Tomlin Takes

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'Tomlin's Takes' on Diontae, balance, cohesion

Finding his rhythm: Coach Mike Tomlin stated during his press conference that receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will be placed on the Reserve/Injured list and undergo surgery after suffering a shoulder injury against the Broncos on Sunday.

Losing Smith-Schuster will mean a handful of other players will be called upon to step up, including Diontae Johnson, who continues to grow and develop.

Johnson has caught long touchdown passes on the opening drive the last two weeks, including a 50-yarder from Ben Roethlisberger against the Broncos, and a 45-yarder against the Packers a week earlier. It's just part of his growth according to Tomlin, something he isn't surprised about.

"Diontae is just going through the natural maturation process that we expect guys to go through," said Tomlin. "He's no longer a rookie. He's been in some circumstances and situations. He is understanding the game better, which I think is allowing him to play faster.

"He's finding his rhythm as a professional. I just had a conversation with him in (the practice facility), he was laying on the training table getting his body taken care of. I see him every Tuesday before I come in here and visit with you all. I think he's finding the rhythm in his professional preparation process, whether it's formally like in practice settings, or whether it's informally like what he does with a Tuesday. So, it's reasonable to expect guys to grow and make more plays and develop better consistency as they find a steadiness in life and I think that's just where he is."

Balancing act: Tomlin often preaches about having a balanced offense and on Sunday they had just that against the Broncos, with a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver. 

Najee Harris rushed for 122 yards on 23 carries, while Chase Claypool had 130 yard receiving on five receptions.

"It's about eliminating negativity in our run game so we don't get behind the chains," said Tomlin. "It's about not having unblocked people schematically and gaining cohesion to make sure that we can block any look. We're getting better there, improving in terms of our individual techniques, keeping our hands inside, being able to work and finish, but also doing it in a legal manner. We're developing skills associated with that day-to-day with our young guys, particularly in our individual work and the runner getting used to NFL football.

"I think staying on schedule is a big component of it. It keeps drives alive. It allows you to ring the scoreboard up. It allows the game to remain within striking distance or puts you ahead so you can thoughtfully maintain that balance that you look for not only in play selection but in personality.

"It all kind of runs together. We've been continually talking about it. It's not like some magical formula got met last week. The result of the game was a result of the game. We've been focused on those variables for some time, and we've identified those variables for some time. We've been working in those areas. Hopefully the fruit of that labor continues to show itself."

Take a closer look at scenes from the Steelers' Week 5 game against the Denver Broncos

A good problem to have: The Steelers offensive line continues to progress, and in turn the run game is progressing. Against the Packers, despite the loss, the growth cold be seen. Against the Broncos, it was even more visible that the group, which got Chukwuma Okorafor back, is gelling.

"We've been working hard at developing cohesion and all on the offensive front and it manifested itself in terms of efficient run game," said Tomlin. "We saw signs of that in Green Bay. I thought we took another step this past Sunday and were able to do some things in the running game. We need to continue to grow in those areas, specifically the cohesion-based things. Eliminate negativity in the run game that's produced by unblocked people for a variety of reasons. To minimize penalties in that area of play. These are drive killers. Penalties put you behind the sticks and make you one dimensional. To take a step in that area, to be able to have a solid performance in that area, is significant and now how do we springboard that into consistency and get better in that area."

With that being said, the line could get another boost with Zach Banner stating last week he felt ready to return to the field after opening the season on the Reserve/Injured list.

The question now is what would having Banner back do to the cohesion that is developing on the line. It's a problem Tomlin would welcome after Banner said he is ready.

"Ready is not a problem," said Tomlin. "I'm not going to make a negative out of him perceiving that he's ready or him being ready.

"There's nothing wrong with having more than five capable ready men. Those are the type of problems that you want to have, and I look forward to the day we're managing that."

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