AFC North: Kion Wilson

PITTSBURGH -- Wednesday will be a telling day as far as whether or not the Steelers have to do more shuffling along the left side of their offensive line.

Left guard Ramon Foster is slated to practice at least on a limited basis when the Steelers don the pads in preparation for Sunday when they visit the New York Jets.

Foster is nursing a minor pectoral strain, and he said that pain tolerance will be the determining factor on whether he can play against the Jets.

The fifth-year veteran was limited in practuce on Monday. The players are off on Tuesday.

“What he’s capable of doing in pads is going to be critical,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said at his weekly news conference.

If Foster is unable to play against the Jets, Kelvin Beachum or Guy Whimper will start at left guard. Beachum is also a leading candidate to start at left tackle following the demotion of Mike Adams.

Beachum would be available to start at left guard if the Steelers go with recently acquired Levi Brown at left tackle.

Wide receiver Markus Wheaton (finger) is the only Steelers player who has been ruled out for Sunday.

In addition to Foster, inside linebacker Kion Wilson (hamstring) and safety DaMon Cromartie-Smith (hip) will be limited this week by injuries.

Tomlin made no mention of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, tight end Heath Miller or running back Le’Veon Bell when he provided an injury update.

Roethlisberger slightly dislocated the index finger on his throwing hand in the Steelers’ 34-27 loss to the Vikings on Sept. 29. The Steelers held him out of practice last week along with Miller (knee) and Bell (foot) as a precaution.

None of the three is expected to be limited in practice this week as the Steelers prepare for their 1 p.m. game against the Jets.

Tomlin on O-line, Big Ben and blame game

September, 24, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- There is at least some positive news on the Steelers front.

“If you look at us from an injury standpoint going into this game, we’re the best that we’ve been,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday.

Indeed, running back Le’Veon Bell will play Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings barring a setback this week in practice.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
Jason Bridge/USA TODAY SportsQB Ben Roethlisberger has been under heavy heat this season as his offensive line has struggled.
Tomlin said he also is “optimistic” that starting cornerback Cortez Allen will return after missing the past two games because of a sprained ankle. And tight end Heath Miller, who had reconstructive knee surgery in late December, won’t be restricted at all after playing last Sunday night -- his first game in nine months.

Here are some other Tomlin takes from the seventh-year coach’s weekly news conference:

  • Tomlin, like quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, expressed faith in the Steelers’ beleaguered offensive line.“I see improvement in the group,” Tomlin said. “I see improvement in the unit. Obviously not enough. Our quarterback is still being pressured too often. We’re turning the ball over some because of it. ”

    Tomlin said the Steelers will continue to look at different combinations along the line, which means Kelvin Beachum is likely to spell both left tackle Mike Adams and right tackle Marcus Gilbert as he did last Sunday night against the Bears.

    But Tomlin is pleased with how the offensive linemen are trying to work through the adversity.

    “I like the way they’re showing mettle from a mental toughness standpoint,” he said. “We’re experiencing some frustrating times but frustration doesn’t solve the issue. Work does and they are taking a nice, businesslike approach to that work.”
  • The Steelers have vowed that panic won’t set in following an 0-3 start, and Tomlin said that starts with him.“We’re all falling short right now, and I mean that, coaches included,” Tomlin said. “So we’re not trying to throw anybody under the bus or identify anybody as an Achilles heel or a weak link. The reality is that we all need to work collectively together to solve our issues. We’re just going to roll our sleeves up, keep our mouths shut and take what comes with the position we’re in.”
  • Kion Wilson is still atop the depth chart at right inside linebacker, but rookie Vince Williams played more there against the Bears and appears to be making a real push for the starting job.Tomlin said Williams, a sixth-round draft pick, has been impressive in calling the defenses as well as in other areas of communication.

    “I think he’s winning the confidence of the veteran players from that standpoint,” Tomlin said.

    Tomlin said there will be an ongoing competition between Williams and Wilson.

    “We’ll continue to play he and Kion,” Tomlin said, “in an effort to get the best out of both until we get some clarity in terms of who is going to be the guy that’s going to rise up and seize the spot.”
  • Tomlin agreed with Roethlisberger, upon further review, that the Steelers quarterback did not lose two fumbles in the 40-23 loss to the Bears because he wasn’t more careful with the ball.“I think a lot of it had to do with what the Chicago Bears did,” Tomlin said. “They’re 3-0 at this point for a reason.”

    But, Tomlin added, “I expect Ben to be better. Ben expects himself to be better.”
PITTSBURGH -- The term island is most associated in football with cornerback, but the Steelers won’t leave inside linebacker Kion Wilson on one Monday night in Cincinnati.

Wilson, who was out of football last season, takes over for the injured Larry Foote at strongside inside linebacker. And the Steelers will do as much as they can to help Wilson transition from special-teams player to starter.

Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said Wilson will relay defensive calls in the huddle but that inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons will set the defense prior to the snap.

In addition, safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu will be given authority to make adjustments or change the defensive call prior to the snap because of their vantage point from the back end of the defense and their combined 23 seasons of NFL experience.

“We’ll be OK,” Butler said, “because we’ve got enough veteran guys that have done it before.”

The Steelers should also be OK with Wilson, whom they will spell with rookie Vince Williams, in one sense.

He is not likely to get stage fright at Paul Brown Stadium given all that he has overcome just to get to this point.

Wilson bounced around the league for two seasons, playing a combined eight games for the Chargers and Panthers. Last year he worked as an insurance adjuster in New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and later sold insurance.

Wilson was not moving on with his life but rather earning enough money to "make ends meet," and continue training in his quest to return to the NFL.

The former undrafted free agent will take the perspective of where he has been into his first NFL start.

And who knew that the former insurance salesman would turn out to be the Steelers’ insurance policy for Foote, who is out for the rest of the season with a torn bicep?

“It’s still just a childhood dream for me at this point,” Wilson said. “But I know I have one mission to accomplish. I still feel that my best football is yet to come.”

So do the Steelers.

“Kion’s made some plays and he’s an aggressive guy,” Butler said. “He can run, he’s quick, and we want to take a good look at him and see what happens. We still like Vince Williams too so both of them are probably going to end up playing.”
PITTSBURGH – Picking 48 out of 53 is excellent by almost any measure. Projecting 53-man NFL rosters, which I did with the Steelers on Friday, is not one of them. The reason: So many of the players who make the roster are a given before a team's final cuts. Here are my misses and what I was thinking:
  • Jonathan Dwyer, RB: I didn't see this one coming even though Felix Jones' play generated speculation that Dwyer could be in trouble. I thought the final spot at running back would come down to Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling, since they are similar-type backs. Obviously the Steelers coaches had had enough of the talented but maddening Dwyer.
  • Alameda Ta'amu, NT: The 2012 fourth-round draft pick was beaten out by Hebron Fangupo. I thought the Steelers would keep Ta'amu because they invested a relatively high draft pick in him. He still has practice-squad eligibility, so don't be surprised if Ta'amu is signed there Sunday.
  • Alan Baxter, OLB: This had to be one of the tougher cuts for coach Mike Tomlin and his staff. Baxter was a force rushing the passer in the preseason, but special-teams considerations are why the Steelers kept Chris Carter over the undrafted rookie. Baxter is sure to end up on the practice squad if another team doesn't sign him.
  • Marshall McFadden, ILB: I had the Steelers keeping three backups at inside linebacker, and McFadden was the odd man out as rookie sixth-round pick Vince Williams and Kion Wilson made the team. McFadden still has practice-squad eligibility, so his time in Pittsburgh might not be done.
  • Terry Hawthorne, CB: I put the rookie fifth-round pick on the 53-man roster based on the investment the Steelers made in him but they went with Isaiah Green as their fifth cornerback. Offseason knee surgery really limited Hawthorne during training camp, and he obviously didn't show the coaches enough. Hawthorne is another candidate for the practice squad.