For the first time in 2021 NFL regular season, we have a Mike Tomlin press conference on the regularly scheduled 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.
I’m not sure which is more, the number of players mentioned in this article or the number of questions asked about T.J. Watt. The first question Coach Tomlin was asked about Watt was if he was going to be on the practice field Wednesday in order to play this week. Although the other outside linebackers were brought up in the response, Watt will be the only one listed for now.
“Like it’s been mentioned organizationally here several times in the last several days, it’s my understanding, I remain optimistic that something’s going to get done from a deal perspective. That aside, I’m expecting him to work tomorrow. I’m proceeding with the assumption that he’s going to work tomorrow. That’s kind of the approach that I’m taking. He’s missed some time due to obvious reasons, but like I’ve also mentioned, over the course of this team development process, I focus very little on those that aren’t working for whatever reason that they’re not working. I tend to focus my energy on those that are. We’ve had a lot of things to focus on at the outside linebacker position during the time that he hasn’t been working: the acclimation of Melvin Ingram, the development of (Jamir) Jones, the continued development of (Alex) Highsmith. I’ve been pleased with all those fronts. Like I mentioned, I’m proceeding with the assumption that he’s working tomorrow, and he gets to add his talents to that collection and the development of that collection. Hopefully it culminates in quality play, not only this weekend from that group, but obviously over the course of the 2021 season.”
The next question for Coach Tomlin was about Watt’s snap count availability for Sunday.
“We’ll play it by ear. One thing I’m not going to do is assume that he’s regular or normal. I think guys that are in the position that he’s in are in those positions because of their unique talents and skillset and will, if you will. I remember several years ago, I watched Aaron Donald here in town for the vast majority of July and August when he was in a similar circumstance, and I was not surprised when he got to L.A. and performed immediately to an Aaron Donald standard. I think guys like those guys routinely do what others can’t. I kind of have that perspective on his readiness and the anticipated quality of his play. I’ve just been in this game so long at this level that I’m so used to seeing uniquely talented people rise up in the face of adversity or circumstance and exceed it. And so, I’d probably be lying if I told you I would be surprised if he didn’t perform and perform well.”
Coach Tomlin was then asked if his belief in Watt’s practicing on Wednesday had to do with the conversations they have had.
“I’ll leave the conversations had between he and I, between he and I. I hadn’t thought a lot about a tipping point, if you will, in terms of participation. Like I mentioned earlier, like the rest of our organization, I’ve been optimistic about this process running its course and so, because of that optimism, I’m anticipating quality play from him this weekend and beyond.”
After moving on to other subjects, the topic of T.J. Watt came around again when Coach Tomlin was asked about if the team would be doing any hitting in practice and if Watt would be participating.
“I don’t know how more clear I can give it to you. I’m proceeding with the assumption that he’s a full participant and working tomorrow.”
No matter how often they moved on, some just kept coming back to the question of T.J. Watt. This time, Coach Tomlin was asked about his earlier answer where he compared Watt to Aaron Donald and the difficulty of hitting after not doing so throughout training camp.
“I didn’t say anything was difficult about hitting. These are football players. That’s what they do. I imagine they warm up to that element of it extremely quickly. I’m just talking about special players routinely rise up in the face of adversity or what we think they’re capable of providing and exceeding it. I just think it happens on a regular basis at this level of football. It happens all around us. I’ve witnessed it so much over the years that I’m never surprised by it.”
Pressley Harvin III
The Steelers had an unprecedented five 2021 draft picks listed on the first team in their most recently released depth chart. Coach Tomlin was asked if there is some level of trepidation about starting so many rookies and in his response Tomlin specifically mentioned Pressley Harvin.
“I often tell our group; I don’t care about what means they got here. They’re here, and what they do moving forward determines who stays, who goes, division of labor, and so forth. I think where those guys are on the depth chart reflect what they’ve done through the team development process. I haven’t graded on a curve if you will. We haven’t graded on the curve. Those guys have earned their positioning through their play. I’m excited about what they’re going to provide us this weekend, but at the same time, I think it’s reasonable to expect those guys to find their footing and improve continually and rapidly over the course of this journey. I’m excited about watching them play. Not only them, but guys like Pressley Harvin, as well. I think that that’s what comes with this time of year. There’s always an element of the unknown that kind of heightens your awareness and gives you that tingle. Whether it’s individuals or whether it’s us collectively, as a unit or as a football team, I’m excited about getting in a venue under real circumstances in some September football with these guys. I know that we’re going to know a heck of a lot more about ourselves individually and collectively after this weekend than we did before, but I imagine 31 other teams are going to say the same thing coming out of this weekend.”
Dan Moore Jr.
Keeping with the theme of 2021 draft picks, Dan Moore Jr. moved into the starting left tackle spot on the Steelers most recent depth chart. Coach Tomlin was asked about how much Moore has developed, especially on the left side, since training camp.
“He’s developed a lot, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that he probably came with more than we anticipated. He’s gotten better throughout the course of this, but I think his floor was higher than anticipated, at least from my perspective.”
Melvin Ingram III
While on the topic of T.J. Watt, the player brought in to add to the rotation at outside linebacker, Melvin Ingram, was also brought up. Coach Tomlin was asked how Ingram has looked since he’s arrived at the Steelers and can he take on an expanded role.
“No reservations about Melvin’s capabilities as an outside linebacker or his preparedness in terms of being able to execute our football. Again, like I mentioned, one man’s misfortune or circumstances are another man’s opportunity, and the things that are going on with T.J. have really given (Melvin) an opportunity to acclimate himself to what it is we’re doing, but also do it within the first group and get reps with that group. I’m really excited about his preparedness.”
One area in which the Steelers I have not disclosed what they are doing is it the slot cornerback position. Coach Tomlin was asked about not having a player listed in the slot on the depth chart and if Cam Sutton would possibly be filling that role by sliding in from the outside.
“Very observant. I did that by design because we’ve got some options there, and I choose to hold those cards close to the vest. Cam Sutton is a very capable guy who’s done that inside, and it’s reasonable to anticipate that he’s gonna do it in some form or fashion, but he’s also going to play outside as well. He’s done an awesome job of that during the team development process, and so we’re going to spin the dial through the division of labor in that area, and I’m excited about being able to do so and some of the mystery associated with what we’re going to do in that area.”
Coach Tomlin was later asked about if the injury to Antoine Brooks caused them to go out and trade for another cornerback. In his response, Coach Tomlin mentioned Cam Sutton yet again.
“No, we just wanted to add to our outside corner depth. It provides versatility for us. Like we were mentioning and talking about Cam Sutton and his ability to move inside, capable outside guys and having enough depth at that position aids us in that regard.”
Ahkello Witherspoon & Joe Haden
One player who really needs to get up to speed with the Steelers is new cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. Coach Tomlin was asked if Witherspoon will be ready enough to get a helmet this week. In his response, Coach Tomlin brought up Joe Haden from when he joined the team in 2017 at the end of the preseason.
“We’re going to determine that. I don’t have the answer to that as we sit here right now. I think the quality of his work over the next several days will determine that. It’s reasonable to expect him to learn it. We’ve seen that, particularly at that position in recent years. Ross Cockrell was able to come in here a number of years ago and be ready in a week’s preparation. Joe Haden, when he came in here a number of years ago, I think he met us in Carolina and essentially had a week’s preparation. Particularly from a veteran player standpoint, a guy that’s been in some systems and been around some NFL football, it’s not unreasonable to expect those guys to be ready from an assignment standpoint.
Another player to join the Steelers late was Joe Schobert, who came halfway through the preseason games. Coach Tomlin was asked what Schobert has shown that might be better than expected.
“His above-the-neck game is what I anticipated. He’s been an extremely quick study. He fits in. He communicates well. He’s versatile. He can blitz, he can cover, he can tackle. But all of those are things that we knew, being so familiar and having competed against him, and I think he’s done nothing but just confirmed those things. We’re excited about watching him play within our group in a real regular season setting and watching a complete sample size.”
Zach Banner, Stephon Tuitt & Anthony McFarland Jr.
To finish up the press conference, Coach Tomlin was asked about the three players placed on IR last week. First up, Coach Tomlin was asked if Zach Banner had a setback in the one preseason game he appeared or if he’s dealing with more of a long-term injury. In his response, Coach Tomlin also brought up Devin Bush.
“That remains to be seen. We’ll play it by ear. I know that he’s working extremely hard day-to-day to get back to us. He sustained a significant injury and different guys come back at different rates. That’s one of the points that we’ve stressed to him and to Devin Bush. Early on during the process, he was dragging Devin along. When I think back to the offseason, and obviously, through the team development process, Devin has taken off and (Zach) is not so much so. We’ll continue to work him. He’ll continue to work in an effort to get back to us, and hopefully it’ll be sooner rather than later.”
The next question what about Stephon Tuitt and the history of his knee injury.
“I don’t have the exact date, much like (Zach) Banner. It’s unfortunate, He won’t be available to us this week. Hopefully he’s back to us sooner rather than later.”
Finally, Coach Tomlin was asked about Anthony McFarland, when his injury occurred, and how long he expects him to be out.
“To be honest with you, I hadn’t asked a lot of questions, and that’s why I’m being somewhat vague about the guys that have been placed on IR. I focus my energy on guys that are gonna be in a helmet in the stadium this weekend. I’ll provide more information about those guys at a later date or as they get closer to participation. I just hadn’t spent a lot of time asking questions about the availability of guys that I knew weren’t participating this week, so I don’t have a lot of detailed accurate information. Sorry.”
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