BALTIMORE — The Steelers 2021 season has been anything but smooth. With the turbulent ups and downs of a tough schedule, the young players were certainly molded through experience. Still, however, nothing has been perfect for the Steelers squad this year. The growth of guys like Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, and others has been a catalyst to leading the team to victory and into the playoffs down the stretch.
For Mike Tomlin and his coaching staff, he lauded the effort his young players gave, specifically on Sunday. With the Steelers now on the verge of being a playoff team with such a young roster outside of the established veterans, it is impressive that those guys are so key to the contributions of their winning team.
“I’m just appreciative of it, particularly some of those young ones,” Tomlin said. “Najee [Harris] sustained an elbow injury and was able to get himself back into the game and make significant plays for us. Pat [Freiermuth] had an opportunity to get a first down. He came up a little short in terms of lacking a little awareness there, and we had to punt the ball. He came back and made a significant play. Ray-Ray [McCloud] had an opportunity to secure field position for us in overtime. He didn’t. He came back and made a play. The growth and development of these young guys throughout this journey and the negativity that’s usually associated with growth and development did not take away from their efforts. They smiled in the face of it, and I’m just appreciative of that.”
Tomlin acknowledged the ugly aspect and tinge to the Steelers’ season as it is. However, with those contributions from young guys, they still somehow stand at 9-7-1 overall and in the midst of the playoff hunt. Those significant contributions are not going unnoticed by Tomlin.
“It’s all of them,” Tomlin said. “I took a moment to identify some, but we’ve got a lot of young guys out there making significant contributions in plays, and they have been. It hasn’t always been pretty or perfect, but that’s just how it goes. How about guys like [John] Leglue? You just can’t say enough about the effort.”
Their quarterback has been feeling their contributions, too. Ben Roethlisberger came into the year expecting guys like Eric Ebron and JuJu Smith-Schuster to play a big role, but rather it has been Freiermuth and Ray-Ray McCloud stepping up in their place. Similarly, the offensive line has been in flux with John Leglue getting significant time. All of it is something that Roethlisberger has not experienced.
After all, during the peak years of his run here in Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger was surrounded by similar-minded vets. Now the old man in the room, quite literally, Roethlisberger is surrounded by a bunch of young players. Those young players, however, are helping the old quarterback across the finish line to the postseason one more time.
“The guys are resilient,” Roethlisberger said. “The guys fight, and that’s what makes this team special. We talk about what’s wrong with us early in games. And, I don’t have answers but the fact that guys were fighting all the way to the end and making plays for us, it’s just awesome.”
The Steelers will rely on that youth should they advance to the dance after tonight. Going to Kansas City is anything but an easy draw for Mike Tomlin’s team, but if they are to shock the world and beat the Chiefs, the young players will have to play the game of their lives.