Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tomlin Shakes Up Steelers Lineup, Makes Good On Promise

Updated 10/9/13
 
The Victor Hugo-novel based Broadway musical "Les Miserables" has a song of lamentation called "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables." It is sung by the character Marius who is mourning his friends who are no longer with him.

Seeing the photo posted by Pittsburgh Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette reminded me of that scene in the play. Because, since death is often colloquially equated with dying, there empty chairs associated with empty microphones at head coach Mike Tomlin's press conference. It was more sparsely attended than your typical meeting of Congress. 

A lifeless 0-4 start will do that.

In light of said start, after the loss to the Minnesota Vikings, Tomlin promised that there would be changes. 

"We'll continue to work and get better as long as I see belief and effort and continued improvement in detail because that's what's going to change the outcome of these games," Tomlin said. "Those who don't, they won't be a part of it, whoever it may be. It's just that simple."
True to his word, players were benched. 
The elephant in the room was Mike Adams at left tackle. Atrocious would aptly describe his play in the last two games. Yes, like Tomlin alluded to, Jared Allen is Jared Allen. But when the Steelers last played the Vikings in 2009, when Allen had 14.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and in contention for the Defensive Player of the Year award, Max Starks held him to all of two tackles and zero sacks.
Adams allowed Allen to get 2.5 sacks and four tackles. After awhile, he looked as if he was a part of the backfield. And he would've been pulled had Ramon Foster not gotten hurt, forcing Swiss Army Lineman Kelvin Beachum to fill in at guard. Instead, he got chip help from David Johnson. The worst part, though, is that when Adams got that help, he couldn't even recognize who he should be blocking. 

That said, Tomlin says he isn't giving up on Adams and that he "absolutely" sees potential in him. It is just that how he responds to his benching will go along way in defining him as a player. 

“The most important thing is not maybe what has happened to him to this point, it’s how he responds to it and moves forward,” Tomlin said. “I think it’s going to have the opportunity to define him and his career. There are a lot of solid professional players that have been through ups and downs, the emotions and so forth, and the guys that that show staying power and the guys that respond to it appropriately. That roll their sleeves up and go to work – solid, steady players, even within our organization.”

Therefore, after being speculated upon last week, it is now confirmed that Kelvin Beachum is the starter at left tackle going forward, with newly acquired Levi Brown backing him up. Adams is now third string. 

More promotions and demotions surrounded the defense, as rookie Vince Williams is now listed as the starting Buck Inside Linebacker. He was sharing the role with Kion Wilson.

Though he missed a key initial tackle on the long touchdown run by Adrian Peterson against the Vikings, overall the coaches "feel he’s earned it."

If It Ain't Steel wrote two articles over the last year questioning how long Ziggy Hood would remain the starter while playing the way he had been. That has now been answered in Cameron Heyward being promoted to starter. 

"He...will play more, and deservedly so," said Tomlin when asked Tuesday if Heyward had moved ahead of Hood in the base defense. "I think he's been really solid, not taking anything away from Ziggy [Hood], obliviously, both guys will continue to play, we just want Cam to play more than he's been playing and in order to ensure that, we are going to put him in the starting lineup." - http://tinyurl.com/mmfvtu3

Heyward has nine pressures, second behind Brett Keisel's 13, has batted down two passes, has two tackles and one quarterback hit in approximately one half of the plays (114) as Hood. 

Another move was that of Isaiah Green, after again clearing waivers, being added to the practice squad and Devin Smith being released from it. 

As for the rest of the presser, and aside from the usual minutiae where he makes the opponent sound 14-2 even if they're 2-14, he made valid points about Muhammed Wilkerson and rookie quarterback Geno Smith being players to watch on Sunday at the New York Jets. 

Wilkerson is a force who had five tackles, one forced fumble, one quarterback sack and even more quarterback pressures Monday night. 

Per Pro Football Focus, through four games Geno Smith led the NFL in deep completions (with a target of 20 yards or more) with 12 (Ben Roethlisberger was tied for second with 11).

The Steelers travel to the Meadowlands to take on the 3-2 Jets at MetLife Stadium in a bit of rematch of the AFC Championship game from three years ago. Though their roles are reversed this season, traditionally, the Steelers have had the edge. They are 18-4 all-time against the Jets, including a 9-3 road record.

UPDATE: the Steelers have re-signed inside linebacker Stevenson Sylvester and have released Kion Wilson.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Sylvester was cut by the team on Aug. 25. He is a former Steelers fifth-round draft pick fro the 2010 NFL draft out of Utah. In three seasons for the Steelers, he recorded 22 tackles and two forced fumbles.
Wilson had started games two and three for the Steelers before being replaced by rookie Vince Williams. 
The Steelers also worked out tight ends Ryan Otten and Chase Clement.
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TIDBITS: Injury Report - Safety Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith (hip) is questionable to start the week, per Tomlin. Guard Ramon Foster (pectoral) practiced partially capacity on Monday with his left pectoral strain. His availability is crucial. Linebacker Kion Wilson (hamstring) also practiced partially Monday. He is questionable for the week. Wide receiver Markus Wheaton (finger) was ruled out for the Sunday game by Tomlin after having surgery.

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NFL may compel teams to participate in "Hard Knocks" if none volunteer. If Steelers don't make playoffs, we may see them as next year's team.