(Photo by Todd Olszewki/Getty Images)
On Monday it was announced that Vance McDonald tested positive for COVID-19 and was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. On Tuesday morning, it was reported that Ben Roethlisberger, Jerald Hawkins, Jaylen Samuels and Vince Williams were in close contact with McDonald and placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list as well.
McDonald won't be able to participate this week, but the four other players will have to work remotely and be tested daily this week. If all tests come back negative the players can return with the team on Saturday and play in Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Mike Tomlin isn't concerned for experienced players like Roethlisberger and Williams to be ready for Sunday's game without practice reps. The week off also might benefit Roethlisberger and Williams physically.
"Some of the guys have more experience than others. So I'll lean on that experience," Tomlin said today at his weekly press conference about the potential of the four players coming off the reserve/COVID-19 list and playing against Cincinnati. "Guys like Ben and Vince Williams may have an opportunity to suit up and play for us this weekend, and they'll simply work remotely and sharpen their sword in that way. And really, it will probably give their bodies an opportunity to get some much-needed rest, and we're optimistic those guys will be their normal selves if given an opportunity to play this weekend.
"Some of the others, we'll make judgments based on how the week transpires. Their lack of a resume or experience could be a factor in determining whether or not we utilize those guys. That's just the reality of it. We have a lot of decisions to make in this environment, as a lot of people do. How we manage it, the players we choose to utilize, how we highlight their positive traits, how we work to minimize some of their negative traits or their lack of experience is a big component of us pushing through this."
Tomlin and the Steelers have been light on their feet all season and in the offseason, adjusting and adapting due to the abnormal year that it is with playing in the middle of a pandemic.
"We're not overly concerned about that, to be honest with you," Tomlin said when asked about installing a game plan remotely. "We've had a lot of practice here in 2020 installing and giving information and receiving information remotely. We've done this with our entire playbook multiple times already throughout this process. In the offseason, I think we installed twice in the spring. We have no reservations about the remote meetings this week. As a matter of fact, from a coaching standpoint, we're excited about the challenge of keeping the group engaged and utilizing all the tools at our disposal to make sure that we have good and productive meetings in spite of circumstance."
Roethlisberger is in his 17th season in the NFL and Tomlin isn't wary at all that his franchise quarterback won't be prepared to play against the Bengals on Sunday even without practicing all week.
"I'm not very concerned about it," Tomlin said. "This guy has been doing this job for 17 years. He's got snap experience that he can call upon. We're still going to work extremely hard virtually to prepare. A lot of his work is above the neck anyway in terms of preparation. I have very little concern about it to be quite honest with you."
If there's a situation where Roethlisberger won't be able to play on Sunday, Tomlin will weigh his options with Mason Rudolph and Josh Dobbs as the starting quarterback but did say Rudolph will get the majority of the practice reps this week.
"We're going to work both young quarterbacks this week," Tomlin said. "Mason (Rudolph) is going to get the bulk of the work; that's the position he's in. But we'll play it by ear as we proceed through the week. I'm not opposed to playing anybody who increases our chances of winning based on what we're looking at."