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How will the Steelers adjust to their own players being on the Reserve/COVID-19 List?

With four players added to the Covid list this week, how will the Steelers cover the losses within those position groups?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

In case you haven’t heard, the Pittsburgh Steelers are still waiting to play their Week 12 game due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Baltimore Ravens organization. While the Ravens have their own issues, they’re dealing with as 23 players are currently on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, the Steelers added four names to the list this week to go along with guard Kevin Dotson who was placed on the list on November 14th.

Obviously, the Ravens are having to adjust their lineup accordingly as they only have 49 eligible players between their active roster and practice squad entering Monday. As for the Steelers, they still have to cover for the loss of four players. So how will they do it? What is the plan for Tuesday night’s game with the loss of Stephon Tuitt, Isaiah Buggs, Jerald Hawkins, and James Conner?

Before diving into the position groups, it is important to remember that since the Steelers put four players on the Reserve/COVID-19 List they can bring up four players from the practice squad for the game who can then be put back on the practice squad without going through waivers.

Here’s a look at each position group and how the Steelers will likely handle the personal and playing time.

Defensive Line

The reason we’re looking at this position group first is because the Steelers are down two players in Stephon Tuitt and Isaiah Buggs. Surprisingly, even though they are missing multiple players, this is the position group where they may not need to adjust their roster at all. The Steelers typically carry six defensive linemen on the roster and dress five for each game. With the return of Chris Wormley for Week 11, the Steelers did not release a defensive lineman and were carrying an extra player. With five defensive lineman remaining, calling up Calvin Taylor or Demarcus Christmas, the only defensive linemen left on the practice squad, may simply be putting a body on the roster to only be placed on the inactive list. The Steelers may choose to do it since they have four roster spots open for a player who can be moved back to the practice squad, but it isn’t absolutely necessary.

As for playing time, I look for Chris Wormley to get the start at the defensive tackle position alongside Cameron Heyward and nose tackle Tyson Alualu. But when it comes to nickel and dime defense, don’t be surprised if it is Alualuwho stays on the field and has an increase number of snaps as the other defensive lineman. Of course, the Steelers generally get playing time to all of those players at the position during the game. The only question will be the distribution of snaps as Henry Mondeaux and Carlos Davis should also see the field.

“We’re going to utilize all the players at our disposal,” head coach Mike Tomlin stated on Sunday when asked about filling the void let by Tuitt. “We will distribute those reps among the group. The strength of the pack will be the pack in that regard. You talk about a guy like Tuitt and the impact he makes, it’s not a one-man job. It’s an all-man job.”

Running Back

If it were only James Conner going on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, the Steelers may have been just fine at the position. Carrying five running backs and a fullback just over a week ago, the Steelers are actually down to two running back‘s and a fullback. With Trey Edmunds going on the Reserve/Injured List last week and Jaylen Samuels being ruled out for the game with a quad injury, adding Conner to the Reserve/COVID-19 List leaves the Steelers with only Benny Snell Jr. and Anthony McFarland Jr. as healthy running backs. Therefore, look for the Steelers to promote Wendell Smallwood off of the practice squad for Tuesday’s game to give the Steelers three players at the position.

As for who will get the work at running back, Benny Snell appears to be the next man up at the position. Following Sunday’s practice, Coach Tomlin gave a vote of confidence for his second year running back.

“I have no reservation about Benny Snell as a featured runner,” Tomlin stated.

Offensive Line

With Jerald Hawkins going on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, the Steelers are left short on the active roster when it comes to offensive linemen. Usually carrying nine players, the Steelers were down to eight when Kevin Dotson was placed on the Covid list 16 days ago. Being able to dress eight offensive linemen as part of the 48 players active on game day, the Steelers currently have only seven lineman on the roster. One option would be if Dotson were to come off the Reserve/COVID-19 List, but there has been no news as to whether or not he is ready to be activated.

The other option for the Steelers is to bring up a practice squad player. The only options the Steelers have on the squad are offensive tackles Jarron Jones, Anthony Coyle, and Brandon Walton.

The most prominent role that Jerald Hawkins had on the Steelers offense was at tight end in the Steelers jumbo package. Whether or not the Steelers would use a different linemen, such as Derwin Gray, or if they feel tight end Kevin Rader, who is elevated to the 53-man roster, would be more appropriate. Either way, a practice squad player who would be brought up for the game against the Ravens would likely not even see the field unless it was an emergency.

So those are the position groups affected by the Steelers having players on the Reserve/COVID-19 List for Week 12. While the loss of Stephon Tuitt and James Conner should not be something deemed insignificant, the Steelers do have options for filling out their roster to take on the Ravens Tuesday night.