Roster moves were made throughout the NFL about 10 days ago, during the Labor Day weekend when teams had to cut from 75 to 53 players and assemble their practice squads. One of the topics pressed during Mike Tomlin's news conference today wasn't so much the Steelers roster moves as it was how that roster was utilized during the opener against the Patriots in New England.
The combination of the Steelers' attempt to re-make their defense, particularly in the secondary, and the fact Tom Brady completed 25-of-32 passes for 288 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, made the topic of who played back there and how much they played or didn't play a popular one.
Brandon Boykin, the cornerback acquired in an early-August trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, played only on special teams against the Patriots. On Monday when asked by the media why he didn't see any action on defense, Boykin said, "I feel like I can help. I really don't know why that happened or what the case is. I haven't talked to the coaches about it yet. I will definitely ask if it continues for some reason. I am kind of new here. I have been here four weeks. I know I could've contributed, but I don't know what the reason was for not getting any snaps."
When Tomlin was asked whether Boykin would play more on Sunday vs. the 49ers, he said, "We'll see. We're putting a plan together that will allow us to play the type of ball we want to play this week, and he's a guy who's under strong consideration."
Why didn't Boykin play in New England?
"We chose to play other people," said Tomlin.
After a camp/preseason process that saw him running with the first-team defense at safety, Shamarko Thomas was replaced by Will Allen in that spot for the opener. Thomas also was limited to special teams against the Patriots.
"He's got to be good above-the-neck," said Tomlin when asked what Thomas has to do to get into the lineup on defense. "He's got to be in position to make plays. He's got to do a good job communicating. With some of the things, we thought Will Allen gave us a better opportunity to do well given the course of his experience."
About an hour before his Tomlin's news conference, the team released its most recent depth chart, which had been updated to show Antwon Blake or Cortez Allen as the starting right cornerback, with Boykin shifted over to left cornerback behind starter Will Gay. Will Allen was listed as the starting strong safety, with Thomas as his backup.
"We've liked some of the things we've seen from both guys, but there also has been some inconsistency from both guys," said Tomlin about the Blake/Cortez Allen situation. "That's why I list them in that way, but also acknowledging that sub-package football is a big element of it, all three of those corners – Boykin, Blake, Cortez Allen – are going to play significant roles, regardless of who is starting and who is the nickel. Those guys are going to play as many or more snaps than a guy like (nose tackle) Steve McLendon, and that's just the nature of today's football."
After the Steelers re-signed James Harrison early in the offseason, outside linebackers coach Joey Porter suggested a 25-snap-per-game role would be the plan for the 13th-year pro. Against the Patriots, Harrison played more snaps (38) than any of the other three outside linebackers who were active for the game – Bud Dupree (26), Jarvis Jones (24), and Arthur Moats (20).
"We were happy with how it worked out. We didn't count reps," said Tomlin. "We're going to roll those guys, all four of those guys are going to play, and maybe some weeks James' numbers (will be higher) and some weeks maybe they won't. The issue for us, the critical element for us, is we're going to play all four of those men.
"I have stated repeatedly that we're going to play all of those outside linebackers. James is in a group of four guys who are active and capable of playing. We're going to play them all. Some weeks, somebody might play more than somebody else. I hadn't over-analyzed that in any way."
One decision that surprised some Steelers fans was that Tyler Murphy was active for the game against the Patriots, while Sammie Coates was not.
"He just provides more versatility," said Tomlin about why Murphy was active. "He has played multiple positions at the wideout spot. He has played some quarterback. He has a clean understanding of how each man fits overall into the structure of what we're doing. Sammie is more of a one-position guy. We thought (dressing) Murphy would provide us with more versatility. Obviously, whichever guy we dressed was going to be the No. 4 receiver and have less of an impact than the others."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"From a health standpoint, really just some bumps and bruises associated with playing. I don't anticipate any of that being a real issue at this point, but we'll have a practice participation report tomorrow that will provide more clarity in that area."