The Pittsburgh Steelers got at least a glimmer of good news today, as it appears that two starters are back on track to playing. Offensively, they saw running back James Conner activated from the Reserve/Covid-19 List. On defense, cornerback Steven Nelson was a full participant in practice after sitting out the last game.
In spite of that positive turn, however, the Steelers may still be down a couple more starters on defense—one of whom was already a backup to an earlier starter who was lost for the season. Bud Dupree is not coming back. Robert Spillane, who replaced Devin Bush, is expected to miss time. Meanwhile, Joe Haden has to clear the concussion protocol on a short week.
So it’s possible that the Steelers will be without three starters on Sunday when they face the Buffalo Bills on the road, a scenario that is far from ideal. But the game still has to be played, regardless of who is and is not available.
“I think we have to be ready for that”, defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said about weathering injuries on his unit. “We have to understand things are going to happen throughout the year, whether it’s injuries, Covid, personal things that might go on. We have to be ready for all that”.
“I think we do a great job rotating, so when we do have to put that stress on other guys to step up, they’re not foreign to it”, he added. “If it does happen, or when it does happen, we just have to make sure that we’re ready to accommodate that.
Outside of the secondary, chiefly the safety position, it is true that the Steelers do rotate. Tyson Alualu, of course, gets plenty of snaps, and in recent weeks we have seen guys like Chris Wormley, Henry Mondeaux, Isaiah Buggs, and Carlos Davis see meaningful playing time.
At inside linebacker, you have had Avery Williamson rotating in during recent weeks, and now he’ll be asked to start while Spillane is out. Ulysees Gilbert III is beginning to practice now while on the Reserve/Injured List. He played briefly in the time between Bush’s injury and his own.
Rookie Alex Highsmith had been rotating throughout the year at outside linebacker, now starting in Dupree’s spot, so he got that important experience before he had to step in. Olasunkanmi Adeniyi played sparingly as well, and is now in the rotational role, with Jayone Elliott and the newly signed Cassius Marsh, a veteran with experience, added to the mix.
Even the secondary does see meaningful contributions. Cameron Sutton, Marcus Allen (who is technically now considered a linebacker), and rookie Antoine Brooks, as well as Justin Layne, have all been asked to play meaningful snaps this year, so if they are called upon, they will at least have that experience to draw from.