The 2021 NFL regular season is underway and teams are used to their routine with what occurs during a typical game week. After coming out of a Sunday game, albeit a night game on the West Coast, the Steelers are once again on a regular week of preparation as head coach Mike Tomlin held his typical Tuesday press conference. 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.
Devin Bush & Zach Banner
As the 2021 season rolls on, it is becoming even more apparent to those watching Steelers games that former first-round draft pick Devin Bush is struggling as he returns from injury. Coach Tomlin was asked about how he would characterize the play of Bush this season. In his response, Zach Banner was one of several examples Coach Tomlin used about players coming back from an ACL injury.
“It’s been spotty at times. It hasn’t been at the level of consistency that he would like or we would like. But he’s had some challenges from a health standpoint, working back from the injuries and things that he has. He was the Ed Block Courage Award winner for his ability to come back. You look at some of the similar injuries that are going on around the League, guys that are in similar circumstances, they’re participating much less. Unfortunately, I saw Bud Dupree, for instance, was placed on IR last week, and Saquon Barkley and others. Zach Banner, on our team, is still working his way back. We want more from him. He wants more from himself. But we are appreciative that he’s put himself in position to be available and is playing as much as he is and is having the level of consistent availability and production that he is.”
In 2020, Chase Claypool broke onto the scene in his rookie season. Coach Tomlin was asked about the connection between rookie sensation Jamar Chase and quarterback Joe Burrow, and in his response coach Tomlin brought up Chase Claypool as one example of teams adjusting to players with the more tape they have.
“Plays on tape. If you remember a year ago, for example, Chase Claypool in the first five or six weeks was just ringing up big play after big play. You get plays on tape, people recognize your talents. They make necessary adjustments and efforts to minimize your talents. Everyone’s professional. It’s a component of the game. It seems like every year there’s a young talented wideout that kind of takes the League by storm in September, and that’s not downplaying any of the significance of what Chase has done. It just happens every year. Like, okay, that speed is real. The same could be said about Claypool a year ago. I go so far back as Mike Wallace when he was young, Martavis Bryant when he was young when we first started playing him. There were a significant number of games where he was inactive, but remember, when we started playing him, he was behind people every week. I just think that when you don’t have a reputation on tape or an on-field reputation, you earn that with plays. He’s earned that with plays. He’s earned the respect, and they’ve earned the respect, of people that are preparing for them that they’re making a concerted effort to minimize some of that. But it still creates opportunity for the collective because I imagine that Joe Mixon is benefiting from some of the attention that that tandem is earning.”
Although he missed Week 11 due to a groin injury, rookie Isaiahh Loudermilk has seen increased playing time in recent weeks. Coach Tomlin was asked about what Loudermilk has given to the Steelers so far and if he was ready to take on a bigger role before he was injured.
“He was, and he was in the process of doing so if you look at his participation. I think it was consistently going up until he got hurt at practice the other day. He’s growing in all areas. He’s growing versus the run, he’s growing versus the pass. His production is revealing that in all areas, as well. He’s applying pressure to the quarterback, he’s stacking the point. He’s a guy that’s on the upswing, and so hopefully he can continue that when he gets back to us.”
One of the Steelers team leaders is defensive captain Cameron Heyward. Coach Tomlin was asked about the effort Heyward showed by running down quarterback Justin Herbert 40 yards down the field and if that sort of thing has an affect on other players.
“Like I mentioned in some other instances, it is appreciated. But it’s been so consistent over the decade plus that he’s been here that it’s also expected. It’s on and off the field. He handed out turkeys already. He’s a multiple time Walter Payton Man of the Year candidate for us. This guy checks all the boxes. He is a blueprint for young and developing players on the field and off, guys like Loudermilk. He’s a walking, talking, breathing example of how to do it, and so we’re appreciative of that.”
Najee Harris & Ray-Ray McCloud
Many in Steelers’ Nation have been frustrated over the last couple weeks of the lack of touches by running back Najee Harris in goal-to-go situations. Coach Tomlin was asked if there is an emphasis to get Harris the ball more in those situation or if it’s just something that they are seeing. In his response, Coach Tomlin mentioned a play to Ray-Ray McCloud.
“We’re not freezing him out in any circumstance. He’s an all-situations player for us. His play and the tape illustrates that. The two instances that you mentioned were unsuccessful goal line ventures for us. If we hit wide open Ray-Ray McCloud, you’re not asking me that question. If we scored on that last possession from the other week, you’re not asking me that question. We’re not overly concerned about the questioning. We’re focused on being successful. and that’ll make some of the questions stop.”
B.J. Finney & Joe Haeg
When guard J.C. Hasenauer left the game due to injury, it was tackle Joe Haeg and not guard B.J. Finney who took over at the position. Coach Tomlin was asked if Finney is able to contribute after having back issues earlier in the season.
“Yes, he is.”
In a follow-up question, Coach Tomlin was asked the rationale in going with Joe Haeg over Finney at guard.
“Joe is very versatile. He’s played a lot, has started a lot, as has B.J. We’ve got tough decisions to make at times when we decide who we go to. We don’t run away from those decisions. We run to them. We’re appreciative of the fact that we’ve got multiple guys to choose from in those circumstances.”
Cam Sutton, Joe Haden, & Minkah Fitzpatrick
The Steelers secondary were down two of their main contributors on Sunday night. Coach Tomlin was asked about what he saw out of Cam Sutton both with his play and having to be a leader of the group. In his response, Coach Tomlin also mentioned Sutton’s role due to being without Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick.
“Cam did what was appropriate. We appreciate it, but it was expected. You look around and you’re Cam and you’re the senior member of the group. He was without Joe Haden, he was without Minkah. That’s what we expect mature professionals to do: to close ranks and to provide alternate leadership and playmaking. And he did it and we’re appreciative of it.”
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