Why fix something that worked?
That's the feeling Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has when it comes to the right tackle position.
Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly press conference at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex that the team will take another look at rookie Broderick Jones at right tackle on Sunday when the Steelers (5-3) host the Green Bay Packers (3-5).
That decision comes after Jones, the team's No. 1 pick in this year's draft, made a surprise start at right tackle in last Thursday's 20-16 win over the Tennessee Titans, a game in which the Steelers rushed for a season-high 166 yards.
"I thought he did some really good things," Tomlin said of Jones, who was making his first-career start at right tackle and second-career start overall. "I thought we did some really good things, and so it's probably worthy of the extended look, considering he did those things and we did those things on a short week. And so I'm not going all the way in but, but we'll probably take another look at it and see what it looks like this week."
Jones got the start, at least in part, because right tackle Chuks Okorafor, who had started 56 consecutive games going into the victory over the Titans, was benched for saying something on the sideline during a Week 8 loss to the Jaguars that the coaching staff did not appreciate.
"It was a significant factor," Tomlin said of the incident.
Regardless of how it happened, Jones took matters into his own hands, playing well at right tackle, a position at which he had not worked at much during training camp and hadn't played since his freshman season at the University of Georgia.
"I just thought he did a really good job in general. I thought he did a really nice job on the second level, for example," Tomlin said.
Jones, whom the Steelers moved up in the first round to acquire with the 14th pick in this year's draft, had been having a difficult time getting onto the field. He made a spot start in place of an injured Dan Moore Jr. at left tackle in a Week 5 win over Baltimore, but had been limited to just five offensive snaps since.
His situation has been different than that of some of the other rookies in this year's draft class, such as cornerback Joey Porter Jr., defensive lineman Keeanu Benton, tight end Darnell Washington or linebacker Nick Herbig.
Those four all have gotten significant playing time in nearly every game this season because of the respective positions they play. But it's more difficult for teams to rotate offensive linemen into a game.
"There's more opportunity for younger perimeter players to get on-field physical development, no question," Tomlin said.
But now that he's gotten his foot in the door, it might be a spot he holds onto – provided he and the team continue to play well. And a big factor in that would be continued success from the running game.
It was a huge factor in the win over the Titans last week by minimizing how much Tennessee could give the ball to star running back Derrick Henry, who had 19 carries for 75 yards.
It also will be a big factor this week against the Packers, who are coming off a season-high 184-yard rushing effort in their 20-3 win Sunday over the Rams.
"I thought our running game was big. It was big because it minimized the running game of Henry and minimized their time of possession and things of that nature, the things that they do in terms of how they construct victory," Tomlin said. "I thought it was doubly important obviously, for selfish or personal reasons in terms of our possession of football, the management of possession downs and things of that nature. But specific to that matchup, an effective run game, I thought played keep away from a guy who's really good at taking the air out of stadiums, and dominate games particularly in the second half in the form of Derrick Henry."
A more traditional look: The Steelers lost linebacker Cole Holcomb for the season after he suffered a knee injury against the Tennessee Titans on Thursday Night Football.
With Holcomb out, the responsibility in the middle will mainly lie in the hands of Kwon Alexander and Elandon Roberts. The Steelers were using the two of them and Holcomb in a rotation, all players who were acquired either in the offseason or training camp to bolster the position, but they will revert now to a more standard approach with the two of them seeing more snaps.
"It was somewhat of a luxury," said Tomlin of having the three linebackers. "We thought we had three really capable linebackers dividing the labor up between two positions. That's a really good thing when you have an opportunity to do that. You really can specialize and allow guys week in and week out to do the things that they do best. They can remain fresher. So, it was a pleasure to have that collective talking about Cole, Elandon and Kwon.
"Now we simply got two guys for two spots and so it's more of a traditional rotation. Obviously, it could create more opportunity for a guy like Mark Robinson in his second year, but he's not going to get the type of involvement that Cole had. What we had was a luxury. What we have now is probably more of a traditional division of labor at the inside linebacker position.
"We had a luxury when we had all three, but we've got two really capable guys now who are going to act in more of a traditional fashion. We don't feel like anything's lost in that regard."
One player who could lend a helping hand is safety Keanu Neal on passing downs, something that has already been occurring this season.
"We've been doing that anyway," said Tomlin.
Minkah improving: Steelers All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick missed last Thursday's game against the Titans with a hamstring injury.
But Tomlin said Fitzpatrick is improving.
"We'll see what the week holds for him and him and see if there's a potential for availability at the latter part of the week," Tomlin said.
With Fitzpatrick out, Damontae Kazee handled the free safety duties against the Titans next to Neal at strong safety.
Nose tackle Montravius Adams suffered an ankle injury early in the win over the Titans and did not return. There's also a chance he returns to play this week.
"We'll follow him throughout the week in terms of his availability," Tomlin said.