Everyone in the Steelers locker room understands that it's the "next man up" in the event of an injury, and even with those injuries "the standard is the standard," but slogans and catch-phrases can get a team only so far over the course of an NFL season.
Two weeks ago at his regularly scheduled Tuesday news conference, Coach Mike Tomlin listed seven players out of the game against Kansas City the ensuing Sunday. Last Tuesday, some five days before a game against the New York Jets, Tomlin listed nine players as out.
Those numbers, and the fact an inactive list only needs to have seven players on it, have much of the recent conversation about the Steelers focused on injuries. Even so, the team is 4-1 and alone atop the AFC North Division following last Sunday's 31-13 victory over the New York Jets at Heinz Field, with a game against the Dolphins in Miami on tap for 1 p.m. Sunday.
"We talked in great detail leading up to the (Jets) game and then after the game about the opportunity for guys to have expanded roles due to circumstance," said Tomlin. "That was what it was. We expect that. Given a reasonable time to prepare, I think you can expect professionals to deliver, and they did. We appreciate that."
During today's news conference, Tomlin listed only two players as out for the game against the Dolphins, those being Cam Heyward and Robert Golden, but there remain a host of others who could end up being unavailable to the team this weekend.
"As a staff, our challenge will be to put together a plan to highlight the strengths of the guys who are available, to lean on those strengths, to work to minimize our weaknesses," said Tomlin. "We'll do that."
During this process, there have been some examples of players performing very well when asked to step in for injured starters. Tomlin said he has no hard-and-fast rules about whether players can lose their job to injury, and he also shot down the idea of moving Ryan Shazier to safety to lessen his chances of future injury.
"I do not (have a policy)," said Tomlin about whether a player can lose his job to injury. "I deal with it on a case-by-case basis."
And then on moving Shazier, it was: "No, I'll just let you guys continue to speculate. We're comfortable with the division of labor and where we have the guys playing. And Vince is doing a heckuva job for us in relief of Ryan."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"We're in the beginning stages of putting together a plan and looking at the pieces that are available to us. That being said, I'll update you on a few injury things:
"Cam Heyward has a hamstring injury, and he can be characterized as out for this game. I'm not going to get into the length of time he could be out. Just being around Cameron for the last number of years, I know that he doesn't fall in the realm of what's normal in anything that he does. He just has that level of commitment and he's that talented of a guy. We can characterize him as out for this week, and we'll re-evaluate where he is at the beginning of next week.
"The same thing can be said for Shamarko Thomas and his groin injury. Cody Wallace is still working back from his knee injury. I don't expect him to have a lot of participation this week. If he participates, then we'll look at the quality and the amount of the participation and then let that be our guide.
"We have a host of other guys who are dealing with known injuries that we have talked about in the past, and it's just status quo with them until we get onto the practice field and we see what they can and cannot do. That list includes Markus Wheaton (shoulder), Marcus Gilbert (ankle), Ryan Shazier (knee), Sammie Coates (finger laceration), Eli Rogers (turf toe), Justin Gilbert (knee), Robert Golden (hamstring), Rosie Nix (back), and Le'Veon Bell has a knee injury that has gotten maintenance and may limit him at the early portions of the week, but he should be available to us in the game."