiver Danny Amendola for three.

More, via the AP:

“When Wilfork left, undrafted rookie Joe Vellano stepped in and got a sack. And Chris Jones, cut by Houston and Tampa Bay after the Texans drafted him in the sixth round this year, saw his first action with the Patriots. So they're thin at defensive tackle behind the other starter, Tommy Kelly."