Bengals vs. Steelers: Playoffs or not, the players who earned it should play

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

It makes no difference what round they were drafted in, if they haven't earned it, they shouldn't be on the field. Making them fight to get on the field helps them as players and the development of a team far more than putting them on the field simply because they're younger.

Earn it, rook. Earn it.

Who even knows how many times that's been said to a first-year player at various levels throughout all sports. Nothing is handed to you. If you want to belong, you need to earn your spot.

The effort put forward this season by outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and defensive back Shamarko Thomas have been admirable - even historic. Few rookies play as much as they have this season. Throw Vince Williams in there as well, I'm sure he did the best job he could do.

Even if the Steelers have not yet been disqualified from the 97th and final tiebreaker for the playoffs, they aren't going to the postseason. But if the rookies weren't good enough to play when they still had a fighting chance at the playoffs, then they aren't good now.

They haven't earned it.

A team cannot establish a culture based on revolving standards. You have to be the best to play in July, unless the team sucks, then you'll play because you're younger, even if you never earned the chance to play.

The NFL is about player development, and that's why everyone clamors for the "younger players" to get on the field, because clearly, they're the magical ingredient to future success. To hell with intentionally putting an inferior player on the field, Player A was a high draft pick, therefore, he's better than a veteran who's outplayed and outworked him in practice each week since May.

Matt Miller told me he really drops the hammer, and has great fast-twitch muscles, therefore, he needs to play live against the best players. That's how it works.

Wrong.

As soon as Shamarko Thomas earns it, he'll be on the field. But the fact is, Will Allen out-performed him in even a limited number of snaps. Thomas hasn't been anywhere near a turnover, let alone actually made any. Allen was on the field for nearly all of the Steelers' nine turnovers during a three-game winning streak from Weeks 10-12.

LaMarr Woodley is currently five times the player Jones is - and Woodley was probably more than five times the player James Harrison was in 2007, his rookie year. Not getting on the field much his first year didn't really hurt Woodley in the long run. Jones can wait.

He can earn it.

The Steelers kick off against the Cincinnati Bengals at 8:30 p.m. ET. The coaching staff's job is to put the most competitive team on the field. They don't owe the fans anything other than their best effort to the best of their ability. If they fall short tonight, like they have eight times this year and 16 times the last 29 games, we'll rip them as we should.

But the guys who earn it should be on the field. If that number, 16, is to drop to eight over the next 29 games, it will be because younger players learned in practice, and in meetings and in the weight room.

Not because they played on Sunday Night against Cincinnati.

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