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Tomlin Challenges Defensive Line Depth To Step Up

Typically, Mike Tomlin has nothing but positive things to say during his weekly Tuesday presser. Compliment the job of specific players, make the opposing team sound like Super Bowl champions, you get the idea. But Tomlin seemed to take a little jab, and perhaps offer a challenge, to the backup defensive line.

It’s no secret Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt are playing nearly all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ snaps. In fact, each played 100% of the time in Sunday’s win over the Oakland Raiders. Tomlin was asked if he would like to give those players the opportunity to rest mid-game.

“We’re going to play the guys who display they deserve to play. If those guys want to play more, they need to stoke a fire.”

“Those guys” seems to specifically refer to Daniel McCullers and L.T. Walton, the two players referenced in the question to Tomlin. McCullers saw only four snaps Sunday while Walton was inactive. Two of the four for McCullers came in the goal line package, meaning only two snaps were truly given to him. Two Sundays ago against the Cincinnati Bengals, despite Tuitt being out, Walton logged just two snaps.

Cam Thomas was active but did not log a snap Sunday, though I figure that is more likely to earn a ticker-tape parade than any worry or frustration in most circles.

I’ve been borderline obsessive about the concern over Heyward and Tuitt’s high snap totals but Tomlin is correct in the sense there aren’t a lot of great options behind them. Still, it was surprising not to see Steve McLendon get a single snap in the team’s nickel after doing reasonably versus the Bengals. McLendon wound up playing just 12 snaps Sunday, seeing 10 as the nose tackle in the team’s base defense.

Over the last three week, Heyward has played 188 of 195 snaps. That’s over 96%. Would love to see that number come down a smidge but based on Tomlin’s comments, that seems unlikely to happen in the near-future.

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