The Steelers will expand their COVID-19 testing protocol as the team enters the postseason as part of a league-wide initiative to help attempt to mitigate the impacts of coronavirus-related absences during the NFL Playoffs, Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday.
Tomlin explained that the Steelers are expanding their testing available to friends and family of players in order to help keep players safe from community spread of the virus.
“We are expanding testing availability to those around us, friends and family, in an effort to continue to isolate this group: spouses, significant others, children, etc.,” Tomlin said. “But that is a global initiative that is being provided to all that are in the playoff field.”
Other changes will include increased mitigation procures during team travel, something the Steelers will likely avoid for now. Their first playoff game is at home on Sunday and their second game will either be at Heinz Field once again or they will make the short trip to Buffalo, New York.
“I know from a protocol standpoint, there are added precautions regarding travel,” Tomlin said. “I’m not going to get into the minutia of that. I think those are global things and so that information will be readily available. We are not splitting the atom over here in that regard but we are exited about any information or anything we can glean from the NFL office in an effort to keep this group clean or more clean in these circumstances.”
The Steelers have not had any of their games postponed this season due to outbreaks of their own accord. Twice, due to issues with the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers had their schedule adjusted.
The Steelers currently have one player that is isolating after a positive test in cornerback Joe Haden. He will miss Sunday’s game. Tight end Eric Ebron and linebacker Cassius Marsh are quarantined until at least Thursday.
The Browns have far more substantive current issues, with five individuals testing positive on Tuesday, including head coach Kevin Stefanski. Eight Cleveland players missed last Sunday’s game while on the COVID-19 reserve list. It’s unclear if Cleveland will be able to practice on Wednesday as scheduled.
Steelers’ Vance McDonald Reflects on Stiff Arm Moment, Relationship with Ben Roethlisberger
Steelers tight end Vance McDonald spoke to the media after officially announcing his retirement from the NFL. McDonald responded to a question about the play he’s most synonymous with by saying he embraces the famous stiff arm moment. He also detailed his interaction with Ben Roethlisberger when he told his quarterback he was planning to retire.
Steelers TE Kevin Rader Aced Week 17 Audition, More Coming in 2021?
The Steelers have an opening in their tight ends room, as four-year starter Vance McDonald retired on Friday.
That leaves Eric Ebron as the team’s projected starter for 2021, and that won’t be a big change, as Ebron out-snapped McDonald and started nine games to McDonald’s 12. Without another veteran option, it’s likely the Steelers will use fewer two-tight end sets, but the issue of backups will need to be addressed.
Michigan product and former fifth-round pick Zach Gentry has yet to be a factor through two seasons and missed most of 2020 with an injury, but as he’s under contract and the team is facing a salary cup crunch, he seems likely to hold onto that job.
The Steelers have options for a third tight end, securing the services of Dax Raymond and Charles Jones on reserve/future contracts for the 2021 season on Thursday. But the man that seems most likely to step up into that role is third-year pro Kevin Rader.
Rader, a Pine-Richland and Youngstown State alum spent his second season with the Steelers in 2020, but got his first taste of action in Week 17 at Cleveland with the Steelers choosing to rest starters.
He made the most of the opportunity, particularly on special teams, where he played in nearly half of the team’s snaps, made three tackles and drew praise from head coach Mike Tomlin.
“Guys like Kevin Rader had an opportunity to step up and play,” Tomlin said. “I think he had three tackles on kickoff. For an offensive player to have that type of contribution in net, in a coverage unit I think was impressive. That’s good for him. That’s good for us as we move forward.”
Rader is also on a reserve/future contract, with no guaranteed money for 2021, but if he can continue to show the ability to contribute on special teams and help as a blocker, where McDonald excelled and Ebron does not, it seems that he can certainly carve himself out a role in Pittsburgh in 2021.
Steelers to Host ex-Vikings OT Aviante Collins for Visit
The Steelers will host free agent tackle Aviante Collins for a visit, according to the NFL transactions page for Thursday.
Collins, 27, spent the last four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings after joining the team as an undrafted free agent out of TCU in 2017.
Collins played in three games in 2017 and two in 2019 for the Vikings, and spent all of the 2020 season on the practice squad, except for a one-week elevation in Week 11, in which he did not play.
The 6-foot-4, 292-pound tackle its a free agent after the Vikings decided to allow his practice squad contract to expire at the end of the season.
The Steelers have several free agents at the tackle position, including longtime starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, 2019 starting right tackle Matt Feiler and 2020 starting right tackle Zach Banner, who are unrestricted free agents, and backup Jerald Hawkins, who is a restricted free agent.
The Steelers have Chukwuma Okorafor under contract and Anthony Coyle, Jarron Jones, John Leglue and Brandon Walton signed to futures contract.