That Mike Tomlin really hasn't had to address the subject until now – mid-November and nine games into the regular season schedule – proves that the Steelers have enjoyed some good luck. But it's very, very rare that any NFL team dances through the injury raindrops without getting wet, and in that way the Steelers left Indianapolis a little bit on the damp side.
On the same afternoon when the Steelers had their 22 starters all available for the first time this regular season, three significant players left the game against the Colts with injuries.
Chief among those was cornerback Joe Haden, who hasn't required much time to establish himself as the team's best defensive back, along with starting safety Mike Mitchell, and emerging tight end Vance McDonald.
After the victory over the Colts, Tomlin said that Haden had sustained a broken fibula, and both Mitchell and McDonald left Lucas Oil Field wearing walking boots. During his weekly news conference today at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, Tomlin said Haden's injury isn't necessarily season-ending and that the team would keep him on the roster until a final determination can be made.
And in the meantime, it's business as usual. Next man up, which in the case of left cornerback is Coty Sensabaugh.
"We'll do a great job of rallying around Coty Sensabaugh and helping him prepare, and we look forward to him doing the job," said Tomlin. "I know (Haden's) injury will get a lot of attention and rightfully so, because Joe is a significant component for us and a new guy, plus he's been playing well, but injuries are very much a part of the game. We've dealt with them all year, and we'll deal with this one the same."
It was the return of Marcus Gilbert and Stephon Tuitt on Sunday that allowed the Steelers to have their starting 22 on the field, however briefly, for the first time this season. And Tomlin referenced those situations as proof that the team embraces the principles of "next man up."
"Marcus Gilbert missed a significant amount of time, and Chris Hubbard's play made it a non-discussion," said Tomlin. "We didn't talk about it a bunch because his play was above the line. The same thing can be said about Tyson Alualu and him replacing Stephon Tuitt when he missed a substantial amount of time. You guys know our mentality: the standard is the standard. We expect Coty to play well, and we'll help him in preparation, and he will (play well). Hopefully, Joe's injury will be less of an issue the more Coty plays. Hopefully, Joe will have an opportunity to come back and be a positive contributor to our efforts in the ways he has been."
In the particular instance of Haden, and the possible situation with Mitchell, the Steelers have veterans coming off the bench to replace them. That hasn't always been the case, but Tomlin didn't seem to care too much about that.
"Whether they're veteran or young, we hold them all to the same standard," said Tomlin. "JuJu is a young guy who has been moving up the depth chart in some ways and playing, and if we put you out there we have a certain level of expectation. It just so happens the guys I mentioned are veterans. We put guys on the field we think are capable of helping us being successful, we expect them to deliver, and I think they expect that of themselves. Performances like Chris Hubbard has given us and Tyson Alualu has given us have fortified that mentality."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"We're still in the process of evaluating Joe Haden's leg injury. It could be less than we think. It could be more than we think. The reality is he's not playing this week. We will leave him available to us in the short term until we get a better sense of what the prognosis is. If there's a chance for him to participate with our team this year, we'll leave that light on. But we know he's not playing this week (against the Titans), and so our energies are not on those who are not playing, it's on those who are. As for Mike Mitchell, we'll see as the week goes on. There's not a lot of physical participation to measure, but he has a chance, and we'll leave the light on for him. The same with Vance McDonald."