Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Mike Tomlin has ‘no reaction’ to Le’Veon Bell deadline
Mike Tomlin showed up for his weekly news conference on Tuesday with every intention of talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers and Sunday’s game at the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Tomlin might as well have announced that there will be no Christmas music allowed until after Thanksgiving.
There was a Le’Veon Bell Watch party at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side, as the deadline for the All-Pro running back to report to the Steelers and sign the franchise tag tender expires at 4 p.m.
The questions reflected that.
1. Positives and negatives: Tomlin opened up by talking about how he liked the way his offense didn’t have to warm up to the action but “came out firing” in the 52-21 victory over Carolina.
After allowing a touchdown on the first drive, the defense settled down quickly. The special teams provided a “splash play” in the forced fumble by Roosevelt Nix, as well as Chris Boswell’s 50-yard field goal (not to mention going 7 of 7 PATs).
“There’s a lot of positivity to build upon,” Tomlin said, “but there’s some negativity, too. We’ll learn from the negativity.”
That comment could be directed at how effective Christian McCaffrey was, as both a rusher and receiver, against the Steelers because Tomlin talked up both Leonard Fournette as the lead back and T.J. Yeldon as a “formidable third-down back” that allows the Jaguars to use their vertical pass game.
“We’ve got to keep a lid on it.”
2. Don’t say his name: Tomlin was asked many times in many ways about Bell, but I don’t believe he uttered his name.
When asked for his reaction to all signs pointing to Bell being a no-show by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline to sign his franchise-tag tender with the Steelers, Tomlin wouldn’t budge.
“I have no reaction,” Tomlin said. “I’ve told you guys and I’ve told you guys consistently, a reaction comes from me if and when he walks in the door. Until that happens, I’m business as usual, focused on those that are here and working – and appropriately so. That way I don’t waste my time or theirs.”
What if Bell never walks through the door?
“So be it.”
That doesn’t sound like someone expecting Bell back.
3. No backfield blues: Bell would have made a significant upgrade to the Steelers’ running back room, a position group on which Tomlin said he was “singularly focused.”
Tomlin considers it a waste of time to adjust the temperature in that room, or for the coaching staff to consider a role for Bell if he does indeed return to the team.
Tomlin said the Steelers wanted to use backup running backs Stevan Ridley and Jaylen Samuels against Carolina because of the short week, even before James Conner went into the concussion protocol in the second half. Ridley and Samuels combined to carry the ball 12 times for 33 yards, although Samuels also had three catches for 22 yards and a touchdown.
“I like his arrow,” Tomlin said of Samuels. “It’s been continually pointed up.”
4. Negative feedback: Tomlin had a telling comment when talking about why the Jaguars have struggled in turnover ratio (minus-11) this season, if you read between the lines.
Tomlin pointed to Jacksonville running back Leonard Fournette only playing three games because of an injury.
“When you lose your featured runner, particularly one of his caliber, it affects you and affects you in a negative way,” Tomlin said. “That’s been one of the ways they’ve been affected by it.”
Keep this in proper context, as Tomlin wasn’t talking about his own team, but it was an admission that the absence of a star running back can affect a team in a negative way.
5. Road warriors: Asked about the Steelers having a 14-1-1 record in their past 16 road games, Tomlin refused to “paint with a broad brush” but paid his players a compliment.
“With this group, with each passing week, they’ve shown an ability to get singularly focused,” Tomlin said. “I’m looking for that to continue when they walk through the door tomorrow. That allows you to roll out a consistent effort. Usually, it gives you a chance to be successful and win.”
That’s true, but it doesn’t explain why the blemishes on the road came against the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns. Or why the Steelers have five losses, including the playoff loss to Jacksonville, in their past 16 home games.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at [email protected] or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.