The Steelers will be without cornerback Ike Taylor for what Coach Mike Tomlin categorized as “at least a couple of weeks,” and in his absence rely heavily upon second-year corners Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown.
Allen, who stepped in when Taylor was injured against the Ravens, will start this Sunday against the San Diego Chargers at Heinz Field, while Brown will get work in some of the defensive sub-packages.
“I thought both guys did a really nice job,” said Tomlin of their performance against the Ravens. “They proved that it wasn’t too big for them. Cortez Allen has played a lot of defensive football for us this year over the course of the season. I was not surprised by his performance.”
While Allen has played in various defensive packages and filled in when needed, Brown has played mainly on special teams and saw his most extensive action on defense last week.
“I was pleased with the defensive contributions of Brown,” said Tomlin. “He has proven to be a very stable and reliable special teams player. It was good to see him get a substantial amount of defensive work, and stand and deliver, particularly on get-off downs. I thought they went after him early on in third-down opportunities and I thought he withstood the challenge.
“He will get many more opportunities to prove that. That’s what the NFL is about. We have some young cornerbacks that we have been excited about. Guys like Cortez Allen, Brown and DeMarcus Van Dyke. They will get an opportunity to show why we are excited about them. The next man will be up and will have an opportunity to put their hand in the pile to show why they can be reasons why we can be successful.”
Allen and Brown both battled with Keenan Lewis for the starting left cornerback job in training camp, which Lewis eventually won, but the competition helped their development and it’s paying off now.
“Both are experienced and can be described as experienced special teams contributors to this point,” said Tomlin. “Cortez took a step in terms of being able to distinguish himself as a defender. He’s grown over the course of the season. I think more than anything, the physical talent has been there. I think he’s grown in terms of awareness and particularly awareness in situational football and being able to put himself in position to make the necessary plays to get us off the field. We understand what comes with his position, particularly in third down situations.
“Curtis is being given an opportunity to show what he’s capable of. He’s continued to work and improve and made some plays for us a week ago and we expect him to do the same. They’re both talented young guys who are continuing to improve and prove that the stage isn’t too big for them.”
Not having Taylor on the field is something new for the Steelers, as he has played in all but three regular season games in his career, those coming in the 2004 season.
“We need them to answer the bell as we continue to push into a territory that we haven’t been in since I’ve been here,” said Tomlin. “You can say a lot of things about Ike, and a lot of positive things, but probably the thing that sticks out the most is his durability and availability. This guy hasn’t missed practices, let alone football games, since I’ve been here. We’re in a unique territory in that regard but we’re not going to make more of a deal out of it than what it is. He’s injured. Injuries are a part of the game. We’re going to work with the healthy ones.”
Tomlin said there is the potential to bring in a defensive back because of the injury to Taylor, more so looking to the future if another injury were to occur. But he wouldn’t rule anything out.
“We potentially could do that and maybe not even necessarily to make a specific move right now but when your lines get thin, you evaluate people for potentially the next injury,” said Tomlin. “We’re open-minded to potentially bringing in a corner or two just to see what’s out there, to see what the short list looks like and see what people are capable of. But at the same time, we may be ridiculously impressed with what we see and we might do something. So, I’m not closing the door on that in any form or fashion.”
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Last week running back Rashard Mendenhall was a game day inactive, with Jonathan Dwyer starting and Isaac Redman spelling him, roles that they will have again this week.
“We don’t intend on doing anything differently in terms of Jonathan (Dwyer) being the guy and of course, (Isaac Redman) supplementing him because Red is capable of distinguishing himself in situational football, short yardage,” said Tomlin. “He’s a good blitz-pickup guy.
“Rashard will get an opportunity to redeem himself, I’m sure, at some point along this journey. That’s the nature of this thing. There’s ebb and flow and opportunities are presented. Obviously, he’s not being given one right now and due to a lot of reasons, most of the reasons not having anything to do with him or the running back position. We’ve got thin lines at a lot of other positions. We carried eight offensive linemen a week ago. We’ve got nicks at the wide receiver position. So, a guy who’s feature runner capable like Rashard who has very little contribution in the special teams game is probably not going to get an opportunity to show much if he’s not the featured runner.”
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“This is fun, hanging out with the kids, seeing their style, helping them pick out clothes,” said Will Allen. “It’s good to give back and it’s fun to see their imagination and their idiosyncrasies. It’s fun talking to them and getting to know them. It’s important that they see the Steelers want to give back and help them and it’s important they know what it means to give back.”
American Eagle closed their doors for the evening so the players could take 20 kids from Big Brothers/Big Sisters shopping for some new clothes, each of them given a $200 gift certificate to do so.
“It’s so incredibly special for them, first of all the shopping experience here at American Eagle, and second the opportunity to be with the Steelers is an incredible experience for them,” said Jan Glick, CEO of Big Brothers/Big Sisters. “Christmas is always hard for a lot of our families so we try to provide them with opportunities at the holiday season. We didn’t tell them it was the Steelers, that was a surprise for them. They were thrilled.”
And in the true spirit of Christmas, the kids didn’t just shop for themselves as many bought gifts for family members.
“This was really fun,” said Cheyenne, 14, who was shopping with rookie Kelvin Beachum. “It was a great experience for me. I wasn’t expecting this and to be able to get a chance like this is great for me. I have never had anything like this happen. I bought a gift for my little brother and mother today, and I got them signed so for me to be able to give the gifts and the signatures too is great.”
Beachum and Allen were joined at the event by teammates Cortez Allen, Plaxico Burress, Drew Butler, Keenan Lewis, Ryan Mundy and Stevenson Sylvester, who all enjoyed spending quality time with the kids, laughing and joking, and sharing fun stories.
“For these kids it’s an awesome opportunity for them to get some clothes from American Eagle,” said Butler. “And the spirit of them to give back is special. They are getting things, but they are giving back. It’s really cool to see. Everyone is having a lot of fun.”
It took no time for the teens to fill up their shopping bags with sweaters, jeans, jackets and more.
“It’s always beautiful to do this type of thing,” said Burress. “Just to see the kids out here shopping and getting some things they like is fun and brings a lot of energy to them. That is what it’s all about, taking the time out to reach back a little bit and give a helping hand to those who need it. It’s very important for all of us. I try to do everything I can to make people happy.”
Burress was shopping with all girls, and even though he has experience shopping for his wife Tiffany, shopping with teenagers is different.
“I am good with putting the outfits together,” said Burress. “I have an eye for what they like. My wife has broken me in, but this generation is totally different. They like all of the bright things. It’s fun. I am just enjoying myself.”
Big Brothers/Big Sisters provides children facing adversity with long-term relationships that can be life changing. And while this was just one evening with the players, it will have a lasting effect on the kids.
“It’s really special,” said Brittany, 17, who was shopping with Lewis. “When they called and told me about it I was happy to go. It’s great. I have been in the program since third grade and to do something nice like this I really appreciate it. I don’t get that much, so I appreciate everything I get.”
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“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”
– Excerpt from an editorial in the New York Sun, 1897, in response to child’s letter about the existence of Santa Claus.
On Christmas Eve, a doorbell will ring at a home in the Mon Valley area, and an excited child who can barely sleep in anticipation of Christmas morning will jump off their couch and curiosity will get the best of them as they peek out the window to see if maybe, just maybe Santa Claus is coming to the front door instead of down the chimney.
As mom answers the door, they will peer around her and their eyes will widen as they can’t believe who they see standing on their porch. No, it’s not Santa Claus, but it might as well be. Standing in front of them will be Charlie Batch, holding not just a sack of toys, but the dreams of what Christmas morning is made of.
“Sometimes the kids are excited because I am knocking on their door,” said Batch. “When you see their face on Christmas Eve you are like, ‘Wow, this is what it’s about,’”
Batch gets nothing but joy as he tells the kids that Santa asked him to help deliver the toys, bringing happiness to those who might otherwise go without the simple pleasure of a toy on Christmas morning. And it warms his heart when he sees the tears flowing from a grateful mother who might not otherwise be able to provide for their kids.
Batch is as excited about this Christmas Eve as the kids, so anxious to go out and deliver the toys for the sixth straight year, many of them donated by Steelers’ fan at the annual “Batch of Toys” drive, held at Dave & Buster’s at the Waterfront on Tuesday. Batch and his teammates signed autographs for those who brought toys.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Batch of the support he gets. “This time of year is always special for me. So many people support it, fans believe in what we are doing. We even have wrapping parties and everyone comes over and wraps them.”
The toys will be shared with local women’s shelters, the Salvation Army, UPMC Children’s Hospital AIDS patients, Pittsburgh Housing Authority, McKee Temple and families in the Mon Valley and Allegheny County that Batch will visit on Christmas Eve.
“When you are able to go out and see the expressions on a kid’s face when you are out there delivering the presents, no matter if it’s Christmas Eve or going to women’s shelters or Salvation Army, it’s something that gets me,” said Batch
Batch collects toys throughout the month of December through the Best of the Batch Foundation, combining them with his own donations to help those who are struggling during the holiday season.
“There is so much need for it throughout the year which people just don’t know,” said Batch. “You don’t hear all of the stories. For us to go out and do our small part…we are just trying to make a difference.”
The letters that Batch receives in the days, weeks and months after Christmas are proof that he is making a difference, filled with thanks, love and gratitude. Knowing what it means to so many makes him so excited to do it again.
“I am ready to drive the sleigh,” said Batch. “I am already looking forward to it.
“When I think of this time of year, I enjoy putting on the Santa hat, going out and delivering the toys. That is what it’s all about.”
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. In this case he might wear black and gold instead of a red suit, but it doesn’t matter. He makes you a believer.
Tags: Charlie Batch
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Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger continues to work his way back from a shoulder injury that has forced him to miss the last three games. Roethlisberger is expected to get more work in practice on Wednesday than he has since the injury, and how he performs could indicate if he will be available this week.
“Ben is getting closer to healthy,” said Coach Mike Tomlin. “He threw (Monday) and I guess it could be described as successfully. We’ll see what it looks like on the football field (Wednesday). He will be given an opportunity to prove that he is healthy and we will let that progress go from there.”
Tomlin said that at this point Charlie Batch will be the starter this Sunday when the Steelers host the San Diego Chargers at Heinz Field. Batch started the last two games, leading the team to a gutsy win on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
“In the meanwhile Charlie is our guy and we’ll prepare and plan with that in mind just like we did a week ago,” said Tomlin. “We will continue to give Brian (Hoyer) some work if we can. The reps that we give Ben will primarily come from Brian. There won’t be many opportunities for Byron (Leftwich) to prove that he is getting healthy even though he is.
“We’ll focus on the two healthy quarterbacks and the one guy who is trying to prove his health in Ben. We’ll see where the week takes us, particularly tomorrow. Once we get out there tomorrow it will provide some clarity for us and we will be able to make firm decisions. As we sit here today and put together a game plan we are doing so in the same manner we did a week ago in that Charlie is our guy and we our building our plan around what he is capable of and we’ll see what Ben can prove to us in the early part of the week from a health standpoint.”
Tackle Mike Adams (ankle) will be out this week, as will cornerback Ike Taylor, who could miss several weeks with a fractured right ankle. Cortez Allen will start in his place and Curtis Brown will play in sub-packages.
Guard Willie Colon missed the last two games with a knee injury, but he is expected to return against the Chargers, although he will be limited in practice in the early parts of the week.
Also on the injury front fullback Will Johnson suffered a concussion against the Ravens, but is going through the battery of tests needed and has done well according to Tomlin who expects him to play. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders suffered an AC shoulder sprain against the Ravens while Mike Wallace has inflammation in his right knee from jamming it, and while both could be limited in practice early in the week, they are expected to play.
(Check back for more injury news)
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Safety Ryan Clark brought his high energy to Whittier Elementary School on Tuesday morning as a part of the NFL’s Play 60 Super School Visit.
Clark, who was named the Steelers Walter Payton Man of the Year for his on-field play and off-the-field community involvement, spoke to the students about the importance of good health and getting 60 minutes of exercise a day.
He then took it to another level when he and rookie Kelvin Beachum led 50 kids who won the chance to participate in fitness activities during an NFL Play 60 Keep Gym in School Physical Education Class.
“It was a good time today,” said Clark. “The kids were extremely energetic, very excited we could come to their school. I had an awesome time.”
Clark knows how important it is for kids to be active, as he is a father of three that, as he will tell you, don’t sit still often.
“I think that is the big message, to say not only do I support it because the NFL and the school are doing it, this is the way I raise my children,” said Clark. “This is something I want my children to be a part of. It makes them relate to you better when you have kids that play soccer, basketball or football. They say this guy is not that bad.”
Clark also presented the school with a $10,000 NFL Play 60 grant for health and wellness programming or equipment.
Whittier won the contest, which is a part of the NFL’s Back to Football campaign, by starting the school year and the Steelers’ season off with football themed activities. Students wore their favorite player jersey or other Steelers’ apparel and learned about the history of the game, as well as fun football facts and football skills.
Students had the opportunity to work on those skills on a daily basis at recess, naming their own football teams and each child being a player from that team in recess games.
Lee Dreshman, the school’s Health and Physical Education teacher, entered Whittier in the contest, inspired by his own opportunity to meet former Steelers running back Walter Abercrombie back in 1983 through a contest, and he still had a picture of him with the running back that has always inspired him.
“It’s something that meant a lot to me and I wanted the students to have the same feeling I had back when I was in second grade when I met a Steeler,” said Dreshman. “It was a big deal for me and I felt like I was on top of the world. I will always remember that visit and I wanted to pay it forward to the students here at Whittier. It was a big deal that day.”
Clark hopes that down the road his visit to the school will have the same impact on a child.
“You can’t see it today,” said Clark. “You see the smiles and you love that, but you don’t know the lasting impact. Seeing a coach come in and say here is a picture of me when I was a kid and him still remember that day, makes you think maybe going out and doing these things will impact children for the rest of their lives.”
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Check out the Steelers notes for this week’s game against the San Diego Chargers.
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Quarterback Charlie Batch is nominated for the NFL’s GMC Never Say Never Moment of the Week for his performance against the Baltimore Ravens. Batch led the offense to 10 fourth quarter points en route to the 23-20 victory on a last second field goal by kicker Shaun Suisham.
Steelers fans can vote for Batch by visiting NFL.com/gmc.
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