Tuesday was a busy day at the team’s practice facility, signing quarterback Brian Hoyer and receiver Plaxico Burress. But the focus still was squarely on this week’s game against the Cleveland Browns.
Coach Mike Tomlin knows the Browns’ 2-8 record is not indicative of the talent they have or how they will play this week against the Steelers at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
“They’ve been in some highly competitive games,” said Tomlin. “They beat Cincinnati, they were in the Indy game and the game last week went into overtime. Such is life in the National Football League. They’re a competitive bunch. They play for 60 minutes, we respect them and our focus is on our preparation and ultimately our play.
One of the main weapons the Browns have on offense is rookie running back Trent Richardson. When Richardson was drafted, Browns’ Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown was critical of the selection, saying “I’m not overwhelmed with it. The problem is that he’s ordinary. I think he’s ordinary.”
Richardson has been anything but ordinary for the Browns, leading the team in rushing with 670 yards through 10 games and scoring five of the Browns six rushing touchdowns. He also is the team’s leading receiver with 37 catches for 289 yards and a touchdown.
“I was hopeful that the legendary Jim Brown was correct in his initial assessment of Richardson but I am disappointed,” said Tomlin, knowing Richardson is someone the team will have to contend with. “This guy is a talented runner. He has great contact balance. He is strong willed. He is highly productive. He has a downhill run demeanor. He finishes off runs. He has soft hands. He is their leading receiver as well. He is their feature ball carrier.
“He really is just living up to the expectations that come with being as high of a draft pick that he is. He is good for them in all circumstances, first, second and third-down, short yardage, goal line and in the red area. I mentioned what he is doing in the passing game. That’s probably as surprising as anything to me. Obviously, I don’t spend a lot of time evaluating guys that go that high in the draft, based on where we picked in the draft. But I did get a chance to look at him and he is as good as advertised.”
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The Steelers signed Burress after being impressed with his workout at the team’s indoor practice facility.
“He’s in really good physical condition based on the workout I just saw,” said Tomlin. “He’s got very good body control for a big man. He can drop his weight at break points. Obviously, he’s no stranger to football.”
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Charlie Batch will start at quarterback against the Browns after Byron Leftwich was injured against the Ravens on Sunday night. Tomlin said there won’t be major changes in the offense to fit Batch’s style, just some minor things.
“The changes will be subtle and they’ll be made with an emphasis geared toward maximizing his strengths and minimizing his weaknesses,” said Tomlin. “We’ve got a great deal of confidence in Charlie. One thing that I can say about this quarterback situation, as uncomfortable as it may be or may appear to be, it is not something that we’re foreign to unfortunately. We’ve been as far as three and four deep in terms of playing quarterbacks in recent years. Definitely in ’09 and ’10.
“Those guys do an awesome job of rallying and answering the bell. We expect them to. So, we’re excited about him preparing and leading us this week.”
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The holiday season is a time when those who are struggling to make ends meet often find themselves unable to enjoy the simple pleasure of a family Thanksgiving dinner, but thanks to the efforts of Steelers players, that won’t be the case for some.
Seeing the need that exists has motivated LaMarr Woodley, Max Starks, Ryan Mundy and Cortez Allen to step up and give back at a time of year when the need is strong.
Woodley teamed with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank to bring his message of thanks to families in Pittsburgh’s Hazelwood neighborhood, giving them the joy of having Thanksgiving dinner without having to worry about stretching the budget to do so. Woodley, who was joined by Charlie Batch, James Harrison, Stevenson Sylvester and Kelvin Beachum, distributed turkeys, stuffing, potatoes and all the makings for dinner to some happy recipients.
“The most important thing is to help out others,” said Woodley, who pays for all of the items. “Some people are not fortunate enough to be able to go out and buy things for themselves for Thanksgiving. Some are scraping up money to buy what they can and we want to help cut costs during times like this when the economy is bad. I am in a fortunate situation where I can help people and give back and that is what I want to do.”
As people made their way through the line, they shook hands with the players, thanked them and in some cases even gave them hugs.
“I am from here and any time I can come out and support the community and what a teammate is doing, I will do that,” said Batch. “This is always a great time of year, the holiday season, to give back. You never know what people are going through. When you can come here and put a smile on their face that is what it is all about.”
Woodley also gave back to his hometown of Saginaw, Michigan, donating 500 gift baskets with household supplies and basic needs to families through the LaMarr Woodley Foundation. The gift baskets were distributed at the Civitan Recreation Center, and included items such as laundry and dish detergent, paper towels and napkins, trash bags and more.
“Saginaw is not as big as Pittsburgh and there are some turkey drives so we cover something different,” said Woodley. “We want to help them cut costs on things, things you need during the holidays but are not always included with the food giveaways.”
Starks also worked with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, hosting the annual Max Starks & His Home Team Thanksgiving Celebration, providing all of the makings for Thanksgiving dinner for 300 families, while Giant Eagle also lent a helping hand, providing store gift cards for them as well.
“This shows the reality of hunger issues in the United States,” said Starks. “It is a real issue. We talk about a lot of worldwide issues, but there are issues at home we have to take care of. Even though this is a little bit, at least it gives them a brighter Thanksgiving, the families we are helping. I really enjoy this.
“When you look back on things you’ve done in life, to say you are able to help somebody who can never repay you is the ultimate honor when you are in service. It’s a cool feeling to give back and hopefully people will look at this and want to do similar things in their communities.”
Starks and teammates Maurkice Pouncey, John Malecki, Ryan Lee, Drew Butler, Chris Rainey, Greg Warren, Beachum and Batch, handed out the items to the families, and you could instantly see what it meant to them to have the players on hand helping.
“These families don’t get to be made to feel special very often,” said Anne Hawkins, chief development officer for the food bank. “There is a lot of prejudice against poor people. For them to be able to get their Thanksgiving dinner handed to them by a Steelers player they respect it’s exciting and just seeing the kids smile you can’t help but think this is what Thanksgiving should be.”
The food bank serves 11 counties in the Western Pennsylvania area and their numbers have significantly increased every month since 2008, with more than 2,500 new families being served per month.
“People who are going back to work are not taking jobs at the level they were,” said Hawkins. “It’s hard to watch. It continues to smack you in the face that this is reality for so many people. The biggest growing groups of people we are helping are the working poor. They are going to work and doing what they are supposed to be doing, but the minimum wage is so low and the cost of living so high. People can’t make it though the month.
“This country is a great country and we should make sure everybody can eat. That is a basic human need.”
Mundy partnered with UPMC’s Dignity and Respect Campaign for “Turkey and All the Trimmings,” distributing all of the essentials for Thanksgiving dinner to families through the Rankin Christian Center, close to where Mundy grew up.
“Times are tough for a lot of people across the country,” said Mundy. “Anything we can do to make things easier, even for a day, it’s important.”
The Dignity & Respect Campaign offers different tips, with lending a hand being the one that Mundy implemented through the turkey giveaway.
“I have been fortunate to be a part of this organization for five years and living out my dream in front of family and friends,” said Mundy. “It’s important I give back to the community. I accomplished my dreams being from the same city. I want to inspire people to do the right thing and make the right choices.
“It’s always important to give back, especially when you are so blessed and in a position to live out your dreams. You want to help people accomplish their dreams and move forward in life.”
While Allen wasn’t able to head home to Ocala, Florida to participate in his good will, he did his part for his hometown by purchasing grocery store gift cards that were distributed through the Green Pastures Worship Center, the church he attended.
“I wanted it to be a blessing for some families, those who are less fortunate and wouldn’t be able to have a Thanksgiving dinner without it,” said Allen. “I wanted to do something to help out.”
The gift cards allowed families the ability to purchase a turkey and all of the trimmings so they can enjoy the holiday the way that it should be enjoyed.
“I have a large support group there,” said Allen. “I think I am the only player in the league from there and I just wanted to show support for them the way they do for me. I want to do what I can to help out.
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Charlie Batch will start this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, replacing Byron Leftwich who suffered a rib fracture against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night.
In addition receiver Jerricho Cotchery will miss the game with what Coach Mike Tomlin said are “multiple rib fractures,” suffered late in the Ravens game.
The team brought in four players for workouts on Tuesday, looking to add depth with the injuries, including quarterbacks Mike Kafka, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles and Brian Hoyer, who was with the New England Patriots, and former Steelers receiver Plaxico Burress and Derrick Williams, who was with the team in training camp.
“We’re looking at these guys with the potential to sign at least one at each position,” said Tomlin. “We have a myriad of things going on in terms of the health of our own men. The men that we acquire will fortify our depth in terms of us preparing to win this football game.”
Ziggy Hood is considered questionable with a lumbar spine sprain and will be limited early in the week, but could see work as the week progresses. Isaac Redman suffered a concussion against the Ravens, but has done well in the tests and could play on Sunday.
Antonio Brown worked out on Tuesday and will be limited in practice early this week, but is questionable, as are Marcus Gilbert and Troy Polamalu, who is expected to run on Wednesday. Ben Roethlisberger is considered doubtful with an SC shoulder sprain.
“He had an additional test done today and all things are very positive in terms of where he is,” said Tomlin. “We are encouraged about his status.”
For Batch having the week to prepare and know he is going to play definitely will make things easier.
“Having a week to prepare is a lot different versus coming in during a game,” said Batch. “As you go through a week to prepare you have the chance to talk about what you like, what you don’t like in the game plan and let it unfold during the course of the week.”
Batch said that even though he has been in the NFL for 15 years, he still gets excited by the opportunity to start.
“You do because they are rare,” said Batch. “The longer you are in this game as a backup you don’t know when it’s going to happen. You count your blessings and continue to move forward.”
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Check out the Steelers notes for this week’s game against the Cleveland Browns.
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Steelers’ fans have a rare opportunity to see all six of the team’s Super Bowl Trophies on display at the Heinz History Center from November 23-30.
The trophies are available as a part of the History Center’s Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame exhibit.
Fans can take photos of the Super Bowl Trophies and enjoy plenty of Steelers and NFL history at the same time.
For more information, visit Super Bowl Trophy display.
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