"We'll utilize all of the tools at our disposal to fortify our depth and present the strongest football team. Sometimes different journeys create different challenges, and we're just responding to what we believe is appropriate to the challenges that this journey is providing to us."
That was from Coach Mike Tomlin during his Tuesday news conference from the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. But even as the Steelers continue to be the last undefeated team in the NFL this season, Tomlin also has acknowledged, "We understand that we generally have to play better."
So you take those statements, add in a season-ending knee injury to every-snap inside linebacker Devin Bush, plus a balky back that has rendered second-year inside linebacker Ulysees Gilbert unreliable, plus a 265-yard rushing day by division rival Baltimore against them last Sunday, and the sum total for the Steelers was that reinforcements were needed.
That ended up being veteran inside linebacker Avery Williamson, who arrived via trade with the New York Jets in which he was packaged with a seventh-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft in exchange for the Steelers' fifth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
A fifth-round pick by the Tennessee Titans in 2014, Williams has 86 starts and 4,766 defensive snaps on his NFL resume, and Tomlin explained why he ended up being the team's target.
Take a look at photos of the Pittsburgh Steelers new linebacker Avery Williamson
"I met Avery at Bud Dupree's Pro Day after his rookie year in the NFL," explained Tomlin. "There was a lot of down time during the course of that day, and we kind of gravitated toward one another. His passion for football comes through in general conversation. He's a football lover, a football junkie. I followed him throughout the course of his NFL career because of that.
"At the early stages of his career he played in Tennessee (for the Titans) in a system of defense that was very similar to ours, not only in terms of how it was constructed but also the language itself. He's a guy who fortifies depth in an area in which we've been challenged recently. We know that we've lost Devin Bush and lost Devin Bush for 2020, but additionally to that in recent weeks Ulysees Gilbert has been less than available with a back (injury). So at the trade deadline we thought it was necessary, if we had an opportunity, to get a known commodity, one like Avery Williamson who we were somewhat familiar with and who was somewhat familiar with our schematics, and put him into the fold.
"With as much ball as we have that lies ahead, it was a prudent thing to do, and we're excited about having him."
Until they faced the Ravens, the Steelers had one of the NFL's best run defenses, but giving up 265 yards rushing, including 179 in the first half, and with exactly two healthy inside linebackers on the roster, the team did the prudent thing.
Whether Williamson will be able to put his hand in the pile against Dallas and Ezekiel Elliott, Tomlin didn't have a definitive answer.
"A lot will be determined by the process this week," said Tomlin. "The teaching and learning process will be challenged because of the COVID-19 protocol – we'll be working remotely with him until Saturday. But also some of the other things that are going on at his position will be a determining factor whether or not we attempt (to have him available this Sunday). For the long-term, we have a vision of him being a third inside linebacker, a guy who's position flexible, a guy who's capable of supporting Robert and Vince (Williams), and being available if anything should happen to either."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"We have a couple of guys who have missed some time who are scheduled to work without restrictions this week, which means they will be available for action, and we'll be glad to have them back. Those guys are Derek Watt (hamstring) and Jordan Dangerfield (quad).
"There were some injuries that happened in-game, and player availability will be determined by their ability to work (in practice) this week and the quality of that work. That would be Tyson Alualu (knee) and Cam Heyward (quad). Mike Hilton (shoulder) continues to work his way back from his injury. We're more optimistic about Cam Heyward, and it's a wait-and-see regarding Tyson.
"With a number of those guys being at the defensive line position, we'll be calling on a number of our guys who have made up the depth at that position. They'll have an opportunity to rise up and play quality ball for us.
"We've seen a lot of that in recent weeks, starting with Robert (Spillane) at the inside linebacker position. We're going to have an opportunity with guys like Isaiah Buggs and Henry Mondeaux and maybe even Carlos Davis having an opportunity to rise up for us this week in potential replacement for guys like Tyson and (Chris) Wormley, who's (on injured reserve)."
Later, Tomlin was asked about the availability of inside linebacker Ulysees Gilbert, who was inactive for four of the first five games and then was unavailable for last Sunday's game in Baltimore with a back injury. An issue with his back also hampered Gilbert for a large portion of his rookie season of 2019. "We'll see," answered Tomlin. "It depends on how his back behaves."
This also is the week the Steelers have to make a decision on whether to activate veteran offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski from injured reserve or leave him on the list for the rest of the season. Wisniewski injured a pectoral in the opener against the New York Giants. Said Tomlin about whether the team has to make a decision on Wisniewski this week: "We do, and we will."