The Steelers beat up secondary could mean more playing time for some young players this week.
Cornerback Ike Taylor has already been ruled out with an ankle injury, and his replacement Cortez Allen suffered a hip flexor against the Chargers that will limit him in practice this week and has his game time availability in question. Keenan Lewis also has a hip flexor, but he is expected to play on Sunday.
The mounting injuries are putting corners Curtis Brown, Josh Victorian and DeMarcus Van Dyke in the spotlight this week. Brown stepped in early when Allen was injured last week and Victorian saw action in the second half.
“Obviously, we are running short at cornerback,” said Tomlin. “Those guys that had the opportunity to step up and log a bunch of snaps over the last week and a half, that looks like it is going to continue.
“We will continue to work with those guys and build a plan around what they are capable of executing and executing at a high level. More than anything, it’s not about what we call. It’s about what those guys are capable of executing. As we prepare this week, we will have that in mind, in regards to some of those young cornerbacks that are going to participate.”
Brown, the Steelers’ third-round draft pick last year, struggled somewhat against the Chargers, but Tomlin isn’t afraid of going back to him.
“More than anything, this is about it being an awesome opportunity for him to show that he’s capable and to show his preparedness to deliver for our team,” said Tomlin. “Not the results that we were looking for last time out for him, but you could say that about all of us. We don’t live in our fears, we live in our hopes. We are all eyes moving forward, in terms of our preparation and opportunity this week. He has an opportunity to respond to a less than ideal performance the last time out.”
Victorian came in and played just one day after he was signed off the team’s practice squad and Van Dyke has played on special teams more than defense, but Tomlin likes what he sees in them.
“Both guys aren’t afraid of the competition,” said Tomlin. “Josh, particularly, is very ball-aware and has good ball skills. Van Dyke has played a lot of ball, particularly prior to getting here. He’s game-tested. Both guys have worked extremely hard on the practice field, getting an opportunity to compete against the likes of Antonio (Brown) and Mike Wallace and represented themselves rather well.
“But practice fields, of course, and game fields are two different things. We’re excited about watching those guys prepare and, more importantly, putting them in a position where they can execute with great detail as we go into the stadium on Sunday. So, it’s more about what they understand and understand very well and are able to display on a game field than maybe necessarily what we would like to run or are comfortable with.”
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The Steelers dressed five wide receivers against the Chargers, including Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress. Tomlin said he wasn’t sure how they would proceed moving forward at the position, as it’s a week-to-week thing based on the health of the team at other positions.
“It’s not exclusive to the wide receiver position,” said Tomlin. “It’s about getting the best, healthy combination out there ready to play. So, five wide receivers was an opportunity last week. I don’t know that it will be the case this week. We’ll see.”
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It was another busy day in the community for the Steelers, with players out and about giving back and delivering key messages.
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“I have always wanted to be able to give back and now I feel like I am in the position to,” said Sylvester. “This holiday season was the perfect time to do something like this.”
Sylvester, along with teammates Chris Carter, Dmon Comartie-Smith and Doug Legursky, paired with the kids and took them shopping for fun gifts for themselves, things they might not otherwise be able to have.
“Christmas is about getting what you want, not always what you need, and to have fun,” said Sylvester. “I wanted to do something to bring joy to these kids this holiday season. Most of the time the things they need aren’t the most fun stuff. When you get what you want, toys or games, things you are looking forward to, it makes them happy. Bringing them that joy is special.”
Each child was given a $100 gift certificate, with much of it used in the toy department, but also on Steelers apparel and even some comfy boots that one young girl had on before she even left the store.
“It’s so much fun to come out here and put smiles on their faces and get them some of the toys they want this holiday season,” said Legursky. “You become a kid yourself, running around grabbing some cool stuff. I probably had as much fun as them looking at the toys. Hopefully they will have a good time with them.”
It wasn’t just the gifts that were meaningful, but it was the time spent with the players as the wide-eyed kids loved nothing more than hanging out with them.
“It’s special for me spending time with the kids, smiling and brightening their day,” said Sylvester. “Us shopping with them and letting them pick out what they want makes me feel good.”
Safety Ryan Mundy and cornerback Cortez Allen brought plenty of smiles to kid’s faces at the annual Allegheny County Department of Human Services Christmas football giveaway.
“It’s important to give back because we are blessed and fortunate,” said Mundy. “To be able to share our blessings with those that are less fortunate brings joy to our whole team. A lot of guys are doing things in the community right now, helping out those that need it. It’s all about helping somebody else out.”
The players gave the footballs to kids served by Children Youth Services, signing them and posing for pictures.
“Spending time with the kids is just as important as them getting gifts,” said Mundy. “They love being around the Steelers, hanging out and getting autographs. That is just as important as getting a gift.
“Giving and helping others out never gets old. That is one thing I take a lot of pride in. You get that good feeling inside and you are thankful.”
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Center Maurkice Pouncey and linebacker LaMarr Woodley visited Sto-Rox Middle School to take part in a “Tackle Bullying” assembly, addressing the issue that many students have to cope with on a daily basis.
“When I was in school there was someone who acted like a bully, people didn’t want to be his friend because playing games would lead to fights,” said Woodley. “Bullying messes up relationships you could have with good people. Nothing good comes of it.”
The two players were joined by McKees Rocks Police Chief Robert Cifrulak, who helped encourage the students to find constructive ways of dealing with aggression, ways that are not harmful to themselves or others as a part of Sto-Rox School District’s anti-violence campaign.
“I don’t think it’s right at all for anyone to pick on kids,” said Pouncey. “I want to set them on the right path, teach them to be friendly with each other and not pick on someone because they are smaller, or not as fortunate as them, or whatever reason they think they have.”
In recent years stories have emerged of kids who are afraid to go to school or participate in activities because of bullying, and the mission is to help put an end to that kind of fear and intimidation.
“Kids shouldn’t have to come to school and feel a certain way, feel that they are going to get punished by other kids,” said Pouncey. “For us to be able to speak to them about not doing that to kids is important.”
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In another assembly, quarterback Charlie Batch teamed with Harlem Globetrotters star Cheese Chisholm to deliver a similar message at Steel Valley Middle School. The Globetrotters recently launched “The ABCs of Bullying Prevention,” which stresses Action, Bravery and Compassion.
“It’s important to educate the kids about the issues they may be having and not knowing how to resolve them,” said Batch. “I make sure I let them know there are tools to help, whether it’s communicating with parents, teachers, principals, whatever the problem is there are alternative ways to correct them and they have the resources they need.”
Batch was also honored at the assembly as an “Ambassador of Goodwill” for his work with the Best of the Batch Foundation, and provided with 100 tickets to use for underprivileged kids for the Globetrotters Dec. 26 performance at the Consol Energy Center. Chisholm also taught Batch how to spin a ball on his finger and presented him with a jersey, but the key message was finding a way to stop bullying and protect those being bullied.
“A lot of those kids don’t know how to deal with the options,” said Batch. “They go from, if I tell maybe the problem continues if the person gets in trouble. We have to help them identify the problem, which is bullying and the options that are needed to correct it.”
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Steelers guard Willie Colon had surgery on his knee on Monday, after having problems with it over the last three weeks, and will miss Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium.
“He will be out for several weeks,” said Coach Mike Tomlin. “There is no real update on him other than that. We need to let a day or two go by before we look at the totality of his possible return or not. Just know he had surgery yesterday on his left knee, the one he has been dealing with.”
Tackle Mike Adams and cornerback Ike Taylor, who both have ankle injuries, will also miss this week’s game.
Cornerback Cortez Allen suffered a hip flexor against the San Diego Chargers last week, and will be limited in practice this week and Tomlin said, “It may put his participation in question.”
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley is expected to return to practice this week, with the hopes to have him back on game day.
Tomlin also said there would be no change at running back, with Jonathan Dwyer remaining the starter and Isaac Redman spelling him, despite the fact that the ground game wasn’t productive against the Chargers, mainly because they became one-dimensional once they got behind.
“We didn’t run the ball in the manner we would have liked on Sunday, but really it was a function more of situations than our inability to run the football,” said Tomlin. “As we sit here today we intend to utilize the same people we did last week. Hopefully those situations won’t arise where we get one-dimensional in the manner we did last Sunday.”
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