On Friday, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin addressed members of the media to express the level of excitement the team has about playing the Green Bay Packers at Heinz Field on Sunday and individual player evaluations. Sunday’s game will be the Steelers’ third preseason game in 2015 and the team currently has a win/loss record of 0-2, but Tomlin says the team is on course for regular season success.
Wearing his Steelers Nation Unite shirt, Tomlin reiterated the honor it is to play in front of the home crowd but also members of Steelers Nation across the globe. “It’s always good to be in front of (fans), starting out our relationship with them for 2015.” Tomlin believes that the evaluation period isn’t over for players on the team, but that playing at home will give many new players the opportunity to experience a game against a formidable foe in the Packers.
As for how Tomlin and the Steelers staff have approached the preseason thus far, he admitted that evaluation of individuals was still a process in evolution, from not only a play-time standpoint but also position depth. Tomlin admitted that the biggest reason his veteran players and ones that fans already see as ‘stars’ haven’t been given as many snaps generally based on he and defensive coordinator Keith Butler wanting to give guys trying to make the team an extra look, including the rookies that were drafted prior to preseason training camp.
“The big thing is that we get enough looks at a lot of guys that we can make proper evaluations off of and also we give the guys what they need to continue to grow and develop and push towards game readiness…” Tomlin said. “The big thing in this game is that we are going through more of a process of preparation for (the Packers) than we have other games, working off the cards and looking at the opponent and their personalities. I expect that to be reflected in our play, not to discount or make excuses for lack of education in the other performances because this is very much a part of the process.”
Tomlin explained that the first two preseason games gave the coaching staff the opportunity to see who understood fundamentals of the game and were able to play within the rules and schemes unique to the Steelers. “[We are] going to make this outing a little bit more significant than the others as we continue this process.”
Players that may see little to no playing time include the following: Lawrence Timmons (toe), Josh Harris (who was tested several times recently for use of PEDs but did not test positive), David Nelson, Vince Williams (hamstring), C.J. Goodwin and Senquez Golson. Golson had surgery on Friday to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder.
Tomlin insisted that the team is going to be putting in some more experienced players in the special teams game, something that he hopes will be exciting and provide an answer to ineffectiveness they faced in their first two games and carried over from the 2014 season. When asked what players he was referring to, Tomlin talked about Robert Golden, Terence Garvin, Sean Spence, Will Johnson, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Antwon Blake and Dri Archer.
The Steelers will allow other new faces to get more snaps at positions where they have established players in an attempt to see if they can perform effectively enough to make a backup position or even push for the starting spot. Chris Hubbard is expected to share time with Maurkice Pouncey at center. Alejandro Villanueva, who has been making a great impression in camp, will be allowed to play at right tackle after working mainly on the left side of the line. Tyler Murphy will likely not take snaps under center, but will get more opportunities at the wide receiver position, showing his ability to be flexible. Ian Wild will get more opportunities at inside linebackers and may be called on to share some responsibilities at safety as well.
As for his perception of depth along the defensive line, Tomlin admitted that the level of confidence is increasing, but that he is still learning about the individuals in place. He said there is plenty of time left in the preseason to give every player on the current roster an opportunity to show what level they can play at as well as their overall football awareness and athleticism.
When asked about plans to rotate players in on defense against a Packers offense that is one of the best in the NFL. “We don’t care who we play,” Tomlin answered. “We just focus on us and how we execute and play. Obviously, it will be a great test to have a guy like Aaron Rodgers and a team of this quality facing us at this juncture, but it doesn’t dictate our plan.”
One of Tomlin’s favorite times of the season is training camp and seeing it end is never easy for him. “I could play out of Latrobe,” Tomlin admitted. “I love the environment and the singular focus associated with training camp, but I’m guessing not many share my perspective.”