Pittsburgh Steelers: Cam Thomas

PITTSBURGH – In a game in which Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison delivered another turn-back-the-clock performance, Stephon Tuitt showed why he has such a promising future.

And why the future is now for the rookie defensive end.

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Tuitt
Tuitt played the best game of his fledgling career Sunday afternoon as he recorded his first NFL sack and forced his first fumble in the Steelers’ 20-12 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

The play on which the Chiefs committed the game’s only turnover encapsulated why the Steelers have long thought they got a steal in the second round of the 2014 draft when they gleefully selected Tuitt.

The 6-foot-5, 303-pound Tuitt belted Chiefs Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles after a 3-yard catch and run, forcing a fumble that linebacker Vince Williams recovered. The turnover halted a Chiefs' third-quarter drive with the Steelers holding a tenuous 10-6 lead.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin seemed just as excited as Tuitt, who is only 21 years old, after the latter flashed speed and great pursuit on one of the key plays of the game.

“The energy out there was great,” said Tuitt, who recorded three tackles against the Chiefs. “The way we prepared during the week, we really knew that we were going to be able to do that today.”

Tuitt has shown steady improvement while patiently biding his time. He did not receive significant snaps for much of the season but has emerged since Brett Keisel went down with a season-ending triceps injury.

Tuitt supplanted Cam Thomas as the starting left defensive end three games ago and the former Notre Dame standout is just now showing how good he can be with the Steelers poised to win their first AFC North title since 2010.

“We always used to tell him, ‘Your time’s coming. You just have to play your part,’” said left guard Ramon Foster, who practices regularly against Tuitt. “And now he’s really showing it. I’m proud of the way he’s playing so far. But he’s got to get better because the season is just getting started. It’s getting really hot now.”

Reviewing the Steelers' snap counts

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
6:00
PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- Here is a look at the offensive and defensive snap counts in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 27-20 win over the Atlanta Falcons

Offense (59 snaps)

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger 59

Running backs: Le'Veon Bell 59, Will Johnson 16

Wide receivers: Antonio Brown 55, Markus Wheaton 35, Martavis Bryant 25, Lance Moore 21

Tight ends: Heath Miller 57, Matt Spaeth 23, Michael Palmer 2

Offensive line: Kelvin Beachum 59, Ramon Foster 59, Maurkice Pouncey 59, David DeCastro 59, Mike Adams 59

Analysis: The Steelers' starting offensive linemen played every snap for the third consecutive game. Mike Adams played right tackle in place of the injured Marcus Gilbert for the third straight game, giving Gilbert (ankle, knee) another week to get healthy. Gilbert is expected to return to the starting lineup Sunday against the visiting Kansas City Chiefs. ... Bell has played all but five snaps in the Steelers' last two games. ... Johnson, who played both fullback and tight end, logged significant snaps early when the Steelers primarily went with their big personnel package (one wide receiver and three tight ends) on their opening possession of the game. ... Wheaton had perhaps his most efficient game of the season, catching all five passes thrown his way for 66 yards. Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey played only on special teams for the second consecutive game.

Defense (60 snaps)

Defensive line: Cameron Heyward 53, Stephon Tuitt 51, Steve McLendon 24, Cam Thomas 11, Daniel McCullers 6

Linebackers: Jason Worilds 60, Lawrence Timmons 57, Vince Williams 35, Jarvis Jones 34, Arthur Moats 25, Sean Spence 22, Ryan Shazier 4, Terence Garvin 1

Cornerbacks: Brice McCain 59, William Gay 58, Antwon Blake 38, B.W. Webb 3

Safeties: Troy Polamalu 56, Mike Mitchell 52, Will Allen 11

Analysis: Who would guessed this? McCullers played more snaps in a December game with the Steelers pushing for the playoffs than Shazier, the Steelers' 2014 first-round draft pick. Shazier saw his first action on defense since sustaining a high-ankle sprain against the Baltimore Ravens in an early November game. Shazier, who opened the season as a starter at inside linebacker, continues to play behind the Williams/Spence tandem. Williams and Spence combined for 10 tackles against the Falcons. Spence recorded the Steelers only tackle for a loss when he shot a gap on a Falcons running play. ... The Steelers are all in on Tuitt, the rookie defensive end, as the second-round pick has clearly supplanted Thomas in the starting lineup. ... Jones and Moats split time at right outside linebacker with the former playing when the Steelers were in their nickel package. Moats is probably the odd man out when James Harrison returns from a knee injury that has sidelined him for the last two games. Moats could be a candidate to spell Worilds at left outside linebacker assuming Harrison is able to return to action Sunday. Worilds has played every snap the last two games.
PITTSBURGH –Stephon Tuitt's wait is almost over.

The rookie defensive end said he has been taking snaps with the Pittsburgh Steelers first-team defense, and he will play extensively Sunday in Cincinnati.

Tuitt could play most of the snaps at left defensive end if Steve McLendon misses a third consecutive game because of a shoulder issue and Cam Thomas starts in his place at nose tackle. Even if McLendon plays against the Bengals, Tuitt figures to take Brett Keisel ’s spot as one of the tackles in the Steelers’ nickel defense.

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Keisel, who had been blocking Tuitt from significant playing time, hurt his triceps last Sunday and is out for the rest of the season.

“You don’t ever want anything like that to happen to any of your teammates, but I’ve worked hard all season and worked under his wing,” Tuitt said. “It’s time for me to take that step and grow as a player and keep it going. Play for him, play for the Steelers and do what we have to do to get to the playoffs.”

There are a lot of reasons to think that Tuitt just needs an opportunity to show why the Steelers were so excited last May when he was available at their pick in the second round of the draft.

The 6-foot-5, 303-pounder already has an NFL body and Tuitt caught defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s attention early in training camp with how well he moved for someone his size.

"He’s going to get more snaps, without a doubt. I think he’ll do well,” LeBeau said Thursday. “He is a developing young football player who I think has a very solid future. There’s nothing he’s done that we’ve been unhappy with.”

Nor has Tuitt been unhappy with having to bide his time, as most Steelers rookies do.

“I trained as if I was starting every week. I didn’t once complain because I knew there would be an opportunity for me,” the former Notre Dame standout said. “I’m ready. At the same time, I’ve still got stuff I’ve got to learn. The best thing about me is I compete against myself every day.”

Tuitt has shown flashes, especially as an inside pass rusher, in the limited snaps he has received.

As he prepares for a bigger role, teammates such as McLendon and Heyward have simply told Tuitt to trust in himself and the technique he has been honing since he joined the Steelers.

“I’m not expecting him to play like a young guy,” Heyward said. “We’ve talked about it a little bit and this is a moment where you can excel and take a hold of it or regress. I look for him to play sound and know he's not going to understand [the defense] all right now, but don’t be overwhelmed by it.”
Great questions, and I got enough of them that a second mailbag will be posted later today. If you have a Pittsburgh Steelers question, please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN:.

And away we go ...

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I had a chance to talk to running backs coach James Saxon last week, and he said he is happy with Dri Archer and how he works. Saxon also said he does not think Archer's confidence has been shaken despite how sparingly the rookie has played. I don't think there is any question though the Steelers expected more out of Archer. After the Steelers raised some eyebrows by using a third-round draft pick on the scatback, general manager Kevin Colbert said the Steelers viewed Archer as a starter because of his ability to return kicks. Well, Archer lost his job as the primary kickoff return and is only No. 2 behind Markus Wheaton because the Steelers waived LeGarrette Blount. The release of Blount provides an opportunity for Archer behind starting running back Le'Veon Bell and it will be interesting to see if he can take advantage of it -- and if the Steelers can figure out a way to put his world-class speed to use by getting him the ball in open space.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I'm a little miffed that Stephon Tuitt, who played just four snaps in a 27-24 win against the Tennessee Titans, has not gotten on the field more. But I don't think it is a reflection of a lack of growth on his part as much as the reality that Tuitt is simply blocked right now. The second-round pick is best suited right now to play in the nickel defense, but that would mean taking Cameron Heyward or Brett Keisel off the field when the Steelers use that package. Heyward is a very good inside pass-rusher, and Keisel has played better than the Steelers could have hoped as the 13th-year veteran is tied for third on the Steelers with 12 quarterback pressures. I think Tuitt is going to be a really good player, but I don't think he makes a significant impact until next season unless he starts siphoning snaps from Cam Thomas.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: It's hard to get a read on how much progress Josh Harris has made since the season started, since there is no hitting and the speed in practice isn't the same as it is in games. The undrafted free agent has a nice blend of size, speed and quickness, and Harris emerged from a group of young, unheralded backs that the Steelers had in training camp. One thing I noticed during camp is that coach Mike Tomlin stayed on top of Harris, which showed that he liked the potential of the Wake Forest product. Harris has obviously impressed the Steelers with what he has done as a member of the practice squad, as they moved just as quickly in promoting him as they did in waiving the disgruntled Blount last Tuesday.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: The Steelers have largely done away with number designations as far as their wide receivers. Antonio Brown is obviously their No. 1 wideout, but after that the order shakes out based on packages and situations. That said, I think Martavis Bryant has clearly emerged as their second-best wide receiver and is more of a weapon in the passing game than Wheaton. Consider that Bryant has six touchdown catches despite not dressing in the Steelers' first six games, compared to one for Wheaton. The 6-foot-4, 211-pound Bryant has an excellent blend of size and speed, and this kid is more than willing to work to get better. I think the Steelers have finally found the tall wide receiver that has too often been a missing component in their offense. As high as I am on Bryant, I am not giving up on Wheaton in any way. He has the physical ability and work ethic to be a very good wide receiver at this level. And given how much teams are throwing the ball now, you need at least three good wide receivers to thrive in the passing game, so there is room for both Bryant and Wheaton..

Steelers mail: Jarvis Jones update

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
10:00
AM ET
Here is the latest Steelers' mailbag. There will be one next week, even though the Steelers are on their bye. If you have a question please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with #mail.

And away we go...

@ScottBrown_ESPN Good timing with the question. I had a chance to catch up with Jarvis Jones last week and he is optimistic that he will play again this season but is also realistic that it won't be anytime soon. Jones no longer has a cast on the wrist that he dislocated in late September but he is still working to regain his strength as well as range of motion in it. Jones said he is hoping to start practicing again after the bye week - hoping, mind you - and I'm thinking a realistic target date for his return is the Steelers' Dec. 14 game at Atlanta. That may, in fact, be the best-case scenario for Jones.

@ScottBrown_ESPN I'm a little surprised as well that Stephon Tuitt's playing time hasn't increased as the season has progressed. A couple of weeks ago against the Baltimore Ravens the rookie defensive end generated nice pressure on quarterback Joe Flacco on consecutive snaps but then Tuitt hardly played last Sunday against the New York Jets. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau always raves about Tuitt when asked about the second-round draft pick, and Tuitt is a huge part of the future on defense. But, for whatever reason, young defensive ends usually take a little longer to develop in the Steelers' defense. Couple that with how well veteran Brett Keisel has played, and it's a little easier to see why Tuitt has played sparingly. He could see a decent number of snaps against the Tennessee Titans if the Steelers opt to use Cam Thomas more at nose tackle with Steve McLendon out and rookie Daniel McCullers set to make his first start in place of McLendon.

@ScottBrown_ESPN I hope for the Steelers' sake, it gets a lot better. Mitchell has made his share of tackles -- he is third on the Steelers with 45 stops -- and has shown he is willing and able to deliver big hits on the back end of the defense. But Mitchell has broken up just two passes and has yet to record an interception for his new team. I think the Steelers were expecting more big plays out of Mitchell when they signed him to a five-year, $25 million contract in March. Maybe those will come as Mitchell gets more comfortable in the defense as well as with the tendencies of his teammates. But I think it's fair to say that Mitchell has been a disappointment through the first 10 games of the season.

@ScottBrown_ESPN People can't seem to get enough of stories where sports and pop culture intersect. That happened when a handful of Steelers players posted pictures of themselves with Bieber after he made a cameo at the team's worship service last Saturday night. Then when the Steelers lost to New York Jets, who had lugged an eight-game losing streak into the game, people had some fun with the supposed "Bieber curse." That led to a question for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on his weekly radio show about whether an appearance by the Biebs had anything to do with the loss to the Jets. Roethlisberger laughed it off and I wrote what he said. It was written in a light vein and I think most people took it as that.

@ScottBrown_ESPN I was hoping to ask Markus Wheaton that very question near the end of the week but I missed him several times in the locker room while I was interviewing other players. I think Wheaton has earned at least another game as the primary kickoff returner given how effective he was in that capacity against the Jets. Wheaton had a 34-yard return and the second-year wide receiver at least showed that he is capable of getting past the 20-yard line on returns. That is at least a place to start for the Steelers, who are doing everything they can to generate a spark on their kickoff return team.
PITTSBURGH -- Starting nose tackle Steve McLendon has been officially ruled out for the Pittsburgh Steelers' game against the Tennessee Titans on Monday night.

McClendon
McClendon
McLendon did not practice all week after aggravating a shoulder injury that caused the fourth-year veteran to miss two games this season.

Rookie Daniel McCullers is expected to make his first career start in place of McLendon, and it will be something off a homecoming for the 6-foot-7, 352-pounder McCullers.

He played his college ball at the University of Tennessee before the Steelers took McCullers with the second of two sixth-round draft picks in May.

It will be interesting to see how many snaps McCullers plays against the 2-7 Titans.

Defensive end Cam Thomas will probably also play nose tackle at Tennessee. The Steelers could also use their nickel package in which the nose tackle comes off the field more.

In addition to McLendon, safety Shamarko Thomas will miss a third consecutive game because of a hamstring injury.

The Steelers are expected to get safety Ross Ventrone back after he missed the 20-13 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday because of a hamstring injury. Ventrone, who had filled in for Thomas on special teams, practiced all week.

He is listed as probable on the Steelers’ final injury report of the week, as is cornerback Cortez Allen (thumb). Allen was limited in drills on Friday, but practiced fully on Saturday.

The Steelers will be without strong safety Troy Polamalu (knee), linebacker Ryan Shazier (ankle) and cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) against the Titans.

All were ruled out earlier this week.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Here is a look at the snap counts from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 20-13 loss to the New York Jets:

Offense (64 total snaps)

QB Ben Roethlisberger, 64
TE Heath Miller, 64
C Maurkice Pouncey, 64
RG David DeCastro, 64
LG Ramon Foster, 64
LT Kelvin Beachum, 64
RT Marcus Gilbert, 64
WR Antonio Brown, 60
RB Le'Veon Bell, 57
WR Martavis Bryant, 38
WR Markus Wheaton, 38
WR Lance Moore, 18
TE Matt Spaeth, 14
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, 13
RB LeGarrette Blount, 6
FB Will Johnson, 5
TE Michael Palmer, 3
RB Dri Archer, 2
FB James Harrison, 2

Notable: Rookie Martavis Bryant, who didn’t dress for the first six games, buttressed his claim that he is the Steelers’ second-best wide receiver by catching four passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers opened the game with Bryant and Heyward-Bey joining Brown in a three-wide receiver set, and Bryant played as many snaps as Markus Wheaton. His snaps should only increase as Bryant continues to produce ... Wheaton might have earned the job of primary kickoff returner after averaging 27.3 yards on three returns. The second-year man is the third player the Steelers have turned to when it comes to returning kickoffs ... Rookie running back Dri Archer, who lost his job as the primary kickoff returner, a couple of weeks ago, played only two snaps on offense and this is starting to look like a wasted/redshirt season for the third-round pick. Archer is on pace for 100 rushing and receiving yards combined. He played as many snaps in the Steelers’ backfield as outside linebacker James Harrison.

Defense (59 total snaps)

LB Lawrence Timmons, 59
CB William Gay, 59
CB Brice McCain, 59
S Will Allen, 59
OLB Jason Worilds, 57
S Mike Mitchell, 57
DE Cameron Heyward, 54
OLB Harrison, 39
LB Sean Spence, 36
DE Brett Keisel, 34
NT Steve McLendon, 36
DE Cam Thomas, 24
LB Vince Williams, 23
OLB Arthur Moats, 23
CB Antwon Blake, 23
NT Daniel McCullers, 10
DE Stephon Tuitt, 6
S Robert Golden, 1

Notable: Rookie Daniel McCullers didn’t just dress because five Steelers were out with injuries. The Steelers used the sixth-round pick to spell Steve McLendon at nose tackle and left Cam Thomas at defensive end. McCullers’ snaps might have come at the expense at rookie second-round pick Stephon Tuitt, who played sparingly as the Steelers’ fourth defensive end ... Cornerback Cortez Allen, who leads the Steelers with two interceptions, did not play a defensive snap and has logged just one snap in the past two games. Allen, who has fallen from starter to No. 4 cornerback, might have to make a move soon if he wants to see the field. Ike Taylor, who has been out since breaking his forearm in late September, is getting closer to returning ... Sean Spence and Vince Williams played in place of the injured Ryan Shazier at weakside linebacker. Spence played in the base defense with Williams logging snaps when the Steelers went to their nickel package.
Here is a look at the outside free agents that the Pittsburgh Steelers signed during the offseason:

Mitchell
S Mike Mitchell: The sixth-year veteran has played better as he has gotten more comfortable in a new defense. Mitchell is fourth on the Steelers with 37 tackles and the former Carolina Panther has forced a pair of fumbles, the most on the team. The 6-foot, 210-pounder has delivered big hits in the secondary. Now, Mitchell has to get himself in position to make a few interceptions as well.

DE Cam Thomas: The former San Diego Charger has started seven games and shown his versatility by playing extensively at both left defensive end and nose tackle. Thomas has 11 tackles and four quarterback pressures, but he has struggled to hold his ground when the Steelers have been gashed by the run. Thomas is ideally suited as a swing player who provides depth at defensive end and nose tackle.

WR Lance Moore: The ninth-year veteran had a frustrating start to the season, not dressing for the first two games because of a groin injury and then not getting on the field because the Steelers' coaches were determined to give Justin Brown every opportunity to establish himself as the No. 3 wide receiver. Moore has come in recently, catching two touchdown passes in the Steelers' last three games. The former New Orleans Saint has seven receptions for 109 yards and he has clearly etched out a role in the passing game.

Williams
Blount
RB LeGarrette Blount: The 6-feet, 250-pound bruiser has rushed for 243 yards and a pair of scores while averaging 4.9 yards per carry -- the same as Le'Veon Bell. Bell's dynamic play has limited Blount's touches but the former New England Patriot has seriously upgraded the Steelers' depth at running back. He may also be the Steelers' answer at kickoff returner if Dri Archer doesn't regain the confidence of the coaches.

CB Brice McCain: The addition of McCain has been as significant as any that the Steelers made given the broken forearm that sidelined Ike Taylor and the struggles that have resulted in two demotions for Cortez Allen in the last two weeks. McCain's pick-six against the Jacksonville Jaguars was huge considering how the offense scuffled in a 17-9 win. The former Houston Texan has also broken up two passes and is probably a starter until Taylor returns.

Heyward-Bey
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey: The former Indianapolis Colt has three catches for 33 yards but he received more playing time in the last two games with the Steelers using Heyward-Bey in packages with rookie Martavis Bryant. Heyward-Bey drew a significant pass interference penalty in a win over the Carolina Panthers and made a key third-down catch in a win over the Texans. The sixth-year veteran has also contributed on special teams.

P Adam Podlesh: He never reported to training camp after his wife suffered life-threatening complications while giving birth to the couple's second child. ESPN NFL Nation reporter Tania Ganguli wrote an excellent piece on the ordeal that has led to Podlesh putting his football career on hold.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Daniel McCullers did not record a tackle during his NFL debut last Monday night but his brute strength was impossible to miss in the third quarter.

McCoy
McCullers
McCullers drove Chris Myers back about five yards on a pass play and the 6-foot-7, 352-pounder so overpowered the Houston Texans center that Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward didn’t have to review film of the Steelers’ 30-23 win for the play to jump out at him.

“I remember seeing that close up,” Heyward said. “And the thing I love about it is he’s wearing down these centers so if I have to go against them, they’re tired. I’m telling you once Dan starts really using that body nobody can block him.”

McCullers’ sheer size makes him an intriguing long-term prospect at nose tackle where the Steelers are still searching for a worthy heir to five-time Pro Bowler Casey Hampton.

And McCullers is playing sooner than expected because of an injury to starting nose tackle Steve McLendon -- and the reality that the Steelers need some mass up front with teams rushing for an average of 114.1 yards per game against them.

McCullers played 10 snaps against the Texans but Cam Thomas, who started in place of McLendon, only logged 18 of them with the Steelers playing nickel much more than their base defense.

Assuming McLendon is out for at least another week it will be interesting to see how the Steelers split snaps on Sunday between Thomas and McCullers -- and how much of base defense they play against the high-powered Indianapolis Colts.

McCullers, the second of two sixth-round picks that the Steelers made in May, said his play against the Texans boosted his confidence. The fact that Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick ran right past McCullers as he was driving Myers backwards in the third quarter is part of his learning process.

Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell, who stays on McCullers constantly, pointed out during the film review of the game how McCullers lost sight of the quarterback. Heyward, meanwhile, said the Steelers are trying to “pull out” a nasty streak in the soft-spoken McCullers.

“If I use my hands and stay low I’m not worried about a nasty streak,” McCullers said. “That’s not me.”

The player known as "Big Dan" at Steelers headquarters understands what his teammates and coaches are trying to do as far as motivating him.

“They see it in me that I can be a great player,” McCullers said.

Getting McCullers to that point will only help players like Heyward, who would benefit greatly from playing next to a nose tackle who demands constant double-teams.

“He’s built like the Marcus Strouds, the John Hendersons that (rarely) come around,” Heyward said. “Dan can be a really good player in this league. We’re just waiting for him to decide.”
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau lavished an unusual amount of praise on rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt during training camp.

LeBeau is still high on Tuitt even though the second-round draft pick has been brought along slowly.

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Tuitt
"He's got great raw material, he's got really outstanding athletic ability," LeBeau said. "He's going to be a good player. You can write that down."

It would help the Steelers if Tuitt starts taking significant steps toward fulfilling that prediction.

Tuitt is in line to play significant snaps Monday night, if not start against the Houston Texans at Heinz Field.

Starting left defensive end Cam Thomas will slide over to nose tackle with Steve McLendon out because of a sprained shoulder. Brett Keisel, the Steelers' primary reserve at defensive end, has not practiced yet this week because of a knee injury.

Even if Keisel is able to play against the Texans, the Steelers will have to lean heavily on the 6-5, 303-pound Tuitt, who has played sparingly through the first six games of the season.

He is not the only rookie who could play significant snaps against the Texans.

Mammoth nose tackle Daniel McCullers has yet to dress for a game but the 6-7, 352-pounder is expected to play.

And McCullers has made enough progress that LeBeau said he would be comfortable playing the sixth-round draft pick for an extended number of snaps Monday night.

"Dan has got the size and strength [and] Tuitt has the athletic ability," LeBeau said. "They're going to be able to contribute and they have to start right now."
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have gotten younger on defense, but they are still relying on a trio of players who were cornerstones of the teams that played in three Super Bowls from 2005-10.

Harrison
Harrison
 
Keisel
Keisel
 
Polamalu
  Outside linebacker James Harrison is already playing significant snaps even though the 36-year-old is still working his way into football shape. Defensive end Brett Keisel, who is also 36, leads the Steelers with 10 quarterback pressures and is playing over Cam Thomas in the nickel package.

And then there is Troy Polamalu, the pup, if you will, of the trio.

The veteran strong safety is third on the Steelers with 31 tackles, and the eight-time Pro Bowler has gotten better with each game. Polamalu, at the age of 33, is not the disruptive force he had been while winning the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 2010.

But Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake sees Polamalu producing the big plays that have been his hallmark -- and doing it in bunches at some point this season.

“One thing I found out about Troy is just when you think, ‘Oh, he’s not really going to [do] that much this year,’ boom, he starts making plays just like he did last year,” Lake said. “He’s building. It’s like our team in general. The gears are turning.”

Harrison is the most unlikely of those gears.

Keisel and Polamalu helped talk Harrison out of retirement after starting outside linebacker Jarvis Jones went down in a 37-19 win over the Carolina Panthers last month with a dislocated wrist.

Harrison played almost 30 snaps in his first game back with the Steelers and 20 in the 17-9 win at Jacksonville last Sunday. Harrison dropped Jaguars running back Denard Robinson for a 2-yard loss the play before cornerback Brice McCain returned an interception for a touchdown.

“I’m not where I want to be right now but week in, week out it gets a little better,” Harrison said Thursday before practice. “We’ll see how far and how fast I progress.”

When asked if he is progressing slower than he had anticipated, Harrison said with his typical bluntness, “If you were trying to lose weight, you’re not going to lose all the weight you want to in two weeks are you? It takes time.”

Despite the process of working his way back into shape and playing a supporting role on defense, Harrison said he doesn’t regret coming out of retirement, even though he had been content to walk away from the game.

"Everything happens for a reason,” Harrison said. “I’m here because that’s what was meant to be. It’s the right decision.”
PITTSBURGH -- Stephon Tuitt didn’t try to hide a wide smile on Wednesday afternoon and for good reason.

Tuitt
“I literally felt like 90 percent of the plays I was in, I did right,” the rookie defensive end said. “That alone shows progress.”

Tuitt has played sparingly on defense through the first quarter of the season and when asked if a light went on for him during the Steelers’ first practice of the week, he said, “Kind of. I know I can play. What’s holding me back is not knowing the plays. When I start knowing the plays I’ll help my team. Just like anybody in a new system, it’s going to hit sooner or later.”

The sooner the better for Tuitt.

The Steelers, too.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said before the start of the season that he expected the immensely talented Tuitt to get significant playing time.

That hasn’t materialized as Brett Keisel, who re-signed with the Steelers six weeks ago, has played in a rotation with starting defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Cam Thomas over Tuitt.

Tuitt played just three snaps in the Steelers’ 27-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the second-round draft pick has just one tackle after four games.

But if Tuitt’s demeanor after practice on Wednesday is an indication, the 6-foot-5, 303-pounder is anything but frustrated as he adjusts to the NFL and veteran defensive line coach John Mitchell.

“He’s a tough coach but he really wants all of his players to get better. As long as you give him effort and show that you’re trying to get better every day you’ll always be on the same side,” Tuitt said. “I go hard every day, so it’s exciting.”

What really has Tuitt excited is his belief that he is getting closer to just playing and not thinking as much when he is on the field.

His development will only help a defensive line that has stabilized after getting gashed by the run in the Steelers’ first two games.

The Steelers have allowed just 105 rushing yards and 3.5 yards per carry in their past two games largely because of the improved play of the defensive line.

“Don’t let our record fool you,” Tuitt said. “We are a great team and we’re going to show it when the time comes.”
PITTSBURGH -- An unexpected spike in the salary cap allowed the Pittsburgh Steelers to shop aggressively -- at least for them -- during NFL free agency.

They appeared to improve themselves with the signings of a handful of outside free agents. But two games into the season the Steelers have not gotten the return they had hoped for from those investments.

Here is a look at the free agents the Steelers signed, and all analysis is prefaced with the caveat that it is way too early to draw any sweeping conclusions.

Also, punter Adam Podlesh did not report to training camp because of a family issue. That certainly takes priority over football, so he is not included in this look at the free agents that Steelers signed.

Mitchell
S Mike Mitchell: The Steelers brought in the sixth-year veteran to give them a playmaker on the back end of their defense, but so far Mitchell has yet to impress. Mitchell, who signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Steelers, has 12 tackles but most of those have come downfield. He took a bad angle on Ravens running back Justin Forsett's 41-yard run last Thursday night, the longest play in the game, and Mitchell has yet to break up a pass much less intercept one. He has to play much better for the Steelers' defense to right itself after a shaky start.

RB LeGarrette Blount: The former Patriot hasn't gotten on the field much in large part because Le'Veon Bell has been the Steelers' best player through the season's first two weeks. Blount, who signed a two-year, $3.85 million contract, has rushed for just 14 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. Blount's carries will be limited if Bell keeps playing so well, but the 6-foot, 250-pounder is still nice injury insurance at running back. And the Steelers are going to need him at some point this season.

Thomas
DE Cam Thomas: The 170 rushing yards per game that the Steelers have yielded is a direct reflection of Thomas' inability to hold his ground whether the former Charger is playing defensive end or nose tackle. That Thomas, who signed a two-year, $4 million contract with the Steelers, lost his starting job at nose tackle midway through last season in San Diego is looking like a red flag that shouldn't have been ignored. The player known as "Baby Zilla" has six tackles and a quarterback pressure but has to be more physical.

WR Lance Moore: The former Saint has yet to play a snap after signing a two-year, $3.5 million contract. Moore has been hampered by a nagging groin injury, and the Steelers really need him to get healthy and give them a reliable No. 3 wide receiver. Moore's career suggests the ninth-year veteran could thrive working the middle of the field -- and benefiting from the extra attention teams pay to Pro Bowler Antonio Brown and the emerging Markus Wheaton.

CB Brice McCain: The former Houston Texan signed a veteran's minimum contract ($635,000 salary cap hit for one season) with the Steelers to provide depth and play special teams. McCain missed the season opener because of a groin injury and he only played special teams last Thursday in the Steelers' 26-6 loss to the Ravens.

WR Darrius Heyward-Bey: The veteran speedster played his way onto the roster but has yet to make a catch. I'm a little surprised Heyward-Bey, who signed a veteran's minimum contract, didn't get more snaps at wide receiver with Moore out. If the first two games are any indication, Heyward-Bey will play primarily on special teams, which means the Steelers could look to rookie Martavis Bryant to provide a deep threat now that he is healthy.
Here is the latest Pittsburgh Steelers' mailbag. If you have a question for future mailbags please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with #steelersmail.

And away we go ...

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I think it's personnel more than anything. Not to give Dick LeBeau a pass, because either opposing teams have figured him out or he has to adjust his schemes to fit his players. I refuse to believe the game has passed him by, but LeBeau is arguably facing his greatest challenge as the Steelers' defensive coordinator, because I'm not sure how much talent he has with which to work. Name the difference-makers on the Steelers' defense. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons and maybe defensive Cameron Heyward qualify. Linebacker Ryan Shazier will become one, but he is going through the typical rookie growing pains right now. The biggest problem the Steelers have defensively right now is they are not winning up front. They have to fix that and work from there. And last I checked, LeBeau, a Hall of Fame cornerback, hasn't made a tackle in decades. The Steelers, as a whole, have to do a better job of tackling, and that is incumbent upon the players.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: The Steelers used a silent snap count on Thursday night, and maybe the crowd noise was too much of a factor for them to use the no-huddle on the road. And, to be fair, the Steelers didn't have trouble moving the ball against the Ravens. They just killed themselves with turnovers, a couple of untimely penalties and some missed passes that Ben Roethlisberger usually completes in his sleep. I'm not sure how much the Steelers will use the no-huddle next Sunday since they are playing at Carolina. But if the offense struggles early, they will have to try something to shake things up.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: Tough to argue with you, but I would play Brett Keisel at defensive end in the base defense instead of Cam Thomas and get Stephon Tuitt snaps when the Steelers go to the nickel. I think Tuitt will play more as the season progresses, but right now Keisel is their second best defensive lineman. I'm not sure what the Steelers were thinking in waiting so long to bring Keisel back -- and thinking Thomas is starter material at defensive end after he lost his starting job at nose tackle last season in San Diego. It's still early, but Thomas looks best suited to provide depth at defensive end and nose tackle, something Al Woods did last season.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I think the Steelers signed Thomas as a stop-gap with the hopes that he could hold down a starting job until a younger defensive end was ready to take over opposite Heyward. It's not like the Steelers paid a ton of money for him, but certainly they expected more from Thomas than what they have gotten through the first two weeks of the season. No question the Steelers have to improve up front or they don't have a chance defensively. Everything with LeBeau's defense starts with stopping the run. They have been gashed in the first two games by Terrence West, Isaiah Crowell, Bernard Piece and Justin Forsett. Yikes.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I think the offense is going to be good, and that it is simply going through a rough spot at a bad time. The return of Lance Moore, assuming the ninth-year veteran is able to play next Sunday night at Carolina, will be huge. Justin Brown isn't ready to play as many snaps as he has been getting and Moore is the kind of savvy veteran who should thrive as the Steelers' No. 3 wide receiver or at least be productive. More problematic is the defense. The Steelers haven't been able to stop the run or put consistent pressure on the quarterback. They have yet to force a turnover in two games, and free safety Mike Mitchell, their prized free-agent signing this year, has really struggled. Yeah, other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? I'm still standing by my prediction of 10-6 for the Steelers, because I think the offense will start to carry the team and that the defense will improve as the season progresses. But, as you know, there is a fine line between 10-6 and 8-8 -- and even 10-6 and 6-10..

An examination of what the Pittsburgh Steelers must do after their 30-27 win over the Cleveland Browns:

Tomlint
Tomlin
The Steelers will work on all aspects of communication this week after repeated defensive breakdowns against the Browns.

They don’t have a lot of time to fix what coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged were communication problems from the sideline to the players and from the players to one another as the Browns went up and down the field after halftime.

Pittsburgh has just three days to prepare for a Thursday night game at Baltimore, and the Ravens will surely look closely at the success the Browns had in the second half against the Steelers.

The Browns piled up 288 yards in the second half and erased a 24-point halftime deficit while running and throwing the ball with equal success.

They kept the Steelers defense on its heels by running a no-huddle attack almost exclusively after halftime. The surprise with the confusion that the no-huddle offense caused is that the Steelers defense practiced extensively against it in training camp and the preseason.

“We’ve had some good days,” Tomlin said of the Steelers practicing against the no-huddle. “Obviously, [Sunday] was not one. We’re not going to let [Sunday] define us by any stretch.”

The Steelers defense should get a chance to redeem itself against the no-huddle offense Thursday.

The Ravens used it in the second half of their 23-16 loss to the Bengals on Sunday to change the tempo of the game. They went no-huddle on eight of the 10 plays that covered 82 yards in the third quarter and resulted in the Ravens’ first touchdown.

The communication issues that hampered the Steelers in the second half against the Browns are disconcerting since defenses tend to stay more basic when the opposing offense is in no-huddle mode.

Three new players -- rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, defensive end Cam Thomas and free safety Mike Mitchell -- started on defense in the season opener. But Tomlin would not use that as a crutch for why confusion reigned in the second half against the Browns.

“The big thing is we’ve got to communicate it [since] communication is integral to execution,” Tomlin said. “We were [lined up] where we were supposed to be, but based on some of the results of those snaps, I can’t say that we were ready.”

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