Essex the latest to step up

The Steelers injury outlook is looking brighter, with Maurkice Pouncey, Ben Roethlisberger, LaMarr Woodley and Emmanuel Sanders having a "shot" at playing this week.

But if any of those guys aren't able to go, Coach Mike Tomlin knows the next guy will step up.

Most recently that "next guy" has been Trai Essex, who stepped in against the St. Louis Rams to play center after Doug Legursky injured his shoulder and Maurkice Pouncey was already out with an ankle injury.

"We thought Trai Essex's willingness and ability to play center was critical to our success," said Tomlin. "It was under unusual circumstances. Center is a unique position. It's one that handles the football on every snap. To have a guy come in and deliver the way he delivered for us, not only in terms of snapping the football but declaring fronts and blocking people in the run game, it was just a special afternoon for him."

Tomlin expects Pouncey to return to practice on Wednesday, but said that Essex will have to continue to work at guard and center this week just to be prepared.

"He has to make himself available at both the center and guard positions, like he has for us in recent weeks," said Tomlin. "It's going to be required that he prepare as a guard but he will get some center work along with Maurkice Pouncey."

If the playoffs were to begin today, the Steelers would be a wild card team and a five seed. But after Sunday, all of that could change based on the outcome of the game against the Browns, as well as the Ravens/Bengals and Bills/Patriots games.

That is why Tomlin said during his weekly press conference that he plans to play anyone who is "healthy enough to practice and prepare" this week.

"There are some scenarios that can unfold, where we can improve our playoff position," said Tomlin. "We are aware of that. We are also aware that all of those scenarios include us winning this football game. We are going to do what we deem necessary for us to put ourselves in position to do that."

Regardless of what can happen, Tomlin's main focus won't be what is happening around the NFL but rather what is happening on the field at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

"We will focus and try to control the things that we can control," said Tomlin. "We want to keep our eyes on our opponent. We have a big game this week so it's necessary for us to win and to have the necessary momentum we desire going into playoff football, regardless of the other things that go on in other stadiums."

Rookie tackle Marcus Gilbert did not start against the Rams because Tomlin said he was "less than professional in preparation" during the week. Jonathan Scott got the start at right tackle for Gilbert, but Tomlin wouldn't say yet who will start there this week.   

"We'll see," said Tomlin. "Again, Marcus is going to be a talented player for us. He's performed very well to this point. But he has some growth and maturity things that we want to address. If he continues to do that then he will participate."* *

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