The 2021 NFL regular season is rolling into December and teams are used to their routine with what occurs during a typical game week. That is, until they are forced into playing on a Thursday. After coming out of a big divisional comeback win on Sunday, the Steelers are on a condensed schedule as head coach Mike Tomlin held his typical Tuesday press conference on Monday. 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.
The Steelers called on a number of players against the Ravens who they hadn’t used previously in 2021, one of which was cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. Coach Tomlin was asked why Witherspoon was a player they identified to play this past game and if he benefited from being able to be on the field throughout the game rather than just coming in for a few snaps.
“It was one of the chief reasons we acquired him when we acquired him. He’s a veteran guy that’s assumed that role in the past, has played starting football and played a lot of football. But he got on a moving train here, and so he had to learn what to do and bide his time and wait for his opportunity. The opportunity presented itself and he displayed readiness, which is not surprising by us. He’s been engaged in the preparation process, whether he’s had a significant role by plan or not. He’s been highly professional in preparation, and so we’re appreciative of his efforts and probably not overly surprised by it.
After dropping a touchdown pass in the first half, Diontae Johnson responded with two touchdowns and over 100 yards receiving on Sunday. Coach Tomlin was asked how he has seen Johnson become more mentally tough and be able to rebound.
“I just think it’s maturation. He’s becoming a veteran guy, and so it’s reasonable to expect him to get better physically, him to get better intellectually in terms of knowing and understanding the game and utilizing that knowledge for his good. And also, just being able to withstand the ups and downs that is a game or a series or a season. We’re appreciative of his growth and development, but I don’t think anyone’s surprised by it. As a matter of fact, we expected it and we needed it.”
Ben Roethlisberger & Cam Heyward
According to Steelers defensive captain Cameron Heyward, Ben Roethlisberger was given the game ball following Sunday’s win. Coach Tomlin was asked why he chose Roethlisberger.
“Because I’ve been in a lot of circumstances like that with him and he usually does what he did last night. And not only that, but he relishes those opportunities. You want to educate young players too. I’m sure Ben’s got a lot of game balls at the house, but it was also a point to be made to the young player: what’s desired and expected. Our young players get an opportunity to learn a lot from guys like Ben and Cam, not only in terms of how they conduct themselves and the things that they say, but how they perform and how they perform in those thick moments. You get to be Ben, you get to be Cam for a reason: because of your ability and your willingness to consistently rise up in those moments and deliver.”
John Leglue & Robert Spillane
Another player who stepped up big for the Steelers was guard John Leglue, who saw his first regular-season NFL snaps on the Steelers fourth offensive play of the game. Coach Tomlin was asked his thoughts on Leglue’s performance, and in his response he mentioned another unknown player who was thrust into action last season in Robert Spillane.
“If you remember, we had some dog days in team development where we were running really, really low on offensive linemen in August. That’s what I mean when I routinely say, ‘One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity,’ because there was a block of days where we were really low on offensive linemen and Leglue had an opportunity to learn and display position flexibility. That was a calling card. That was a place for him to hang his hat. And he’s been able to build from there and get better and take another opportunity due to somebody else’s misfortune and prove that he belongs. That’s what this game and this business is about. That’s one of the things that I really enjoy about being a part of it at this level. A lot of people got to know Robert Spillane a year ago in a different way than they thought maybe they knew him because he had an opportunity to step up and play a lot because of injury and so forth in his position. That’s what these journeys are about. That’s why we don’t discount any man, particularly a professional man who’s working and working hard while he waits for his opportunity. This is not a patient man’s business, but they’d better learn to work while they wait.”
In a later question, Coach Tomlin was asked if it was more difficult for a player like Leglue to be thrown in there without knowing he was going to see the field.
“I don’t know. Ask Leglue. I don’t know that he has much of a resume to call upon, so I didn’t think it mattered. I think it was gonna be challenging regardless.”
On the Ravens’ 99 yard touchdown drive, they were aided with a 15-yard taunting penalty on T.J. Watt. Coach Tomlin was asked what Watt did to receive the penalty since it happened right in front of the Steelers bench.
“I don’t know what he did. I just accepted the penalty and moved on, and so did T.J. and the rest of our group.”
Coach Tomlin was asked a later question about how Watt compares to other guys he has coached who are relentless in practicing.
“He’s unique. He’s unique in a collection of unique people. But his production, his output is unique. So we shouldn’t be surprised that his method or his process is unique. His level of effort, his attention to detail, his intensity, all are unique.”
Taco Charlton & Derrek Tuszka
When players are unavailable to practice throughout the week, it gives others an opportunity to get some much-needed work. Coach Tomlin was asked about the performance of the aforementioned T.J. Watt coming in with no practice and performing the way he did. In his response, Coach Tomlin also mentioned Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Heyward as well as the opportunities given to Taco Charlton and Derrek Tuszka in practice.
“It’s a global body of work. This wasn’t his first exposure to professional football or us. He’s been a part of this thing. He’s got a cumulative body of work or of preparation to call on, whether it’s over the course of his career here or throughout the course of this season. That’s why I call on it when oftentimes you guys ask me about Ben’s level of participation or lack thereof in practice. He’s been on the job 18 years. His cumulative body of work is an asset to him. It needs to be. It aids in the preservation of him. It also aids in getting guys who have less experience more work. And the same thing could be said for guys like Cam Heyward, who oftentimes doesn’t work on a Wednesday, or a guy like T.J. Watt, who didn’t do it by design but missed some time, and it provided growth opportunities for Taco and Derrek. He did his deal and called on his cumulative body of work in an effort to execute.”
With the 2021 season winding down, many in Steelers’ Nation are wondering if Stephon Tuitt will see the field this year. Coach Tomlin was asked if there was any update on Tuitt’s progress.
Montravius Adams & Chris Wormley
One other new player who stepped up big for the Steelers on Sunday was defensive tackle Montravius Adams, who was just signed to the Steelers this week. Coach Tomlin was asked how much information he was given to be ready to play in the game, and in his response Coach Tomlin talked about receiving help from Cam Heyward and Chris Wormley.
“Some jobs are easier to do on the fly than others. Generally, a defensive lineman, you tell them what gap to play in and you encourage them to stay in that gap, and it’s good business. It’d be more challenging at some other positions, and so I’m appreciative of his efforts. I don’t discount it, but it’s probably one of the easier positions to kind of get on the moving train with when you really look at it from that perspective. And not to mention, he was surrounded by some veteran guys that were very helpful from an assignment standpoint in Wormley and Heyward.”
In a later question, Coach Tomlin was asked if he believes he might have found a good fit with Adams on the defensive line.
“Just maybe. It was a good experience. We had an opportunity to walk up the tunnel together, he and I, after the game, and I expressed appreciation for his efforts. He expressed appreciation for the opportunity. And that’s what this game is about it, isn’t it? Particularly at this level: guys getting opportunities and taking advantage of it. So I’m looking forward to getting to know him more, getting to know his game more, and hopefully elevate his game and in an effort to help elevate us.”
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