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Monday, November 4, 2013
Roster limits changes Tomlin can make

By Scott Brown

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Mike Tomlin was so mad after the Pittsburgh Steelers lost at Oakland -- and managed two touchdowns on the same field where the Eagles' Nick Foles threw seven scoring passes a week later -- that he fired his punter.

Never mind that Zoltan Mesko played his best half of football following the one that apparently sealed his fate in Pittsburgh. Someone had to pay for the Steelers’ third consecutive loss in Oakland, and Tomlin takes a hard line when it comes to punters.

Just ask Drew Butler.

Mike Tomlin
Mike Tomlin may want to shake up the roster after the Steelers' 2-6 start but his options are limited.
Mat McBriar, signed to replace Mesko, may be a little uneasy after his line-drive punt resulted in a 43-yard return by New England’s Julian Edelman on Sunday. That miscue set up the touchdown that unleashed an avalanche of scoring, which buried the Steelers in New England and pretty much for the rest of the season.

After the Steelers’ 55-31 loss to the Patriots Tomlin strongly hinted that changes could be coming. The question is will the seventh-year coach go beyond scapegoating a punter after yet another dispiriting loss?

“You re-evaluate everything, you have to after a performance like that and we will,” Tomlin said after the Steelers gave up the most points in a game in franchise history. “That doesn’t necessarily mean we will change, or we will change for the sake of changing. But we will look at every aspect of what we are doing and who we are doing it with because we can’t have performances like that. Those people that were lacking effort won’t be playing. It’s just that simple."

Steelers fans probably rolled their eyes when they heard or read that last quote -- and note that tough talk or inferences after the Oakland loss were followed by the release of Mesko.

Truth be told Tomlin is limited in what he can do because of the constraints of a 53-man roster.

The roster size means that in-season changes mainly have to come from within, and Tomlin has at least tried them during the Steelers’ first 2-6 start since 2006.

Ziggy Hood, Jarvis Jones, Cortez Allen and Mike Adams are among the players who have lost their starting jobs. Several players lost their starting job and their roster spot, and the Steelers even tried to trade for a left tackle after Adams flopped there.

Levi Brown didn’t make it through one pregame warm-up before sustaining a triceps injury that may have ended his Steelers career before it started.

That is the kind of season it has been for the Steelers, and of the many things for which Tomlin can be criticized an unwillingness to shake things up isn’t one of them.

There isn't a whole lot more the seventh-year coach can do at this point, and no, signing street free agents is not the answer, either.

The challenge Tomlin now faces is trying to salvage the season with veterans such as Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark while also taking a long look at younger players such as Adams, Allen and rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton.

This is certainly not where the Steelers expected to be at the halfway point of the season. But they got a harsh reality check of where they are as a team -- and perhaps an organization -- following a meeting with old nemesis Tom Brady.

“It was something in my 12 years that has never happened here,” Keisel said of the New England loss. “This is a disgusting test and nobody likes it, and the only thing you can do is dust yourself off and get back to work.”