While the post-bye week return of the wounded wasn’t quite as triumphant as initially hoped two weeks ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers did at least get Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor, two huge pieces of the secondary, back into the mix. For those scoffing at that suggestion given how poor the secondary has been at times this season, just imagine 16 games without them.
The hope then, however, was that other would join the two 30 somethings in the march back to health. Instead, they added a name to the list in offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert. They also wound up losing defensive end Brett Keisel for the rest of the season to a torn triceps on Sunday against the Saints.
But the Steelers should be getting another injection of health this week, as both Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones—the team’s two most recent first-round draft picks, both of whom began this season in the starting lineup—are expected to return, though their specific roles are yet to be determined.
Early signs are positive that Steve McLendon may finally return to the lineup as well. He was a full participant in practice yesterday and felt that his shoulder was stronger. That is an improving development in comparison to what was said during Mike Tomlin’s Tuesday press conference. Until I hear otherwise, I will be optimistic about his return for a pivotal division matchup this Sunday.
While Gilbert did not practice, and is supposedly dealing with an MCL sprain, Tomlin said during his press conference that he has a strong chance of playing. If he practices by tomorrow, he should be good to go.
That’s potentially four more players coming back to the starting lineup. Even if some of them play in a limited capacity, it should only be a benefit from the team.
Sean Spence has had perhaps a few more downs than ups while logging heavy snaps as a starter in place of Shazier for the majority of the season. It’s likely that Shazier will take over his spot in the starting lineup.
Tomlin said that Shazier was probably ready to play last week from a physical standpoint, but was not yet up to speed schematically because of all the practice time he missed, so he should be good to go, though he will likely be on a pitch count and spelled heavily with some combination of Spence and/or Vince Williams.
Jones is not likely to resume his starting spot immediately over James Harrison, but the Steelers are likely to get him some snaps, especially with Harrison monitoring a knee injury this week. The coaching staff may even throw in a three OLB package to get him on the field a bit more, for all I know.
As for McLendon, if he does indeed start, it would seem to suggest that Cam Thomas will be pushed back to a reserve role, with reports that Stephon Tuitt will start at left defensive end. I’m sure that’s reason enough for many reading here to celebrate.