The 2021 NFL regular season is underway and teams are starting to get into a routine with what occurs during a typical game week. As the Steelers begin their preparation for their first prime time game of the season, head coach Mike Tomlin held his regularly scheduled press conference on Tuesday. With many players discussed, it’s time for another players mentioned by Coach Tomlin during his media time. Remember these are current players where a specific question was asked during the Q&A period.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud, Cody White, & Chase Claypool
In what will likely be his last time being mentioned in 2021, JuJu Smith-Schuster will soon be headed to the Reserve/Injured List as he is set for shoulder surgery on Wednesday. Coach Tomlin was asked how the Steelers plan to replace Smith-Schuster, and in his response he mentioned four other wide receivers.
“We’re not trying to replace JuJu. We’re just trying to provide additional opportunity for those that get expanded roles, and many of those guys, we have a lot of confidence in. James Washington. You guys asked a lot about James Washington during the course of team development and his role and things of that nature We’ve got a lot of confidence in James. So however unfortunate the injury is for JuJu, it does provide an opportunity for James to expand his role and to do some things that we all know he’s capable of doing. It provides an opportunity for Ray-Ray McCloud to expand his role and continue to develop as a receiver and get more opportunities in that space. Ray-Ray carved out a niche for himself as a return man, but that’s his day job. He’s been working to develop as a receiver and has done a great job of doing so. These opportunities are big opportunities for men like those two that I mentioned. They’re big opportunities for a guy like Cody White, who’s been fighting and scrapping for an opportunity to lay a foundation for what hopes to be a good career for him. He’s had a window because of lack of availability of others over the course of the last several weeks. Chase Claypool’s lack of availability gave him an opportunity. James Washington’s lack of availability gave him opportunity. Now JuJu’s lack of availability gives him an opportunity. My heart aches for JuJu, but I’m equally as excited for guys like the guys that I’ve mentioned. I know their preparedness, I know their desire to be positive contributors to our efforts, and so I’m excited about watching them first, prepare, but then, ultimately, perform. They know that quality performance is going to be required.”
Coach Tomlin was asked who will likely replace JuJu’s energy on the field and in the locker room.
“That’s team. That’s easy. Guys do that by simply being themselves, the same way that JuJu developed that persona and that ability to be that for us by simply being himself. I’m not going to ask anybody to be anything other than themselves and it happens organically.
Coach Tomlin was asked if he’s had a conversation recently with James Washington’s about his role on the team.
“Not specifically, and particularly not specifically of late. We’ve been talking about what it is we need to do to win games and players’ individual roles in it. But obviously, over the course of a 12-month calendar, we do have an opportunity to sit down and talk about the trajectory of his career and his goals and desires, and that’s something that we do quite often.”
Coach Tomlin was asked about James Washington and working with him after requesting a trade. Before the question was finished, Coach Tomlin interrupted to make a statement.
“I don’t know that I ever acknowledged that he requested a trade.”
Coach Tomlin was then asked the rest of the James Washington question about if he had any conversations with him about the subject.
“No, I did not. James is a professional and a quality dude and teammate. He’s always ready. He is always working. He’s low to no maintenance. I’ve just got a lot of respect for him as a player and as a man.”
A player who is extremely likely to return to the Steelers this week is offensive tackle Zach Banner. Coach Tomlin was asked how to infuse Banner into the lineup if he is ready.
“Ready is not a problem. I’m not gonna make a negative out of him perceiving that he’s ready or him being ready. There’s nothing wrong with having more than five capable, ready men. Those are the type of problems that you want to have, and I look forward to the day that we’re managing that.”
Coach Tomlin was asked later how long they have to activate Banner from IR.
“21 days from the day of activation. I don’t have the exact date.”
The Steelers defensive line is down two of their three expected starters coming into the 2021 season. Coach Tomlin was asked about the cohesion of the group, and in his response he specifically mentioned Henry Mondeaux.
“It’s not a cohesion thing based on the newness of the collection of people. It’s a cohesion thing because of the moving parts because of lack of availability. The people that are playing have been here. They’re just getting increased opportunities. Their roles are emerging. I don’t want to put it in the same discussion because it’s a little bit different from that perspective. We’re not getting to know them. We’re just getting to know them as guys that get an increased opportunity and roles. Guys like Hank (Henry Mondeaux), for example, that had a nice play or two for us in this past game. That’s our focus. It’s about the development of depth and feeling comfortable with the quality of play, or having a certain anticipation with the quality of play of some of the backups in that space. That’s probably the discussion there.”
One wide receiver not mentioned earlier was Diontae Johnson. Coach Tomlin was asked the growth and work of Johnson.
“Diontae is just going through the natural maturation process that we expect guys to go through. He’s no longer a rookie. He’s been in some circumstances and situations. He is understanding the game better. I think it’s allowing him to play faster. He’s finding his rhythm as a professional. I just had a conversation with him in there. He was laying on the training table getting his body taken care of. I see him every Tuesday before I come in here and visit with you all. I think he’s finding the rhythm in his professional preparation process, whether it’s formally, like in practice settings, or whether it’s informally, like what he does with a Tuesday. It’s reasonable to expect guys to grow and make more plays and develop better consistency as they find a steadiness in life, and I think that’s just where he is.”
In a follow up question, Coach Tomlin was asked about the process of drafting wide receivers and in his response he mentioned both Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool.
“I don’t even digest it in that way. I’m not looking at it in that way, to be quite honest with you. We look at general skillsets. We want somebody to stretch the field. Okay, Mike Wallace was a guy that stretched the field. Martavis Bryant was a guy that stretched the field. Chase Claypool is a guy that stretches the field. We like route runners. Santonio (Holmes) was a route runner. Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders are route runners. Diontae Johnson is a route runner. But nothing any more detailed in that global perspective than I just gave you.”
Unfortunately, Devin Bush left the game due to injury in Week 5. Coach Tomlin was asked if the injury was a re-aggravation of his previous groin injury or a new one.
“I don’t know, to be honest with you.”
Ben Roethlisberger is coming off his best game of the 2021 season. Coach Tomlin was asked about how Roethlisberger develops connections with his receivers, both past and present.
“Not anything to wrap a neat bow around it. I think anytime you’re working to have success in the passing game, it’s steeped in in cohesion and understanding between passer and receiver, no matter who it is. That’s born out of, first and foremost, individual talents from all parties involved. And secondly, collective work. We spend a lot of time together, those guys do formally and informally. Ben has been here a long time, and over the course of that time, he’s seen receivers come and go and he’s taken a personal responsibility to be a component of their growth and development. I just think it is a very natural thing. I think you could point to those discussions regarding any well-tenured quarterback. You could say the same thing about Aaron Rodgers from Donald Driver to 17 (Davante Adams), who he’s working with now, etc., etc. Say the same thing about Drew Brees when he was playing in New Orleans for a length of time. I think that’s what the elite quarterback does. He develops a rapport and a relationship and an understanding with those that he targets. And when you’re on a job for the length of years that Ben has been, it’s gonna be a collection of guys that you can point to.”
Although Najee Harris had his first 100-yard rushing game of his NFL career, he was unable to finish the game due to cramps. Coach Tomlin was asked if they were aware of Harris’ cramping issues in college and if there is a way to manage it.
“We were aware of it, and it starts with hydration. We’ve got professionals. He’s a professional. We have certified athletic trainers and nutritionists and so forth. We’re continually managing that. We’ve just got to do it a little bit better, but I will acknowledge that he had a little bit more work in that game that he had in others, and so we’ll continue to adjust and find our footing there. But it’s really no big deal, to be quite honest with you.”
Tre Norwood & Arthur Maulet
The Steelers used multiple players to fill in for Cameron Sutton who missed Sunday’s game due to injury. Coach Tomlin was asked about the players filling in due to injury in the secondary and he specifically mentioned Tre Norwood and Arthur Maulet, as well as Karl Joseph who is currently on the Steelers practice squad.
“First of all, we’re appreciative of their efforts and their willingness to compete and play and expand their roles. Particularly for the young guys, the guys that hadn’t had an opportunity to be around here a long time and really get that component of it and understand what those opportunities are for them: young guys like Trey Norwood, who have proven that it’s not too big for them. It’s exciting because they have a lot of growth in front of them, but they’re doing some good things now, they’re doing some positive things now to help secure victory. Karl Joseph is new to us. Arthur Maulet is new to us. Those are exciting things. We’re appreciative of their efforts. We realize that, usually, it’s a multiple man job when you’re talking about dealing with new and young people, and that’s why we spread responsibilities around. But at the same time, it is really encouraging.”
For more information on Mike Tomlin’s press conference, check out the podcast below:
If you want to watch Mike Tomlin’s press conference, you can do so below: