Tim Benz: Mike Tomlin gives us more questions heading into Steelers’ opener
Week 1 of the NFL season often begins with lots of questions for every team in the league. The 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers are no exception.
Even though they finished the 2017 season 13-3.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin did little to answer any of those uncertainties during his first Tuesday news conference of the regular season.
So let’s look at some of the topics that remain very much up in the air as Sunday’s season opener against the Browns looms.
When is Le’Veon Bell showing up?
When Tomlin was asked if he expected Le’Veon Bell to report on Wednesday, his first response was: “I hadn’t thought about it.”
If that’s true, he’s the only person in Pittsburgh to have not thought about it. The topic of Bell’s continued absence from the team has been a city-wide obsession.
With good reason. Missing the presence of a guy who can give you 1,800 yards from scrimmage is a big deal no matter how improved James Conner might be.
I’m starting to feel like this is a question Tomlin will be dodging for a long time. Sure, Bell could show up Wednesday or Thursday. But if he doesn’t, we have to start wondering if Bell will show up at all before Week 11.
That’s when he would need to report for his accrued season to count towards free agency. At some point between now and then Tomlin is going to have to acknowledge thinking about it.
Why didn’t Landry Jones have more of a chance to keep his job?
That’s a question I posed to Tomlin on Tuesday. Landry Jones was not guilty of doing anything in recent memory to lose his job.
Jones’ last regular-season appearance was a victory over Cleveland where he went 23 of 27 with a touchdown and an interception. His preseason saw him go 10 of 13 with a touchdown and an interception.
The club did not indicate that Jones was competing to keep his spot. After all, he didn’t even play against Green Bay or Carolina in the preseason. So why didn’t he have a chance to fight for it?
“The guys that we know a lot about we see less of,” Tomlin said. “Because it’s our job to learn about people we are evaluating so that we can best make decisions.
“It’s not about what Landry did or didn’t do. It’s about what Josh did.”
What Dobbs did was beat up on a Carolina defense that rested most of its starters. So I’m still not sure how that outweighs what Jones did in a meaningless regular-season game against Browns.
I hate this narrative growing around Pittsburgh that because Jones hasn’t been signed by another team yet, that’s proof he was a bad backup.
I look at it the other way. To me, that’s evidence the open market for QBs was softer than expected and maybe Kevin Colbert could’ve squeezed Dobbs onto the practice squad and kept both.
What’s on his DVR?
Tomlin says he hasn’t been watching the Browns on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.”
This leads me to one more question: “Why the heck not?!”
That show has been hilarious this year. Plus, Cleveland is a divisional opponent right out of the gate. Maybe there is something to pick up there.
How healthy are all of those injured guys?
Antonio Brown, Vance McDonald, T.J. Watt, Ramon Foster, Mike Hilton, James Washington and Xavier Grimble are contributors to the Steelers who have spent the majority of the preseason unavailable because of injury.
Tomlin did nothing to clarify their status heading into the Cleveland game. Well, except for Brown, who he expects to be a “full go.”
Aside from that, he merely said all members of the team are expected to be “partial participants.”
Foster wasn’t mentioned in that capacity. He practiced Monday, as did Morgan Burnett.
In the case of McDonald, Tomlin was vague, calling him a partial participant.
I’m not going to come down too hard on Tomlin for that. Guessing on McDonald’s health has been going on most of his entire career.
Who else can play outside linebacker?
If Watt can’t play and Bud Dupree gets hurt during the Cleveland game, the Steelers are in big trouble at outside linebacker. Anthony Chickillo is the only reserve OLB they have.
Tomlin says he’s “comfortable with that.” I have no idea how that can be the case, especially after Olasunkanmi Adeniyi was placed on injured reserve.
However, Tomlin didn’t rule out the prospect of making a roster move at the position.
Thus leading to more questions.
Which appears to be precisely what Tomlin was going for all afternoon.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH. All tweets are subject for reposting. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.