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Week 3 Blog: A recap of the news

Friday, September 24

Keeping the door open: Linebacker T.J. Watt left last Sunday's game against the Las Vegas Raiders with a groin injury, and although he was limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, with the practice report not out yet for Friday, he did say he is leaving the door open to play this week.

"I always feel confident going into a game and it really doesn't matter how many reps I get throughout the week," said Watt. "I was able to still run around out here and do a lot of things that I need to do to keep the door open for Sunday. I'm excited to get the rest of today and tomorrow to continue improve my body and see where I am on Sunday."

Watt isn't the only outside linebacker battling a groin injury, something Alex Highsmith is also dealing with. Watt said there isn't extra pressure to play because of Highsmith's injury, as they know they have depth for a reason.

"Like you guys know, the standard is the standard here no matter who's out there," said Watt. "I don't think that you can push or pull one way or the other depending on who else is out there."

Watt thinks he tweaked the groin in the game, and tried to push through it, but knew he couldn't risk further injury.

"Just trying to be smart at the end of the day," said Watt. "It's a long season."

Groin injuries are ones Coach Mike Tomlin refers to as tricky, because they don't have an exact timetable for recovery, with each player healing differently. 

"I think it's any soft tissue injury to be honest with you," said Watt. "This isn't going around playing pee wee football. This is going around playing with guys that do this for a living. It's just trying to be smart, but at the same time just knowing your body more than anything. I felt like I was able to do a good amount this week to leave the door open for Sunday."

When asked how wide the door was opened, Watt kept it simple.

"It's open," he said.

At the same time, though, he is only going to play if he feels like he won't be hampered, that he will have his full explosion.

"That will never be a question for me," said Watt. "If I am going to play, I'm going to play like I always do."

Take a look at photos of Joe Greene's career to celebrate his 75th birthday

One step at a time: The flashy stats have been tough to come by for the Steelers' offense in general and running back Najee Harris in particular.

But the first-round running back saw progress made from the Week One victory over the Bills through the Week Two loss to the Raiders and is hoping for more of the same this Sunday against the Bengals.

"It might not seem a lot to the fans and stuff like that but when we watch film it's a lot," Harris said after practice today. "As long as we keep improving and keep getting better we are going to find our identity and then we're gonna capitalize on that."

Harris had his most productive statistical half in the second half against the Raiders.
He was targeted four times by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and caught four passes for 34 yards, including a 25-yard, catch-and-run touchdown, the first of Harris' NFL career.

"We're building chemistry, of course, especially late in the games," Harris said. "He's trusting me more.

"We gotta keep building and hopefully we can keep building from what we did last week, passing-game wise."

Harris has 83 yards on 26 carries (a 3.2 average) and six receptions for 47 yards (a 7.8 average) through two games.

He knows more is expected from him and he expects more from himself.

He's also applying perspective and patience in the early going.

"You want immediate results, especially being a rookie," Harris said. "Me, personally, you want to try to find a way to impact the game and the team. But you gotta realize it takes time. Because you're just new at something, you're just really learning the small stuff that you need to know to make those big plays or to be that person you want to be.

"People always want the end result but they never really look at the long process it is to get the end result, and that's where I am right now. The plays are gonna come eventually, I know I can make plays, it's just me learning it.

"People forget, I guess, it's my first year. It's cool, though. The expectations are the expectations, I'm not really trippin' on that. It's just learning, really, right now. You gotta go through certain stages before you get there. I'm gonna get there, though."

Support appreciated: Guard Trai Turner spoke for the first time since being ejected from Sunday's loss to the Raiders.

Raiders defensive tackle Solomon Thomas was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, as was Turner, who was also ejected.

Coach Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger said Turner said he had been spit upon initially, and cameras caught him spitting back.

"Not something that I am too concerned about addressing again," Turner said. "All the parties involved know what happened.

"I just want to say thank you to 'Coach T' (Tomlin) and thank you to my teammates for having my back. Everybody that saw the situation and was in the game knew what happened, knew what took place and why I ended up doing what I did.

"Looking back on the situation, maybe I could keep my cool better, hold my head. But when you're presented with circumstances that you're not familiar with sometimes you go into foreign territory and that's what happened."

Turner, who signed on as a free agent this season, is one of four new starters on an offensive line he maintains will come together in time.

"I think it's a continuous learning curve that we are doing right now and it's not a bad thing at all," he said. "It's just something that we have to keep pressing through and pressing forward. When you're learning something it means that you are fixing old problems and finding new problems. There is always going to be that in the NFL and now it's about how fast you can correct problems?

"I think the coaches do a good job of coaching us up. We have a good quarterback, a great quarterback, and he's a great leader back there helping us get that together. We just have to all five come together and think as one."

-- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta

Thursday, September 23

Game up: Cameron Heyward is a leader who knows when it's time to get guys going.

But when he was asked if it was time to rally the troops just two games into the season, with a 1-1 record, he kept it simple.

"No," said Heyward, shaking his head. "We lost one game."

The Steelers are 1-1, the same as every team in the AFC North, with a big AFC North matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at Heinz Field.

"I'm not here to act like the season's over with," said Heyward. "We got a long season ahead of us. We got another opponent coming up. It's AFC North. Everybody's records are 1-1 in our division, so game up."

'Game up' will have to happen this week with a defensive line that is down two starters, with Tyson Alualu placed on the Reserve/Injured list this week, and Stephon Tuitt already on the list. It's a challenge, but one Heyward thinks they can be up for.

"I think we have quality depth and that's going to be tested right now," said Heyward. "Whatever mistakes happen on offense or special teams, defenses have to clean it up. Coach always tells us, you don't have any control how you're on the field, but once you're on the field, you got to be able to step up.

"It's going to take some guys stepping up, whether it's Isaiah Buggs, it's going to be a collective effort. Tyson is a savvy vet that's played a lot in different situations. It's not just like we're going to replicate what he brings."

There were plenty of young guys who saw action against the Raiders last week because of injuries, and Heyward thinks that is going to help them down the road.

"I think they will be better because of it," said Heyward. "With having rookies and younger guys, these early games are just going to help you get seasoned and the more reps they get, the better they will become."

With the injuries, with depth being called upon, Heyward was asked if he would need to take more snaps. Against the Raiders last week, he played 85% of the snaps, and adding to that isn't easy for a guy in the trenches.

"I hope it's not more snaps, but the more guys we lose it gets harder," said Heyward. "The younger guys have to be willing to step up. I am not asking them to take the bulk of the reps, but we've got to have guys know what they're doing out there. The biggest thing I've had with Tuitt and Tyson is trust. We built that over the years, so it's time for the younger guys I can build trust and see what they can do."

If Buggs does have to step up, he has a history of replacing Alualu, albeit a brief one.

He took over after Alualu was injured and forced to depart after just six snaps last Nov. 1 at Baltimore and responded with a couple of big plays in succession that helped preserve what became a 28-24 win over the Ravens.

The first was on third-and-5 from the Steelers' 10-yard line with 2:27 left in regulation. Buggs was able to get Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson on the ground after a gain of 2.

The second occurred on the following snap, fourth-and-3 from the Steelers' 8 just inside the two-minute warning. Buggs got Jackson on the ground after another 2-yard gain, this time with the help of free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, and the resulting fumble was recovered by inside linebacker Robert Spillane.

"That's just me staying ready and being ready when my number is called," Buggs said. "When my number got called I went out and delivered."

Buggs played a career-high 34 defensive snaps against the Ravens (41 percent), and 28 the following week (39 percent) in a win at Dallas.

It's cool: A week ago Melvin Ingram III was being asked about the incredible rotation the Steelers have at outside linebacker with himself, T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith.

This week, with injuries to Watt and Highsmith, the question was a little bit different, with reporters wondering if Ingram could play every defensive snap if needed.

"I don't think it's tough," said Ingram. "I think it's still football at the end of the day. It's cool. I've done it before."

Whether he will have to pick up extra snaps is still to be determined, but he also knows there is depth the team can depend on, including first-year linebacker Jamir Jones, who stepped up when Watt went out last week against the Raiders.

"We're very comfortable with him," said Ingram. "There is a reason why he's here. We're very comfortable and he's a great player. When he gets his opportunity, he's going to get the job done for sure. 

"I've seen him grow tremendously just every day from camp. From the practices, to the games, day in and day out, he's working to become a great football player in this league."

Wednesday, September 22

Looking for a pick-me-up: Ben Roethlisberger missed practice on Wednesday with a pectoral injury suffered against the Raiders, but what the offensive line suffered in the game was a sense of embarrassment for not being there for their quarterback like they know they should have.

Guard Kevin Dotson said when they re-watched the film, they noticed that they didn't pick up Roethlisberger after he took hits, which happened more often than they would have liked.

"It was definitely embarrassing," said Dotson. "We weren't noticing it during the game. And when you watch it, it was like, 'I really didn't go pick him up like I was supposed to.' We know it's not going to happen ever again. That was definitely our mistake."

Dotson said their failure to pick him up wasn't something Roethlisberger or the coaches pointed out. They saw it themselves as they watched the film.

"I didn't notice it until I watched it back," said Dotson. "That something I have to get better at. That's us watching film. The o-line watching film. You see it. We have to address it. It will be handled during the week."

That isn't the only area where the offensive line knows there's work to be done. They haven't been able to get the run game going through the first two games and are looking to improve in that area big time.

"It's always one thing that's messing us up," said Dotson. "It could be o-line missing a block, tight end missing a block. Somebody missing a hole. It's always one thing. When we get that one thing figured out, it's going to be a great game."

Dotson said the one thing they can't do is blame inexperience or youth for the mistakes.

"We expect to be great. We can't have those mistakes," said Dotson. "They don't care if you're a rookie anymore. They don't care if you started 16 games, 20 games. They expect us to provide regardless. We have to assume we are going to be good enough to get the job done. We weren't banking on there being hard times. We are just trying to get it all together."

No ordinary Joes: Linebacker Joe Schobert didn't hesitate to give a few Bengals players their props, because he knows what the Steelers defense is going to face on Sunday.

The combo of 'Joe and Joe' for the Bengals offense isn't going to be an easy challenge for the defense, but one that might be made a little bit easier with linebacker Devin Bush returning to practice on Wednesday after missing the Raiders game with a groin injury.

Quarterback Joe Burrow and running back Joe Mixon are two huge weapons for the Bengals offense, and Schobert knows they can't let them do damage.

"I think we are looking at Joe and Joe, Burrow and Mixon," said Schobert. "They are the lynchpins pins of the offense. Obviously, Joe Burrow's coming off his knee injury last year. He's not as mobile, I don't think, in the first two weeks as he was in college and coming in the NFL. Joe Mixon is running hard, running downhill. Joe Burrow doesn't have to move if Mixon is running for 100 plus yards a game. He can just play action pass, set in the pocket, a lot of stuff with the weapons that they have."

Mixon rushed for 127 yards in the season-opener against the Vikings, and added 69 yards last week against the Bears.

"Joe is a strong, confident running back," said Schobert. "He's got the one cut ability, speed to take it around the edge. He does a very good job of setting up his runs. He's got good jump cuts. He likes to get out on the perimeter and use his strength and his size as an advantage. As a defense you have to be alert to where he is. You can't let him get going. Once he does, he is a very confident individual."

The Steelers prepare for the Week 3 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals

Tuesday, September 21

Taco Tuesday: The Steelers signed defensive end Taco Charlton to the practice squad on Tuesday.

Charlton was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

In four seasons he has recorded 11 sacks, 20 quarterback hits and 12 tackles for a loss. He has played in a total of 44 games with three different teams, the Cowboys, Miami Dolphins and most recently, the Kansas City Chiefs.

Charlton was signed by the Chiefs in the 2020 offseason, spending one season in Kansas City before his release this year during the preseason. He recorded seven tackles, four of them solo stops and one for a loss, two sacks and a forced fumble last season, playing in just seven games and finishing the season on the Reserve/Injured list.

In 2019, Charlton played in 10 games, starting five, for the Dolphins. He finished the season with five sacks and two forced fumbles.

Charlton began his career as the Cowboys No. 1 pick in 2017, the 28th overall selection. He played in 16 games his rookie season with three sacks and a forced fumble. He played in 11 games in 2018, finishing with five tackles for a loss, one sack and a forced fumble.

Charlton played college ball at the University of Michigan where he had 94 tackles, 28 for a loss, and 19 sacks.

This is the second former No. 1 draft pick the team signed to the practice squad this year, with Karl Joseph also on there.

The Steelers signed DE Taco Charlton to the practice squad

A football life: Former Steelers linebacker James Harrison will be featured on NFL Network's 'A Football Life" on Friday, Sept. 24 at 9 p.m. E.T.

"James Harrison: A Football Life" will feature interviews with Mike Tomlin and Bill Cowher, Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel and more.

Monday, September 20

Next men up: With defensive lineman Tyson Alualu now on the Reserve/Injured list, it's going to be the next man up for the Steelers defense moving forward.

Or possibly even next men up in this case, as the team is now down two defensive linemen with Stephon Tuitt already on the Reserve/Injured list.

"I think it's going to be a role by committee," said defensive lineman Chris Wormley on Monday. "I think there's going to be a lot of guys that are going to have to step up, myself included. We have younger guys like (Isaiahh) Loudermilk and Carlos (Davis) that we are excited to get in the mix. (Isaiah) Buggs had been around a while and he is going to have to step up as well. We are excited for the challenge and whenever Tyson comes back, we will welcome him with open arms. Until then it will be a bigger load on other guys, myself included."

Wormley started at end on Sunday against the Raiders, and although he can play anywhere along the line, at this point he doesn't anticipate sliding over to the nose tackle spot where Alualu was.

"If (Coach) Mike T (Tomlin) and (Karl) Dunbar want me to play there, I can play there," said Wormley. "But we have Carlos and Buggs who I think are going to do a great job at that position. They are young, but they have gotten a lot of snaps, at least Buggs has over the last couple of years. I am excited for them to fill that role.

"I can play up and down the line. I am excited for the challenge, whatever the game plan is each week that Mike T has for us. Until then, I will probably stay where I have been."

It's always a gut punch for a unit when they lose a player, in particular a starter, for an extended period, and that is definitely the case with Alualu's injury. But it wasn't a situation on Sunday where defensive line coach Karl Dunbar had to tell the players what to do. They just did it.

"It's an understanding when you have someone like Tyson go down," said Wormley. "Everyone understands what he brings to the defensive side of the ball at the nose position, and we all step up. There's no rah-rah speech or rallying the troops. We understand what the mission was.

"When you lose a guy like Tyson, you have to think a little bit about who's going to step up and I think that's going to be all of us."

While experience might be lacking a little bit when it comes to the depth now on the line, talent certainly isn't lacking with Davis, Buggs, Loudermilk, and now Henry Mondeaux, who was activated from the practice squad to the 53-man roster on Monday. Wormley feels good about whatever mix of players are put into action to fill the void.

"With Mondeaux, we just had so many guys, a lot of depth this year, that he got to practice squad," said Wormley. "I'm excited for him to get another chance. He played well last year when called upon. The young guys like Loudermilk, he played pretty well (Sunday), it being his first game as a rookie. I'm excited to see him continue to take steps and progress.

"Buggs and Carlos are right there too and I'm excited for them to take the next step as well.

"I think (Carlos) is a more confident player in himself. As a rookie you're dealing with a hundred different things other than just football. Trying to learn a new city. You go on from being the big dog in Nebraska (where he played), to being a rookie. He was learning and trying to figure out life in general last year. Now you can see he is a little more comfortable, a little more confident, on and off the field which is going to help him a lot.

"His get off is ridiculous and his pass rush skills have only increased this year. So, we're all excited to see him get some sacks this year and get some pressure on the quarterback with his God gifted talents.

"I think (Buggs) understands his role a little more. He understands the defense in general. When he's in there, he can disrupt some things in the middle, especially at that nose position. Clog up holes. Push some linemen back. He's gotten better in the pass as well.

"Like I said I'm excited for all these young guys and myself included to take that next step and to fill in for Tyson and Tuitt."

Surprise start: Like almost everyone, cornerback James Pierre didn't know until 90 minutes before the start of the Steelers-Raiders game that he would be making his first career NFL start.

But with Joe Haden inactive with a groin injury he suffered in practice, it was Pierre's turn to be the next man up.

"I just prepare each week as if I am going to play as the one," said Pierre. "I just keep preparing each week. The emotions weren't too high or too low. I just play with the team, as a group. All of us played as one."

Take a look at the best photos from the Week 2 game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Heinz Field