NFL Nation: Cody Wallace

Ben Roethlisberger good to go for Steelers

September, 28, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is fine and will start Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Roethlisberger surfaced on the Steelers’ final injury report after he was limited in practice Friday for a non-injury reason.

Roethlisberger and Bruce Gradkowski are the Steelers' only active quarterbacks for their 1 p.m. ET game at Heinz Field.

Roethlisberger will try to improve to 17-2 lifetime against NFL teams at Heinz Field, and he needs 117 passing yards to reach 35,000 for his career.

The Steelers are without a handful of starters Sunday because of injuries.

Cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) and linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee) were declared out earlier this week.

Left guard Ramon Foster will miss his second consecutive game because of an ankle injury despite practicing every day last week. Foster was limited in practice Friday, and he will be replaced by Cody Wallace in the starting lineup.

Joining Foster, Taylor and Shazier on the Steelers’ inactives list are wide receiver Martavis Bryant, nose tackle Daniel McCullers, offensive lineman Wesley Johnson and quarterback Landry Jones.

Pittsburgh Steelers' projected inactives

September, 21, 2014
CHARLOTTE -- The Steelers 46-man roster is a little harder to predict this week with starting left guard Ramon Foster’s status uncertain because of an ankle injury.

My guess is Foster will try to convince the coaches to let him play but Mike Tomlin told the sixth-year veteran late last week that he won’t put him in a position fail.

Playing against a stout Panthers defensive line on a gimpy ankle probably isn’t a recipe for success so I think the Steelers plug in Cody Wallace at left guard and give Foster another week to recover.

Rookie running back Dri Archer won’t play in the 8:30 p.m. game against the Panthers because of an ankle injury and he will join Foster on the Steelers' list of inactive players.

Here are the five other players I expect the Steelers to deactivate tonight.

WR Martavis Bryant: The rookie is healthy but there isn’t a place for him on the game-day roster for the second consecutive game. Darrius Heyward-Bey contributes on special teams, Bryant won’t get the nod over Lance Moore or Justin Brown and the Steelers aren’t dressing six wide receivers.

NT Daniel McCullers: If he was an answer to the Steelers’ struggles on defense the 6-foot-7, 352-pounds man-child would be on the field. McCullers, however, is still learning and probably a long way from playing. That could change, though, if the Steelers continue to give up rushing yards in chunks.

OL Wesley Johnson: If Foster doesn’t play, I think Chris Hubbard gets a helmet over Johnson. The rookie fifth-round pick is more versatile but Hubbard has played almost exclusively at left guard. He could play there if Wallace is needed at center or right guard in the event of an injury.

CB B.W. Webb: There is absolutely no reason the Steelers need to dress 11 defensive backs, something they did in a 26-6 loss to the Ravens. Webb, who played just two special-teams snaps in Baltimore, is the odd man out tonight.

QB Landry Jones: He has yet to dress for an NFL game. There is no reason for that to change tonight.

Steelers' Archer, Moore out vs. Ravens

September, 10, 2014
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers will be a little shorthanded on offense Thursday night in Baltimore.

Running back Dri Archer (ankle) and wide receiver Lance Moore (groin) were ruled out for the Steelers’ game against the Ravens.

Archer sprained his ankle in the Steelers’ 30-27 victory over the Browns last Sunday and Moore did not play in the season opener because of a nagging groin injury.

Justin Brown will again serve as the Steelers’ No. 3 wide receiver. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said fullback Will Johnson will also play running back in case of an injury to starter Le’Veon Bell or backup LeGarrette Blount.

Brown caught three passes for 38 yards against the Browns and played extensively in his first NFL game, which reflected the confidence Haley has in him.

“Justin did a lot of real good things for his first time out there in a home opener with a different level of intensity that you see from preseason games that he played in to real games,” Haley said of Brown’s NFL debut. “He handled it well. He fought through his mistakes and bounced back. He didn’t let it get him too down or too up when he made some plays. And he didn’t shy away from competition. I think it’s a great start to grow from."

All other Steelers players who have been dealing with injuries, including wide receiver Martavis Bryant (shoulder), cornerback Brice McCain (groin), safety Shamarko Thomas (Achilles, ankle) and center Cody Wallace (hamstring, finger), are listed as probable.
Ben Roethlisberger’s only completion of the game turned into a highlight-reel play thanks to Dri Archer. The speedy rookie caught a short pass on a well-executed bubble screen and looked every bit as fast as advertised in scooting 46 yards and setting up an early field goal in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 20-16 loss to the New York Giants.

The Steelers could not protect a fourth-quarter lead in losing their preseason opener Saturday night at MetLife Stadium. They haven't won a preseason game since 2012.

Roethlisberger played just one series before giving way to Bruce Gradkowski. The offense couldn’t build on a promising start as the Steelers failed to reach the end zone until they scored a defensive touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The first-team defense gave up a 73-yard touchdown run to Rashad Jennings early in the game but didn’t allow much more in the quarter it was on the field.

Some other thoughts from the Steelers’ first preseason game:
  • Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau had to be furious after Jennings scooted through a yawning gap on the right side of the Steelers’ defense on the way to the game’s first touchdown. Defensive end Cameron Heyward was knocked out of his gap by a pulling guard, leaving a huge hole and resulting in the kind of big play that made it seem like 2013 all over again for the Steelers’ defense. Coach Mike Tomlin was not happy with his secondary on the play as safety Will Allen had a chance to get Jennings on the ground but couldn’t make the tackle. Jennings outraced cornerbacks Cortez Allen and William Gay to the end zone.
  • Sean Spence, playing in his first game in almost two years, looked terrific. Spence, starting for the injured Ryan Shazier at inside linebacker, shot a gap on the first series of the game and forced Giants quarterback Eli Manning to throw a third-down pass into the turf. Spence later stuffed Andre Brown for a short gain on a running play that resulted in a holding call in the Giants. Spence, who has returned from a career-threatening knee injury, had one blemish, an illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty on special teams. But the Steelers couldn’t have asked for more from Spence, who is their third-best inside linebacker and solid insurance in case of an injury to Shazier.
  • Markus Wheaton made a nice grab on a post-corner route and his 28-yard reception was the second-longest gain by the Steelers in their preseason opener. Wheaton, however, needs a blocking tutorial or four from former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. Wheaton won’t like seeing his blocking efforts on several plays, including one on a 7-yard run by Tauren Poole. Wheaton didn’t lock up on anyone as Poole broke into the open field, allowing the Giants to minimize the damage on Poole’s run.
  • The first-team offensive line played well in limited action, providing a nice push on the Steelers’ first possession of the game when they ran on the Giants first-team defense. The second-team offensive line really struggled. Left tackle Mike Adams did not help himself, getting overwhelmed several times by speed pass-rushers, including two-time Pro Bowl selection Jason Pierre-Paul. Guy Whimper, playing right tackle, was beaten badly on a passing play in the third quarter and center Cody Wallace was flagged for holding in the same period.
  • Outside linebacker Howard Jones and defensive end Josh Mauro were among the undrafted rookies who stood out. Jones recovered a pair of fumbles, returning one for a 28-yard touchdown. Mauro, playing with the second-team defense, blew up a passing play by bull-rushing a running back into the lap of Giants quarterback Ryan Nassib. He also appeared to hold his ground at right defensive end more often than not.

Steelers Camp Report: Day 4

July, 30, 2014
LATROBE, Pa. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp:
  • The competition has started. The separation has not. “One unit will have a good day and piss the other unit off. They’ll come back and win the next one,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Wednesday following the second padded practice of training camp. “There’s ebb and flow.” With the first preseason game still more than a week away, Tomlin is using the practices to pit different players against each other and have them hone their technique in the crucible of competition. “We’ve got some guys that have the proper energy and urgency but are still growing in technical areas,” Tomlin said.
  • Troy Polamalu drew a roar from the crowd at St. Vincent College when the veteran strong safety intercepted a pass that would have easily gone for a touchdown had it been an actual game. Rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier nearly intercepted a pass when he arrived at the same time as a short pass over the middle to tight end Matt Spaeth. There was just enough contact between the two to keep Shazier from hanging on to the ball. The first-round pick looked a little gimpy after the near interception, but Tomlin said Shazier did not get hurt on the play.
  • Rookie tight end Rob Blanchflower suffered a setback when he sustained a high ankle sprain. The seventh-round draft pick will miss “at least a week,” Tomlin said. Running back Le'Veon Bell (hamstring), linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (groin) and wide receiver C.J. Goodwin (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday.
  • Rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant flashed his talent a couple of times Wednesday after a quiet start to camp. The fourth-round pick caught a deep ball early in practice after beating cornerback Lewis Toler in one-on-one drills between the wide receivers and defensive backs. Bryant caught several passes Wednesday and nearly made a spectacular sideline grab of a ball that was slightly underthrown and was ultimately broken up because cornerback Antwon Blake had done a good job of establishing inside position. Bryant did have a bad drop near the end of practice.
  • There were several highlights from the pass-rushing/pass-protection competition. Nose tackle Steve McLendon knocked Cody Wallace on his wallet after bull-rushing the reserve center and rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers ran over tackle Mike Adams later in the drill. The offensive line, however, appeared to hold its own as a group in the drill.
  • It’s tough to get a read on how much progress second-year quarterback Landry Jones is making. The 2013 fourth-round pick completed consecutive passes after showing nice pocket awareness and good footwork during an 11-on-11 drill. The former Oklahoma star, however, took a sack and threw a bad interception on the next two plays. He is still very much a work in progress.
PITTSBURGH -- ESPN NFL analyst Ron Jaworski recently ranked all of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger is sixth on his list after Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Andrew Luck.

"Jaws" performed his usual exhaustive film review in compiling his list, and he offered strong praise for Roethlisberger as well as an astonishing statistic:
I thought Big Ben had one of his best seasons in 2013. We all know he has a unique skill set, with the ability to be a pocket passer but also extend the play when it's necessary. Ultimately, there are two sets of numbers that stand out to me for Roethlisberger. The first is that he has 156 career starts and has won 67 percent of them. That's astonishing. The second is that veteran quarterbacks understand the necessity of coming away with touchdowns and not field goals in the red zone. In the last two seasons, Roethlisberger has 27 TDs and zero INTs inside the 20-yard line."

You can debate where Roethlisberger ranks among NFL quarterback but one thing that can't be disputed: Big Ben is the player the Steeler can least afford to lose for an extended period in 2014.

The 11th-year veteran makes the no-huddle attack go and that will again be an important component of the Steelers' offense. Roethlisberger, who turned 32 in March, is still playing at a high level and he is coming off a season in which he took every snap. Bruce Gradkowski is a capable backup but nothing would help the Steelers more as they try to return to the playoffs after a two-year hiatus than if Gradkowski spends most if not all of the upcoming season on the sidelines.

Here are four other players whom the Steelers cannot afford to lose this season.

WR Antonio Brown: The Steelers' wide receivers become average if Brown is sidelined by a significant injury. The reigning Steelers MVP caught 110 passes for a team-record 1,499 yards last season and he will again make the other wideouts better simply because of the attention he commands from opposing defenses.

C Maurkice Pouncey: The Steelers got lucky that Fernando Velasco and later Cody Wallace played so capably at center after Pouncey tore his ACL eight plays into last season. They cannot count on that fortune again if Pouncey goes down. The three-time Pro Bowler is the unquestioned leader of the offensive line, and he is eager to reward the Steelers for the lucrative contract extension they gave him last month.

LB Lawrence Timmons: Durable and incredibly productive, Timmons should have at least one Pro Bowl on his resume by now. He will call the defense until rookie Ryan Shazier is ready to assume that responsibility. Simply getting lined up properly proved to be a problem for the defense after Larry Foote went down in the 2013 opener with a season-ending arm injury.

DE Cameron Heyward: The 2011 first-round pick is the one proven commodity that the Steelers have at defensive end. Heyward pushed his way into the starting lineup after the fourth game of last season, and he led the Steelers with 31 quarterback pressures in 2013 and tied for the team lead with five sacks. To say there is a significant drop-off after Heyward at defensive end is an understatement.
PITTSBURGH -- Mock drafts have, predictably, been all over the place as far as the Pittsburgh Steelers' first-round pick. Most, however, have them taking a wide receiver or a cornerback No. 15 overall, assuming they don’t try to trade down.

I think those two positions are most likely the ones the Steelers will target with their first pick, though North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron could also be in play if he slides a little in the draft.

Ebron is the No. 1 player at one of the few positions that is not particularly deep, and he would give the Steelers a tall receiver while also filling a long-term need. I think Heath Miller has at least three good seasons left in him, but the Steelers have to plan for the post-Miller years at some point.

If Ebron is still available when they make the first pick, I think they give him serious consideration, especially if a couple of cornerbacks are already off the board, as well as Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans.

The Steelers have eight other picks in the draft, three of which are compensatory selections, including one at the end of the third round. They have a lot of needs -- or as general manager Kevin Colbert would frame it "wants" -- particularly on defense.

Here is my projection of the positions they will address with their nine picks, which is contingent on the Steelers not adding extra ones through a trade.

Cornerback (2): The Steelers could use immediate help here, and they don't have a long-term starter at cornerback after third-year man Cortez Allen. I would be surprised if they don't draft two cornerbacks, with one of them coming in the first three rounds. They drafted two cornerbacks in 2011, including Allen in the fourth round.

Defensive line (2): The Steelers will draft a defensive lineman as early as the second round -- ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has them taking Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III with their second pick in his latest mock draft -- and they need to take at least one end. The signing of Cam Thomas gives them a player with position flexibility, but the Steelers' need at defensive end is every bit as glaring as it is at cornerback.

Wide receiver (1): No position is deeper in the draft, and even if the Steelers don't address it in the first round, they can still get a good prospect later. The Steelers probably won't get a chance to draft Evans unless they trade up in the first round and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin may be too much of a risk to take at No. 15. LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. has been linked to the Steelers in various mock drafts, and they could pull the trigger on him if they have him high on their board.

Linebacker (1): The Steelers have to take a player who projects as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme given how thin they are at the position. It will be interesting to see what they will do if Alabama’s C.J. Mosley is still on the board at No. 15. Mosley, who projects as an inside linebacker, may be one of the most NFL-ready players in the draft. “He and (Lawrence) Timmons could be your (NaVorro) Bowman and (Patrick) Willis,” ESPN analyst and former NFL scout Matt Williamson said. If the Steelers take Mosley, they will also draft an outside linebacker later in the draft.

Safety (1): The Steelers have hosted at least three safeties for pre-draft visits, including Louisville’s Calvin Pryor, a projected first-round pick. The signing of Mike Mitchell makes it unlikely the Steelers take a safety in the first round but it wouldn't hurt to add another younger player here. The question is whether it makes sense for them to draft a safety -- or instead sign a couple of undrafted free agents -- if they don’t take one in the second or third round.

Offensive line (1): I don't see this as the need that others do. The Steelers got their upgrade up front when they hired Mike Munchak to coach the offensive line and he has plenty of material with which to work. All five starters return, including Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who tore his ACL eight snaps into last season. And the Steelers have depth up front after re-signing Cody Wallace and Guy Whimper. The Steelers will probably take a lineman they can develop later in the draft, but I could also see them not drafting one for the second year in a row if they take two linebackers or a tight end.

Running back (1): The Steelers need depth and they could use a speedster to complement Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. The de-valuing of running backs allows the Steelers to wait until later in the draft to address the position and still get a good prospect. I don't see them taking a running back before the fifth round.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers bolstered their secondary by signing safety Mike Mitchell to a five-year, $25 million contract, and they did so while putting minimal stress on their salary cap.

Mitchell’s cap hit in 2014 will be just $2.2 million, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and the guaranteed money in his contract is just $5.25 million, with $4.75 million from his signing bonus plus a $500,000 roster bonus due in April.

I included the impending roster bonus as guaranteed money because it would make no sense for the Steelers to release Mitchell, a five-year veteran, less than a month after signing him.

Here is a breakdown of his contract:

2014: $950,000 signing bonus, $750,000 base salary and $500,000 roster bonus. Cap hit: $2.2 million.

2015: $2 million base salary, $2 million roster bonus and $950,000 signing bonus: Cap hit: $4.95 million.

2016: $5 million base salary and $950,000 signing bonus. Cap hit: $5.95 million.

2017: $5 million base salary and $950,000 signing bonus. Cap hit: $5.95 million.

2018: $5 million base salary and $950,000 signing bonus. Cap hit: $5.95 million.

Mitchell’s relatively small cap hit of $2.2 million for 2014 gives the Steelers some flexibility, as they were about $7 million under the cap before signing Mitchell.

They have since re-signed safety Will Allen, center Cody Wallace and long-snapper Greg Warren.

Allen and Warren signed one-year deals, and their combined cap hit is about $1.2 million if the Steelers used the exemptions that allow teams to re-sign veterans to one-year contracts but count only part of their salaries against the cap.

ESPN Stats & Information projects Allen to have a cap hit of $570,000, and Warren should be around that number, too, if the Steelers took advantage of the veterans exemption with each player.

Depending on what Wallace signed for, the Steelers don’t have a ton of room under the cap, but they should have enough to keep re-signing their own free agents and to entertain signing free agents from other teams.

Free-agency primer: Steelers

March, 7, 2014
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: WR Emmanuel Sanders, DE Ziggy Hood, WR Jerricho Cotchery, DE Al Woods, DE Brett Keisel, S Ryan Clark, RB Jonathan Dwyer, C Fernando Velasco, OT Guy Whimper, C/G Cody Wallace, TE David Johnson, LB Stevenson Sylvester.

Where they stand: General manager Kevin Colbert has said the Steelers may be more active in free agency than in recent years, but don’t expect their philosophy to fundamentally change. The Steelers will focus on their own players and are likely to sit out the first wave of free agency and target midlevel free agents after the marquee names have signed with other teams. Colbert hinted that the Steelers could try to land a potential starter via free agency, and they could use immediate help as well as depth at just about any position on defense. Nothing would help the Steelers more than if they could sign a free agent who will make an impact like Ryan Clark (2006) or James Farrior (2002) did, though they would have to splurge to get a free agent the caliber of Farrior.

What to expect: Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, the team's top free agent, is going to command more money than the Steelers are willing to pay. He will almost certainly sign elsewhere, though look for veteran Jerricho Cotchery to re-sign with the team after catching 10 touchdown passes last season. Defensive end Ziggy Hood is likely to sign elsewhere, making it imperative that the Steelers bring back Al Woods. They could also re-sign Brett Keisel for one more season if the two sides can find common ground on compensation. The Steelers have a good chance of signing most of their free agents with the exceptions of Sanders and Hood, and that is how they will add depth to their offensive line. Free agents they could target include former Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant, Dolphins defensive tackle Paul Soliai and 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown. The Steelers met with former Lions safety Louis Delmas last month, but his knee issues may be too much of a red flag for them, and they have since re-signed veteran Will Allen.

No-huddle takes offense to another level

December, 26, 2013
PITTSBURGH – Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ playoff chances: “We’ve already worked a little magic last week and [all of the games] fell for us. I’ve seen stranger things happen.”

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley on if one of four things doesn’t happen Sunday and the Steelers miss the playoffs by a game: “It’s easy to look back but we can’t do that.”

The shame if the Steelers miss the playoffs is that they would probably be a tough out because of how their offense has come together since Haley went all in on the no-huddle offense.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsGoing without a huddle has helped Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers' offense.
The Steelers are averaging 29.3 points in their last eight games, and Haley can only wonder what might have been had Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey not sustained a torn ACL on Pittsburgh’s first possession of the season.

“We had big plans for the no-huddle coming into the season,” Haley said.

Fernando Velasco, by all accounts, learned the offense faster than could have expected. But it took time for him to get comfortable with everything before Haley felt confident in unleashing the no-huddle attack. And he had to pull the reins back a little bit after Velasco tore his Achilles and Cody Wallace became the third starting center of the season.

But the no-huddle, and how it has transformed the Steelers' offense, is the biggest story of the second half of the season. Ben Roethlisberger has never played better and taken less hits while running the offense in which he calls the plays.

Roethlisberger’s command of the no-huddle isn’t the only reason why the Steelers’ offense could really take off next season. Youth abounds on offense and, as Haley observed, “especially up front. A lot of guys have a lot of playing time. Not only that, they’ve shown they can play in the league. We have a lot of bodies on hand and, as everybody gets healthy [that] should bode well for what we are trying to do.”

It seems a foregone conclusion that Haley will return next season, and as much as his relationship with Roethlisberger has been scrutinized, consider what the veteran quarterback said earlier this week.

“I think all of the coordinators have been open to input, but I think this is probably the most that they've accepted [from him]. We’ve used it and tweaked it to benefit the team,” he said.

It has also benefited Roethlisberger. He has been sacked just six times in the last six games after getting dropped 35 times in the first nine games.

Roethlisberger praised his line for keeping him clean but also acknowledged that the no-huddle is conducive to keeping him upright.

“When I’m calling plays I can call it based off what the defense is giving us,” Roethlisberger said. ”The ball will come out quicker because I’ve kind of predetermined where I’m going with the ball.”

The Steelers would love nothing more than to sneak into the playoffs and see how far Roethlisberger and the offense takes them.

If they fall short, the one consolation they have is the offense could be even better next season.

Cody Wallace fined twice by the NFL

December, 13, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- Cody Wallace's first career start proved to be a costly one.

The NFL fined the Pittsburgh Steelers center a total of nearly $18,000 from last Sunday’s game against the Dolphins for two separate incidents, including one in which he hit Dolphins defensive tackle Randy Starks in the groin at the bottom of a pile.

Starks had recovered a Ben Roethlisberger fumble and Wallace engaged in the kind of activity that frequently happens at the bottom of piles. But his transgression happened in full view, and a video of it went viral.

It cost Wallace $7,875 for unnecessary roughness, and a late hit near the end of the game cost the fourth-year veteran $10,000.

A couple of other Steelers tidbits:
  • Polamalu
    Troy Polamalu might not have the best hair in the Steelers' locker room anymore. Or even in the defensive backs’ meeting room. The Steelers signed safety Ross Ventrone to their practice squad, and Ventrone rivals Polamalu in one area: he has a healthy head of hair, and his locks flow out of the back of his helmet. Ventrone was with the Steelers during training camp and preseason practice. He is a local product, having played his high school ball at Chartiers Valley in suburban Pittsburgh.
  • Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been named the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year. The award, named after the late, great Chicago Bears running back, recognizes excellence both on and off the field, and there is one winner from every team. The overall winner will be announced before the Super Bowl in February. Roethlisberger, who became the Steelers’ all-time leader in touchdown passes last Sunday (213) is active in a number of different charities. His eponymous foundation has donated grants to police and fire departments that exceed $1 million. Roethlisberger is also active in Make-A-Wish of Greater Pennsylvania, and his foundation recently donated $30,000 to the organization.

Woodley, Bell appear good to go

December, 6, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers will likely have their two best pass-rushers Sunday when they host the Dolphins as well as their leading rusher.

Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf) and running back Le'Veon Bell (concussion) are listed as probable for the 1 p.m. game at Heinz Field along with starting right guard David DeCastro (foot).

Woodley has missed the past three games, and his anticipated return will allow the Steelers to start him opposite Jason Worilds, who leads the team with six sacks. Woodley has said he will start at left outside linebacker even though Worilds has shined there in his absence.

Bell still has to pass league-mandated concussion tests before he is cleared to return to action.

Unless he suffers a setback Bell will run behind an offensive line that will have its sixth different starting combination this season.

Cody Wallace will make his first career start at center while Mike Adams is likely to start at left tackle with Kelvin Beachum (knee) doubtful to play against the Dolphins.

Adams, who started the first four games at left tackle before losing the job, has been dealing with an ankle injury but he is listed as probable for Sunday.

Nose tackle Steve McLendon (ankle) is questionable for Sunday. Defensive end Brett Keisel (foot) had been ruled out earlier this week for the game.
PITTSBURGH -- Mike Tomlin gave the Steelers' Plan C at center a vote of confidence during the part of his weekly news conference not devoted to sideline interference.

Ben Roethlisberger did the same a day later.

And the Steelers quarterback relayed an illuminating story of what happened when he conducted something of a background check on Cody Wallace, who will make his first NFL start Sunday against the visiting Miami Dolphins.

Roethlisberger did some early homework on Wallace on the plane ride home from Baltimore last week, shortly after he learned that starting center Fernando Velasco had been lost for the rest of the season because of a ruptured Achilles tendon.

“I checked with the other linemen, asked them what they think about Cody, does he know [the offense]? And every single person said the same thing: ‘He's a really smart player, there will be no issue, he'll be good to go,'” Roethlisberger said on Wednesday. “When I've talked to him I've had that same confidence in him that he'll be ready to rock with it.”

He better be.

The Steelers don't have time for the 6-foot-4, 300-pound Wallace to get up to speed, given their precarious situation.

They need to win out to extend their season beyond December -- Roethlisberger said he is treating every game now like a playoff contest -- and their ability to run the no-huddle offense effectively will go a long way toward the Steelers running the table.

As banged-up as the Steelers' offensive line is, one thing that doesn't appear to be a concern is how the middle of it will fare with Wallace.

“He's prepared for this week in and week out whether he's been starting or not,” left guard Ramon Foster said. “His time has come right now. He knows everything that's going on. He'll just have to get the game speed down if anything.”

Wallace said he is confident his conditioning level is such that he will be able to handle playing an entire game. The fourth-year veteran is also comfortable working with Roethlisberger, and the biggest thing for those two this week is making sure they get the snap exchange down.

“He walks into our [meeting] room from time to time and bounces some things off of us to make sure it all sounds good to us so we are all on the same page,” Wallace said. “I think I will be fine out there.”

So does Tomlin.

“I have no problem in expecting Cody Wallace to play winning football for us at the center position,” the seventh-year coach said, “because he's going to practice and prepare all week.”
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers will have to try to beat the Dolphins Sunday while they are shorthanded.

How many starters they will be missing for the 1 p.m. ET game, however, remains to be seen.

Defensive end Brett Keisel isn’t expected to play Sunday, and the Steelers could also be missing left tackle Kelvin Beachum and right guard David DeCastro because of knee and ankle injuries, respectively.

The Steelers are optimistic that running back Le’Veon Bell will be able to play despite sustaining a concussion from a nasty goal-line collision last Thursday night in Baltimore. Bell did some running on Monday and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said the rookie is on track to practice at some point this week.

“Thus far it’s been very positive with him, which is good,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “We’ll continue to march him back to health and make sure he goes through the necessary checkpoints to return.”

Bell has to pass a battery of tests throughout the week before he is cleared to play against the Dolphins.

Tomlin all but ruled out Keisel, who lasted just a handful of snaps last Thursday night before the plantar fasciitis that has plagued the 12th-year veteran sidelined hm.

“He had a step backwards, obviously, when he returned to action and I think he’ll be out this week,” Tomlin said.

Tomlin said Beachum and DeCastro are questionable for Sunday.

Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf), nose tackle Steve McLendon (ankle) and offensive tackle Mike Adams (ankle) are at least expected to practice on a limited basis this week with an eye toward playing against the Dolphins.

In other injury news, center Fernando Velasco had surgery last Saturday to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon. Velasco had been one of the Steelers’ most unsung players as he helped stabilize the offensive line after the loss of Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey to a torn ACL in the season opener.

Cody Wallace takes over for Velasco at center, and he will make his first NFL start on Sunday.

“I can’t say enough about what he’s done for us and the manner in which he’s done it,” Tomlin said of Velasco.
PITTSBURGH -- It is too early to tell whether rookie running back Le'Veon Bell will be able to play Sunday after suffering a concussion in the Steelers’ 22-20 loss to the Ravens last Thursday night.

Whoever gets the bulk of the carries against the visiting Dolphins will run behind an offensive line that has been scrambled by more injuries.

The Steelers barely had enough offensive linemen to practice on Monday, and Guy Whimper said he played left tackle for the first-team offense with Kelvin Beachum out because of a knee injury.

The Steelers are already on their third center with Cody Wallace taking over for Fernando Velasco, who suffered a season-ending Achilles. They will also start their third different left tackle this season if Beachum is unable to play Sunday.

The Steelers will start their sixth different offensive line combination in the 1 p.m. game against the Dolphins.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Whimper said of the injuries that have decimated the Steelers’ offensive line. “This is crazy. It’s another obstacle we can get over, but we’ve just got to stick together as a unit.”

Whimper has started a game each at both guard positions and also played right tackle. The eighth-year veteran is in line to start against the Dolphins if Beachum and offensive tackle Mike Adams (ankle) are unable to play

Beachum and Adams, along with starting right guard David DeCastro (ankle) were among the four offensive linemen who left last Thursday night’s game with injuries.

“This year’s been kind of unusual in that way,” Wallace said of the injuries, “but we’ve had guys that have stepped in and done a good job of filling those roles.”

Wallace hopes to do the same when he makes his first career NFL start, and he won’t be the only lineman who benefits from the extra day of practice the Steelers get this week since they played last Thursday.

Center Eric Olsen, who signed with the Steelers to provide depth, practiced with the Steelers on Monday. Olsen spent Thanksgiving with his family, and the Steelers called him late Friday morning.

By the afternoon he was on a plane to Pittsburgh, and Olsen has since been in cramming mode as the third-year veteran learns a new offense.

“They’re trying to ease me in and come up for air so to speak.” Olsen said. “Luckily for me football’s football, so it’s coming along. I’m going to catch up as fast as I can.”