Ryan Shazier aggravates his previously injured MCL during the game against the Eagles in Philadelphia. Robert Golden injures a hamstring in the same game. Both players ultimately are ruled out for the rest of the afternoon, and while the decision on the players to replace them at inside linebacker and safety is a simple one, there are additional ramifications.
Continuing with this scenario, it's apparent that Vince Williams takes Shazier's spot on defense at inside linebacker alongside Ryan Shazier, and that Jordan Dangerfield is the next man up at safety behind Golden. But what about special teams?
Williams, Golden, and Dangerfield all are core special teams guys. Can Williams continue to play all of those special teams snaps in addition to handling the new demands on defense? Who fills in on special teams for Golden after he's injured? And then with Dangerfield, it becomes a situation that's similar to the one with Williams – can he continue to play all of those special teams snaps in addition to handling the new demands on defense?
This is a snapshot of the decision-making that must be handled in the event of an injury, and it's also a glimpse into Coach Mike Tomlin's world of late.
Last week during the preparations for the game against the Chiefs, Tomlin had to consider the ramifications of an injury report that ultimately would list seven players out. During today's news conference at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, Tomlin listed three players as being out for Sunday's game against the Jets – Cody Wallace, Eli Rogers, and Senquez Golson – and Marcus Gilbert was termed "highly questionable." In all a dozen players were named during the "injury update" portion of Tomlin's briefing.
"As you can see, that's a laundry list," said Tomlin after he finished the update. "It's a good thing we responded well to those circumstances a week ago, because we're going to be challenged even moreso in that area as we prepare this week.
"We have to be thoughtful as coaches, we have to put these guys in position to perform. It's less about who we're playing and more about dealing with these things – to make sure that we lean on the strengths of the men who are available to us, that we work to minimize potential weaknesses, that we stay out in front of some of these things.
"With some of the sub-packages and special teams trickle-down that's associated with some of these things, we have to be razor-sharp from a planning standpoint. We're in the midst of that, as a staff, as we speak."
The ability to practice as the week progresses will determine the availability of many of the walking wounded for Sunday's 1 p.m. game against the Jets, and so to some degree the planning for the game will be a moving target. One alternative always is a roster move to add a healthy body – most likely from the practice squad – but that requires a tandem move be made to open a spot on the 53-man roster.
With Golson and Wallace currently taking up spots on the 53-man roster, there would seem to be a couple of obvious candidates to be moved to injured reserve should Tomlin decide that was the way to go.
"Those things are always a subject of discussion when you're faced with additional injuries when you come out of a game," said Tomlin about maybe being forced to reallocate those two roster spots to guys who could play this week. "I'm not ready to make that judgment at this time. We're going to let the totality of today's rehabilitation be concluded and then assess where we are before we consider such possibilities."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"The (Chiefs) game was not without its consequences. We have more injuries to note, some guys whose availability in some instances is highly questionable and in some instances it's just questionable. But nevertheless, how we manage this and how we utilize the guys who are available to us and how they perform will ultimately define us this week.
"Marcus Gilbert (ankle) is highly questionable. Ryan Harris (lower leg) is questionable. Cody Wallace (knee) will be out. Eli Rogers (turf toe) will be out. Senquez Golson (foot) will be out. Rosie Nix (back) will continue to walk the path that we've walked with him; we'll evaluate his participation (in practice) and let that be our guide as he comes back from his injury.
"Some more in-game injuries: Ryan Shazier (ankle) – we'll see how his week progresses. Anthony Chickillo (knee) – the same thing. Ramon Foster (chest) missed last week but he has a chance this week, and like some of these other cases, his practice participation will be our guide. The same for Robert Golden (hamstring) and Ryan Shazier (knee).
"Darrius Heyward-Bey sustained a shoulder injury in the game, He's probably going to be available to us, but the injury probably is going to affect his availability from a preparation standpoint here at the early stages of the week."