A look at pregame warmups before the Steelers' Week 1 game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium
Inactives: Having a healthy team means the Steelers inactives list isn't based on injuries in today's season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
With everyone practicing on Friday, including Diontae Johnson who was dealing with a shoulder injury, the inactives are based more on depth than the health of the team.
"I'm feeling good," said Johnson after the team wrapped up practice for the week "My shoulder is getting better, a lot better. It feels a lot better. I am ready to go on Sunday."
Today's Steelers inactives include quarterback Mason Rudolph, who is third on the depth chart behind starter Mitch Trubisky and rookie Kenny Pickett after a battle at the position during training camp and the preseason. It was a battle that Coach Mike Tomlin didn't declare a winner publicly until earlier this week, and one Trubisky takes pride in winning and is ready to take the controls today at Paycor Stadium.
"It's going to be huge," said Trubisky. "It's something I looked forward to, something I've worked for. I'm just grateful for the opportunity and I'm going to take full advantage."
In addition to Rudolph, the other inactives are center Kendrick Green, receiver Steven Sims, defensive end Isaiahh Loudersmilk and linebacker Mark Robinson.
A healthy team: The Steelers go into today's game a healthy team, with everyone a full participant in practice on Friday.
Receiver Diontae Johnson, who was limited on Wednesday and Thursday with a shoulder injury, was back to full strength at the end of the week and ready to go.
"I'm feeling good," said Johnson. "My shoulder is getting better, a lot better. It feels a lot better. I am ready to go on Sunday. I can play through a little bit of pain. I've done it before. It's nothing I am not used to."
Johnson said working in practice and testing the shoulder was exactly what he needed to get the confidence that all is good for him.
"I go off of rhythm," said Johnson. "If I am off my rhythm, I feel like I am not going to play as well. I like to stick to my routine. If some little bump in the road gets in the way of my routine, it throws me off a little bit. I got back on track, and I am ready to go."
Johnson's presence on the field is huge for the offense, but offensive coordinator Matt Canada has confidence in the depth if someone does have to step in this week or at any point in the season.
"We'll count on him being ready to go," said Canada on Thursday prior to practice. "We feel good about his progress. But Coach (Mike Tomlin) says it so well all the time, that if some guys are out, it's an opportunity for somebody else. At that spot, we had that all preseason. You guys were all here watching it, he was out for a while early and Chase (Claypool) was out, so we've moved guys around. So, we feel good about the plan we have in place if that happens to anybody. We're hoping he's ready to go."
A look at player arrivals before the Steelers' Week 1 game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium
In the back of his mind: Minkah Fitzpatrick can sometimes be a man of few words, but he didn't need many to share his thoughts on the rivalries in the AFC North, with the first one on display today when the Steelers play the Bengals.
"I don't like any of them," said Fitzpatrick.
It's a natural reaction with how the AFC North is, a division that thrives on the fierce rivalries. And after the Bengals defeated the Steelers in both games last season, it takes it to another level.
Fitzpatrick said the losses are still in the back of his mind, but he is careful not to let it overtake his mind.
"Of course, especially in the fashion that we lost, especially the last game," said Fitzpatrick. "You think about it. Then some of the remarks that were said after the first game, those you pay attention to. You think about it, let it resonate in the back of your mind. Not necessarily dwell on it, but I am going to remember it.
"You don't dwell on it. You learn from it. You keep it in the back of your mind, but you don't let it beat you up.
"We didn't do our job. We didn't execute, too many big plays, we couldn't stop the run. A lot of it was on us. They have talent, they have great players. We aren't coming in here trying to revamp everything we are doing. We are coming in here saying we have to do our job."
And job one is stopping the run and Joe Mixon, who went for 165 yards in the second meeting last season.
"Football is a game that is won in the trenches," said Fitzpatrick. "Joe Mixon is their leading guy in the trenches. It's crucial we don't allow Joe Mixon to win the game for them."
One of the key factors in preventing that is everyone being on the same page. The secondary has some new faces this year, including cornerback Levi Wallace, and communication has been spot on so far.
"The communication has been great," said Fitzpatrick. "The guys that we have brought in are really intelligent guys, guys that have played in the league a long time, have a lot of experience. Communication has been very good, and we have to continue to do what we have to do, communicate and we will be good."
These games count more: It's AFC North football for the Steelers today.
And that means one thing.
You better be on your Ps and Qs, or it could be costly.
"This game counts a little bit more because it's AFC North," said defensive tackle Cameron Heyward. "You lose once in the AFC that's one thing, if you lose in the AFC North, it's two things. It slides you down a little bit further. These games count more. You have to approach them like they are life or death for your team."
That approach might be kicked into overdrive even a little bit more with the Steelers facing the Cincinnati Bengals, the defending AFC North and AFC Champions.
"It's AFC North. They have the crown," said Heyward. "They put in enough work to award themselves to go to the Super Bowl. They lost, but it's a feat in itself to make it that far. We are excited to play them.
"They can run and pass. They have a lot of great skill players. They got our number last year twice. It's a new year and new things to worry about. Both teams are different, but who would you rather open up with than the AFC Champions. I'm looking forward to it. It's a great way to see where we are."
While the Steelers lost to the Bengals twice in 2021, Heyward stressed the importance of this being a new year and not dwelling on the past.
"It's a new season," said Heyward. "If I was to hold a grudge and be petty, at the end of the day it's a chance to go 1-0. It doesn't tally on from last year. It's a new season and I am just trying to get a W. It's just about seizing this opportunity."
While it's a fresh season, one thing that hasn't changed is Bengals' running back Joe Mixon can create havoc for an opposing defense, and Heyward knows they have to be on top of their game.
"Run fits. Knocking the line of scrimmage back," explained Heyward of what they have to do. "They do a really good job of not only being in the A, B, and C gaps, but it transfers out to those C, D and E gaps that our corners, linebackers have to fill. Sometimes even me. These are things we have to be cleaner on this year. It comes down to team defense. Tackling well. They want to get Mixon on DBs. They feel like that is a win. We don't want to get to a point where it's just one on-one. We want to corral it and play physical."
Honoring Haskins: Steelers players will honor their late teammate, Dwayne Haskins, when they take the field on today and all season by wearing a '3' sticker on their helmets, which was Haskins number. Haskins, a former No. 1 draft pick of the Washington Commanders in 2019, spent the 2021 season with the Steelers.
Plenty of weapons: The Bengals offense is loaded with weapons, including receivers Ja'Marr Chase, Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, running back Joe Mixon and quarterback Joe Burrow.
It's going to be a test for the Steelers defense, especially in the secondary where the trio of receivers can stretch the defense.
"It's very difficult," said cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. "They are talented, multi-faceted at the receiver position with a quarterback that can sling it. They do it in a variety of ways with a healthy amount of run game.
"It makes you play a complete game, and we are excited for the challenge."
The Bengals had two 1,000-yard receivers in Chase and Higgins last season, and Boyd wasn't far behind. Containing them is going to be tough, but a must for the defense.
"I think you have seen it," said Witherspoon. "They are all high-caliber receivers. That is what makes a receiver group unique at this level."
Tune in: The Steelers open the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, Sept. 11 at Paycor Stadium. For fans who don't want to miss any of the action, NFL+ is here, which means you can now watch the Steelers live and on the go! Watch live local and primetime regular season games on your phone or tablet. Start your free trial today here.
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