By Christina Rivers
The identity of the Pittsburgh Steelers this year has never seemed to have been solidly identified. With news of injuries, suspensions and roster moves, the Steelers will look different yet again when they face the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. The age-old saying "practice makes perfect" hasn't applied to the Pittsburgh squad this season, and the loss to the San Diego Chargers solidified the truth that on any-given game day, including Sunday, you can't prepare for or predict everything. With just three games left in the 2012 NFL regular season, the Steelers have got to find out who they are before the season slips away.
Frighteningly, the Steelers had eight players that did not participate in practice on Wednesday. While veteran linebacker LaMarr Woodley who has missed two games since injuring his ankle in the second quarter against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 25, was able to fully return to practice, James Harrison sat out. Although Woodley participated, he still hasn't received a green light for Sunday's game. "I practiced the whole time," Woodley said after practice, "from individuals to every team period." Woodley said that he has been helping Jason Worilds who has stepped in for him the past two weeks at outside linebacker.
By all appearances, offensive lineman Willie Colon will miss the rest of the regular season due to a knee injury that he sustained against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 11. Colon entered the San Diego game only to come back out again. While head coach Mike Tomlin didn't address the injury in his Tuesday presser, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did post on Twitter that the loss of Colon appears to put some pressure on the Steelers. His suggestion was that the Steelers may now be forced to use Maurkice Pouncey as the left guard and utilize Doug Legursky at center. Rookie Mike Adams remains injured and did not participate on Wednesday.
While rookie David DeCastro has dressed for the last two games, it remains unclear as to whether he is ready to go full speed. Another concern for the offensive line is that line coach Sean Kugler has decided to leave Pittsburgh for a job with UTEP, his alma mater. When asked about DeCastro, Kugler said, "David is doing a nice job. He's coming around each day and has really worked hard to get back to where he's at right now." When Kugler was asked about finishing the season with the Steelers, he responded, "There's no way I'd leave these guys during the season...I said I'm not leaving the team and if that keeps me from getting the job [at UTEP] that keeps me from getting the job." Kugler will remain with the Steelers through the playoffs, if Pittsburgh is able to get that far. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said that he feels confident in whomever plays on the offensive line. Asked about DeCastro, Roethlisberger said Wednesday, "We'll get a good look today...I think he may have a different mindset and mentality than he's had in previous weeks, where it's been more feeling himself out and how his leg feels out there. Now, he has no choice. He's going to have to be ready to go."
Running back Rashard Mendenhall, who was recently demoted to third string, did not attend the game against the Chargers at Heinz Field last Sunday. According to insiders, Mendenhall knew he would be inactive for the game and did not show up. His actions led Coach Tomlin to release a statement on Wednesday, which read:
"I wanted to make a statement regarding Rashard Mendenhall and his suspension. Last Sunday, he was not at the game. I deemed those actions a detriment to our efforts. I stated as such when I met with him that there were going to be repercussions with it. It was a good visit. He accepted it. He looks forward to coming back and rejoining his team on Monday and being a positive contributor to our efforts the rest of the way. Obviously there is frustration with his situation, understandably. But we all have a job to do. I require that all guys remain professional regardless of personal circumstances. He didn't meet the standard in that regard, and he accepted the consequences of it. Hopefully, this will be a lesson learned, not only for him but for everyone, and we will be able to move on from it. Right now, our focus is on the guys that are here and their preparation in an effort to pursue victory this weekend." Running back Baron Batch has been promoted from the practice squad to fill Mendenhall's position against Dallas."
After losing Ike Taylor to an ankle fracture, the Steelers also saw young cornerbacks Keenan Lewis (hip flexor) and Cortez Allen (groin/hip) unable to participate in practice Wednesday. This leaves questions in the air about who will be available on Sunday. Lewis is expected to return to practice Thursday and Friday in some capacity, creating at least the option of him playing on Sunday. The Steelers will most likely focus on Curtis Brown, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Josh Victorian this week in preparation for the Cowboys. Brown came in for an injured Allen last Sunday and Victorian saw some action in the second half of the game against the Chargers. Coach Tomlin said that the team is giving the younger guys more opportunities. "We will continue to work with those guys and build a plan around what they are capable of executing," said Tomlin. "As we prepare this week, we will have that in mind, in regards to some of those young cornerbacks that are going to participate." Tomlin likes what he has seen so far in the three young players. "Practice fields, of course, and game fields are two different things," continued Tomlin. "We're excited about watching those guys prepare and, more importantly, putting them in a position where they can execute with great detail as we go into the stadium on Sunday."
Offensive guard Justin Cheadle (rookie-California), safety Damon Cromartie-Smith (1-UTEP), tackle Joe Long (rookie-Wayne State MI), linebacker Marshall McFadden (1 – South Carolina State), receiver Bert Reed (rookie-Florida State) and nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu (rookie-Washington) round out the practice squad.
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Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.
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