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Tomlin: 'It was good to get the group back'

The Steelers were back on the practice field on Sunday after having the three previous days off, the break a result of the NFL moving the Steelers-Ravens game due to multiple Ravens players and members of the organization being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 List.

The game, which was originally scheduled for Thanksgiving night, will now be played Tuesday, Dec. 1 at 8 p.m. at Heinz Field, and televised nationally on NBC.

Coach Mike Tomlin said the team held what would be a normal Friday practice and are now moving into their mode of operation that takes place 48 hours prior to kickoff.  

"It was good to get the group back on the grass today," said Tomlin. "Guys got three days off their feet which was really good. We are comfortable with our level of preparedness from a planning standpoint. We worked extremely hard at the front part of the week to be able to deliver a quality performance on a short week. The added days rest was not a negative. It was a positive for us. We had a holiday, so it was nice from that perspective. I know our players have enjoyed the three day's rest. There was a lot of energy at practice today. It can be a positive thing if we make it that and I know that is our intention, I know it is for me.

"We had some COVID circumstances of our own. We released the names out on the COVID list. We've adapted. Today was about making sure we had a nice division of labor and everybody understood their roles. We start to lean in on kickoff at this juncture."

The Steelers placed multiple players on the Reserve/COVID-19 List over the past few days, including starting defensive end Stephon Tuitt and running back James Conner. In addition, defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs and offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins also are on the list. All four will not be available on Tuesday night.

While Tomlin admits he doesn't know what tomorrow will bring, he does know that the news on Sunday was what he wanted to hear. The Steelers had no positive COVID-19 tests.

"I don't know I can say I am confident of anything in this environment. I know that I got great news today that we have no positives," said Tomlin. "That is the global mentality of all of us, it's day-to-day. It's a sensitive situation. You're talking about degrees of confidence and that nature, that's a slippery slope."

With Tuitt and Buggs out, it will be an all hands on deck approach on the defensive line. Cameron Heyward, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, Henry Mondeaux and Carlos Davis will all be a part of picking up the slack.

"We're going to utilize all of the players at our disposal," said Tomlin. "We'll distribute those reps among the group. The strength of the pack will be the pack in that regard. You talk about a guy like Tuitt and the impact he makes, it's not a one-man job, it's an all-man job."

At running back, not only will the team be without Conner, but Jaylen Samuels has already been ruled out with a quadriceps injury and Trey Edmunds was placed on the Reserve/Injured List this past week. That leaves the Steelers with two healthy running backs on the roster right now, Benny Snell Jr. and Anthony McFarland Jr.

"I have no reservation about Benny Snell as a featured runner," said Tomlin.

While the Steelers are dealing with a little bit of shuffling of their players, the Ravens have even bigger issues with 20 players on the Reserve/COVID-19 List ahead of Sunday's transaction time. With starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram II and many more on the list, the Ravens will have a different look on Tuesday night. But the Steelers are preparing for their scheme, not the players.

"We're preparing for the schematics, meaning the structure of how they operate, the plays that they run, the personality they have," said Tomlin. "I am sure as they infuse players in, those things will be unchanging. We're comfortable with our level of preparedness and ability to prepare based on those things."

Taking precautions: In the COVID-19 environment, there is no such thing as being completely safe. But there is such a thing as taking every precaution, and that is what the Steelers are doing, which is why what happened in Baltimore isn't a cautionary tale for them.

"We don't need cautionary tales. We are living this every day," said Tomlin. "We have been tested daily since July 20. We listen to all of the protocols and memos delivered to us from New York. We have taken this very seriously. It's just confirmation of what we already know."

Tomlin said they have flat out asked the players to do everything in their power to be safe, and they are reacting just as he had hoped they would.

"We've asked them to go above and beyond from day zero, from day one, just in anticipation of such an environment," said Tomlin. "To their credit they are working hard to give us what we want and we're appreciative."

The Steelers have been meeting virtually for weeks now, which has helped them protect players and keep them from having a situation like what happened in Denver this week, where all four quarterbacks landed on the Reserve/COVID-19 List because of close contacts.

"We keep people separate," said Tomlin. "We work virtually. We meet virtually. We work our tails off to social distance, so we are not caught up in such circumstances."

Tomlin said he hasn't considered keeping a quarterback in a bubble because of such things.

"We exercise all of the necessary precautions in terms of the protection of the quarterback we have," said Tomlin.