Entering the 12th week of the NFL season, the Pittsburgh Steelers currently have 17 players on reserve lists of one sort or another, including 15 on the good old injured reserve. Admittedly, only perhaps half-dozen or so of those players were on the 53-man roster, and perhaps another two or three could have been.
But the number just goes to show how much the Steelers as an organization have been through the injury ringer this season. Which plays in stark contrast to head coach Mike Tomlin’s relative level of contentment over the team’s health situation coming out of its bye week.
When to take all things into consideration, however, and recognize that what is done is done, the Steelers’ current 53-man roster is surprisingly close to its peak potential right now, and Tomlin should be happy about that.
According to the veteran head coach, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a November-level “great” in terms of his health, having suffered a knee injury in Week Three and a foot injury in Week Nine. He came off the bench in the next game and threw three touchdowns.
The Steelers are without their starting running back, Le’Veon Bell. But they had already prepared to be without him, signing DeAngelo Williams in the offseason to be the starter for the first two games while he was suspended. And Williams has been nothing but excellent in his place.
The team has been down All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey since the preseason, but they already had in-house a backup who has started a quarter of a season in his place in Cody Wallace. While I have not been the biggest fan of his play, he was at the bare minimum a contingency plan.
The line also lost left tackle Kelvin Beachum, as well as the top backup, Mike Adams, and have been riding with Alejandro Villanueva, a 27-year-old first-year player when you cut through all of his backstory. Through the course of all this, he has gained valuable experience and has improved over time.
With Matt Spaeth missing several games, the Steelers found ways to replace him, and the running game has stayed relatively consistent without him, in contrast to the past two seasons. Ryan Shazier and Will Allen have been filled in for admirably for long stretches, and their reserves have all gained valuable experience in the process.
While the adversity has without question left this 53-man roster one that can’t possibly reach its full potential this season, out of it has come a battle-tested unit that has played through the scars and is ready and eager to take on the home stretch coming out of a much-needed off week to get healthy.
Some of the other leading teams around the league are just now beginning to feel the injury bug in recent weeks, and they have not had the easiest time adjusting on the fly as they transition from all cylinders to something less efficient. So the Steelers should be thankful to have already gone through that, and hopeful that the worst of it is already over.