The Pittsburgh Steelers are extending their historic record to start 2020. But playing a game on a Wednesday, there is really is no time to dwell on the past as the Steelers are moving forward with their preparation to take on the Washington Football Team. Of course, this means Mike Tomlin’s weekly press conference, and on Thursday nonetheless. While not always asked about specific players, there were plenty of questions this week. Remember these players are ones brought up during the question and answer period.
Alex Highsmith, Robert Spillane & Kevin Dotson
Unfortunately, the Steelers are once again in “next man up” mode with Alex Highsmith. Coach Tomlin was asked if he is confident in Highsmith’s ability to see an increased role, and in his response he brought up other players who have done so this season.
“I am. I’m just as comfortable as I was in Robert Spillane when we called upon him or Kevin Dotson when we called upon him on the other side of the ball. That’s life in this business. Those guys work behind the scenes every day working very diligently preparing themselves for these opportunities not only in terms of knowing what to do but just preparing themselves in terms of conditioning for when we ring their bell. We are ringing Alex Highsmith’s bell now, so it will be exciting to watch him respond to it. It will also be exciting to watch his growth because growth is associated with experience. No doubt in upcoming weeks he will be gaining a lot of that.”
Coach Tomlin was asked a follow up question about what they liked the most about Alex Highsmith going int the draft.
“In the interview process I was really impressed with his maturity. But that’s not surprising given that he was a fifth-year senior. Often times, we aren’t drafting a lot of fifth-year seniors these days, so he had a maturity level beyond where he was at in this process. But he’s probably older than most rookies. I like his continual growth over the course of his career that manifests itself in the form of production. He had a really big year in 2019 at UNC-Charlotte. Those are some of the things that are attractive to us. He had a tangible, growing resume and he had some maturity that we thought would aid us if called upon in the ways that he is being called upon right now.”
With one half of the NFL’s leading sack duo in the NFL now gone for the season, it will be up to T.J. Watt to carry on. Coach Tomlin was asked if Watt can play at the same level with Bud Dupree no longer available.
“I don’t think T.J. Watt gets assistance from anyone in terms of his quality of his play. T.J. makes his plays. I don’t think that’s going to be an issue at all. Guys like T.J. don’t depend on anyone.”
Maurkice Pouncey & J.C. Hassenauer
A last minute switch for the Steelers on Wednesday was Maurkice Pouncey going on the Reserve/COVID-19 List and J.C. Hassenauer getting the start. Coach Tomlin was asked about Pouncey’s availability for Monday and if there were problems blocking players at the point of attack.
“They did some things schematically like they always do that created some issues for us. They’re a good group. They have great continuity not only in players but as coaches. Coach Martindale has been there a long time, and they’re able to do some things particularly in those situational moments that make them a tough nut to crack. Sometimes when you have an experienced guy in the middle of it like Maurkice that’s helpful. We didn’t have Maurkice last night, so there’s some consequences from that. We understand that. We will proceed with the guys who are playing right now, J.C. It is reasonable to expect him to get better each and every day. When Maurkice gets back to us, he gets back to us.”
Bud Dupree & Steven Nelson
Although it was assumed everyone knew Bud Dupree was out for the season, Coach Tomlin didn’t mention it. Coach Tomlin was asked for an official status on Dupree and if there were any other injuries, which included a report on Steven Nelson.
“Yeah, you can characterize it as official that Bud is out for the year with a significant knee injury. We have some other bumps and bruises associated with play. We are still assessing that. I know Steve Nelson went to get an MRI or something on his knee. Obviously, he was able to finish the game, but it was something worth looking at today. I’ll be able to give you quality information I’m sure tomorrow.”
Coach Tolin was asked a follow up question on any timeline on Dupree’s surgery and the impact of his absence on the team.
“I don’t know when the surgery is scheduled. I’m sure it’s a problem when a guy like Bud goes down, a guy that everybody has a great deal of love and respect for the man, the player, but we were stinking it up well before he went down, to be honest with you.”
Benny Snell Jr.
One player Coach Tomlin continues to give high praise for from Wednesday’s game was Benny Snell Jr. Coach Tomlin was asked if his workload will be changed moving forward.
“I haven’t considered that to be honest with you. Just trying to live in the present and get him ready for this performance on a short week. There are some challenges with that when you have a young guy having to answer the bell and working outside his normal role, if you will.”
Cameron Heywayd & Stephon Tuitt
The Steelers are once again leading the NFL in sacks. Coach Tomlin was asked what he attributes the consistency in the sack totals. In his response, he mentioned 2 players previously mentioned in Watt and Dupree as well as Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt.
“Quality players, it starts there. Guys like Bud, T.J., Cam and Tuitt, they provide a wave that we ride. They are good individually. They are good collectively, and they are consistent in terms of their performances. I’ve been a part of several groups like that. I was fortunate enough to be a part of that Tampa group that this group often gets compared to, and that is something that they both have in common. They have great individual rushers who show up week in and week out. I’m fortunate to have that perspective.”
Avery Williamson saw almost half the snaps on defense for the Steelers in what was his third game since he was traded from the New York Jets. Coach Tomlin was asked if he will continue to rotate Williamson into the lineup.
“If you really look at it, we played a lot of guys on defense and we did that by design. We have a block of games here in a very short period of time where the strength of the pack is the pack. We were thoughtful about playing a lot of people to keep the group up. We did it last night, and we will do it again on Monday.”
For a full recap of Mike Tomlin’s press conference, check out our podcast recap below:
Mike Tomlin’s interview can be seen here: