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 second road 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, Dionate Johnson, & Cody White
The Pittsburgh Steelers have developed a reputation of checking down their passes throughout the 2021 season. Coach Tomlin was actually asked a question about Ben Roethlisberger checking down, but ultimately took the opportunity to talk about the wide receiver options that were and weren’t available throughout the game on Sunday. Coach Tomlin also mentioned Najee Harris in the response, but he will be discussed later.
“It might not have anything to do with what’s going on downfield. It might have to do with the game circumstances or maybe what goes on up front. Nothing happens in a vacuum on a football field when you’re talking about 11 moving parts in each unit in planning and schematics. That was a function of the day. It won’t necessarily represent the functions of us moving forward, but it did transpire in that game, and he was a good resource to us, and it was productive. You don’t like to utilize it as much as we did, but it’s obvious things: we were playing with backups in certain instances. We went into the game without Diontae. JuJu went down in-game. We had Cody White playing, who was playing in his first NFL action, etc. And so, the quality of execution and cohesion in that area of the field just probably didn’t lend itself to going down the field as much as we would like, so some of those passes ended up in the hands of Najee, which is not a bad place for some of those passes to end up.”
Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, & Dwayne Haskins
The Steelers have been struggling to get quality quarterback play so far this season. Coach Tomlin was asked about Ben Roethlisberger practicing on Wednesdays, and in his response he brought up the work Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins get when Roethlisberger does not practice.
“This guy has a body of work over the course of not only what we’ve done in preparation this season, but over the course of 18 years, that has us taking that approach. And that is a global approach. It rests him, and rightfully so. He’s an older guy, and the wear and tear of plays affects him differently than younger guys. But also, he’s an older guy and he has a volume of plays that most guys can’t pull from that probably requires more physical work in an effort to be ready to play. You’ve got to look at the totality of the journey. We’re going into game four. We have many games that lie ahead, and I don’t want to be fielding questions late in the year about the quality of his throwing arm, for example. But it also provides an opportunity for things that have nothing to do with Ben. We’ve got two quality young quarterbacks that we feel good about in (Mason) Rudolph and (Dwayne) Haskins. Days that he doesn’t work allows them an opportunity to work with the first unit and grow and develop, which is something that they need as well. So, we’re serving a lot of things with that approach, and very rarely is that approach or that decision to that approach made in a vacuum or made on a singular set of circumstances.”
In a follow-up question, Coach Tomlin was asked about if he has talked with Roethlisberger about his health coming out of Sunday’s game.
“He and I talked yesterday. He and I always talk—I referenced that like that was something groundbreaking. We always visit after the game, we always visit on Monday, we always visit on Tuesday. I check the progress of the bumps and bruises associated with play for him, so I have an understanding of maybe what the front part of the week looks like and we can plan accordingly. Nothing out of the ordinary there.”
One player who left the game due to injury on Sunday and was not brought up in the opening comments was Kendrick Green. Coach Tomlin was asked if he had an update on Green’s status.
“I think that’s bumps and bruises associated with play. I don’t think his availability is gonna be limited starting tomorrow. If I’m wrong, obviously you’ll hear about it in the practice participation report.”
Chase Claypool, James Washington, Pat Freiermuth, & Trai Turner
In a question about maximizing the Steelers’ strengths on offense, Coach Tomlin talked about a lot of players. Along with the four players listed above, he re-mentioned JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson as well. Once again, Coach Tomlin also mentioned Najee Harris but we are still waiting for his own section.
“We’ve got a quality set of eligible. Those guys are somewhat young but they’re not young in football experience. Guys like JuJu and (Chase) Claypool and Diontae and James Washington have made a lot of plays for us. We have good, quality talent, and a variety of talent at the tight end position in different skillsets. Pat (Freiermuth), although new, has added to that. You’ve seen evidence of that over the course of the first couple of weeks. Although he lacks experience, Najee has shown in a very short period of time that he is game and capable of doing what’s required in terms of being a featured runner, etc, etc. I like Trai Turner and the veteran experience and expertise that he brings, but he’s a member of a unit. Many of those guys don’t have the experience that he has, and so it’s cool to watch him mentor and share that experience with others, but he can’t do it fast enough. We can’t do it fast enough. We’re coming together in some areas, but in some areas, we have what we perceive to be strengths. Some of them I outlined for you.”
Finally, we have reached the Najee Harris section. Coach Tomlin was asked about the high percentage of runs when Harris has been hit at or behind the line of scrimmage.
“I don’t have the percentages, but, like I mentioned, we’re all very much in the process of development. He has missed a hole or two as well, and he would admit that. In some instances, the holes aren’t there. In some instances, the holes are there, and he runs through them, but a penalty brings the thing back. We can talk around this, and we have, and I’m open to continue, but I’ll continue to answer in the same manner that I’ve been because that’s the truth as I see it.”
In another question, Coach Tomlin was asked about Najee Harris‘ comments of not losing two games in a row since high school and how he responds to these players.
“Welcome to the bigs. My sons didn’t lose a lot of high school football games either. They feel a little differently about the competition now that they play college ball. It’s just the nature of this thing.”
The Steelers are hoping to get back their All-Pro outside linebacker for Sunday’s game against the Packers. Coach Tomlin was asked how T.J. Watt’s presence impacts the rest of the defense.
“I don’t know what you mean by that. I imagine he has more of an impact on what offenses do when he’s on the field: their mentality in terms of protection and how many guys are getting out or not getting out, or what they’re doing to minimize the pressure that comes from the side of the field that he’s on. If that’s what you’re referring to, that’s probably more of a significant discussion than what his presence means to the other 10 that are on our side.”
With Chuks Okorafor leaving the game with a concussion on Sunday, Joe Haeg saw his first offensive snaps in the regular season for the Steelers. Coach Tomlin was asked what they liked about Haeg when they were looking at him in free agency and how he did filling in.
“I thought he gave us a solid effort. That’s one of the things that attracted us to him. He’s been a swing tackle for the better part of his career, a guy that’s capable of stepping up and playing above the line on a limited amount of exposure. He is equally effective at right tackle as he is at left. He also has been involved in some short yardage tight end things and functions in the past, and all of that was attractive.”
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