Steelers 'open' to change, but options limited

By WILL GRAVES - AP Sports Writer
    2013-11-05 16:07

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin insists he's ''not opposed to turning over any stone'' to breathe some life into his listless team.

Midway through the season, there may be no stones left. Not at 2-6.

Trades. Waiver wire signings. Minor starting lineup tweaks. Cutting underperforming players. Banning shuffleboard, pool and ping pong in the locker room. Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert have tried it all in the two months the franchise has appeared in free fall following a decade of nearly unparalleled success. Since reaching 6-3 with an overtime win against Kansas City last November, the Steelers are 4-11.

Tomlin stressed on Tuesday the potential for turning it around remains in the locker room, even after a 55-31 gouging by New England last weekend. Yet the Steelers couldn't change much in the middle of the season because the trade deadline has passed. The waiver wire is barren and the injured reserve list is thick with starters turned hobbled bystanders.

Any sweeping changes will have to wait until after the season. Until then, Tomlin will press on with an underachieving group that he had a major hand in putting together. He has faith better football is ahead.

''We've got 53 capable guys, plus eight on the practice squad, at our disposal and I consider all guys as viable options,'' he said. ''I think that would be selling them short if I didn't take that approach.''

While promising he would ''re-evaluate'' everything following the debacle against the Patriots, there appear to be no major moves in the offing heading into Sunday's game versus Buffalo (3-6).

Safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, who took most of the responsibility after Tom Brady shredded Pittsburgh for 432 yards and four touchdowns, will start.

''I've got a great deal of confidence in them and their abilities to play and play winning football for us,'' Tomlin said.

The same goes for cornerback Ike Taylor if he's cleared to return from a concussion. Ditto nose tackle Steve McLendon and defensive end Brett Keisel, who anchor a defense that ranks 31st in yards rushing allowed. Tomlin declined to place blame in one particular place.

''There have been, popcorn if you will, a variety of things that create the end result,'' he said. ''Obviously, it doesn't require a lot of missteps in the National Football League to be out of place or to be out of whack, if you will. Obviously, we were not in step on Sunday.''

When that step may return is unclear.

Pittsburgh's second-half schedule includes Detroit, Cincinnati and Green Bay and two meetings with Cleveland, which appears to be passing the Steelers in the AFC North. If things don't improve, Pittsburgh could threaten the 1988 team's mark of 5-11, the franchise's worst record since Chuck Noll took over in 1970.

Tomlin isn't in the mood to look at the season as a whole yet, even with the Steelers seemingly already out of it a few days after Halloween.

''We're here to win,'' Tomlin said. ''That's our charge, that's our job, that's our passion. We're not getting it done consistently to this point. So, that's irritating and frustrating.''

Despite his anger, Tomlin pointed out he didn't see any ''blatant'' evidence of his players quitting during the fourth quarter on Sunday. He benched wide receiver Antonio Brown for a series after a blown assignment led to an interception. Other than that, he thinks his players remained engaged even as things got out of hand.

Even if he did, he has little room to make a statement. A quick scan of the two-deep roster reveals a list of players either still trying to figure things out - rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones and rookie safety Shamarko Thomas - or veterans who struggled elsewhere looking for a second (or third) chance at reviving their careers.

Tomlin doesn't appear concerned that his first stringers feel ''safe'' because they're not being pushed by the backups. The starting 22 includes 12 players who have a Super Bowl appearance on their resume, including eight who have at least one championship ring. That doesn't preclude them from having a rough day at work.

''I really think kind of more than anything that we were beaten,'' Tomlin said. ''And it happens from time to time, as humbling as it may seem. I think that we can grow from this and move forward.''

NOTES: G David DeCastro (ankle) and WR Markus Wheaton (finger) have been cleared to practice and should play on Sunday against the Bills ... LT Kelvin Beachum (left hip flexor), C Fernando Velasco (thigh) and DE Cameron Heyward (left knee contusion) could be limited early in the week.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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