The big headline coming out of the South Side on Tuesday was that four more Steelers players, including starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, had to be placed on the COVID-19 list as close contacts of positive case Vance McDonald and will miss at least five days’ worth of in-person practices and meetings.
But head coach Mike Tomlin relayed in his press conference some hopeful news about some players potentially returning from injury.
The Steelers played without defensive lineman Tyson Alualu, Nickel cornerback Mike Hilton and fullback Derek Watt in Sunday’s win over the Dallas Cowboys. But Tomlin thinks that all three have a chance to return to action against the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field on Sunday.
“We’re hopeful that we’re going to get a return from a number of guys that have missed some time,” Tomlin said.
Alualu was injured early in the Steelers’ Week 8 win over Baltimore and missed the trip to Dallas with an MCL sprain. He was replaced by Isaiah Buggs, who slid over from backup defensive end to starting nose tackle. Henry Mondeaux and Carlos Davis have also helped fill in on the defensive line.
Without Hilton, the Steelers have been using outside linebacker Alex Highsmith as a sub-package defense and Dime corner Cameron Sutton has seen his usage increase, as well.
The Steelers released backup fullback Trey Edmunds late last week when it appeared that Watt would be able to play, but Watt suffered a late-in-the-week setback and was scratched despite not appearing on the injury report on Friday. Mondeaux has also worked as a fullback at times this season.
Roethlisberger, who suffered a knee injury on Sunday, had been expected to be able to get in his usual practice reps before his COVID-19 designation.
Steelers Say Joe Haden, JuJu Smith-Schuster Wouldn’t Have Practiced Monday in Estimated Report
The Steelers did not practice on Monday, but with a game just three days away, they’re still required by NFL rules to put out a practice report, so the team released an estimated practice report Monday evening.
If the team had practiced, it would have been a fairly poorly attended affair.
Wide receiver JuJu-Smith Schuster, who hurt his foot stepping on a penalty flag on Sunday and did not return, and cornerback Joe Haden, who did return to play after tweaking his right knee, would also have been had out.
Tight end Zach Gentry (left knee sprain), who has already been ruled out of Thursday’s game and is expected to be placed on injured reserve after suffering an injury in the first quarter on Sunday, obviously would not have practiced.
The Steelers also estimated that running backs Trey Edmunds (hamstring) and Jaylen Samuels (quadriceps) and linebacker Jayrone Elliott (illness), who all missed Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, would not have returned to work Monday.
For good measure, nine Steelers were given “non-injury related” days offs, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, center Maurkice Pouncey, guard David DeCastro, tackle Alejandro Villanueva, tight end Eric Ebron, defensive end Stephon Tuitt, defensive lineman Tyson Alualu, defensive lineman Cam Heyward and linebacker Vince Williams.
Hopefully, they’ll be well-rested on Tuesday after their estimated break.
Steelers TE Vance McDonald Could Return from COVID-19 List Tuesday
The Steelers will be missing one of their tight ends when they face the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday, but they might be getting another one back.
After head coach Mike Tomlin ruled Zach Gentry out of Thursday’s game with a knee injury, he said that co-starter Vance McDonald is scheduled to return to practice from the COVID-19 list on Tuesday.
“Vance is scheduled to work tomorrow,” Tomlin said on Monday. “He’s been cleared to come back. We are going to let the quality of his participation and how he responds to that work be our guide in terms of determining his availability.”
McDonald was placed on the COVID-19 list on Nov. 9 after testing positive after he played in the Steelers’ Nov. 8 game against the Dallas Cowboys. He had missed practice time earlier that week with an illness, but had tested negative in all his pre-game examinations.
Eric Ebron shouldered the load at the tight end position with McDonald out and Jerald Hawkins slid over from tackle on Sunday after Gentry was injured. Practice squad tight end Kevin Rader is an option to play on Thursday if McDonald cannot.
Report: Zach Gentry will Land on Injured Reserve with Sprained Knee
Steelers tight end Zach Gentry reportedly will land on injured reserve with a sprained left knee after leaving Sunday’s win over the Jacksonville Jaguars with what head coach Mike Tomlin called a “significant” injury.
“Zach Gentry has a significant knee injury, still waiting on clarification in terms of what that means,” Tomlin said Monday. “It’s safe to say he will not be available this week.”
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Gentry suffered a sprained knee that will cause him to be placed on injured reserve, but that diagnosis was not a significant as originally feared.
#Steelers tight end Zach Gentry suffered a knee sprain, source said after tests. He’ll be placed on Injured Reserve, but it’s not as significant as originally feared.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 23, 2020
If Gentry is placed on the injured reserve list, he will have to miss at least three weeks. The Steelers have just one healthy tight end on their roster at the moment in Eric Ebron. Vance McDonald could come off the COVID-19 list this week and Kevin Rader could be promoted from the practice squad for the game against the Ravens, if necessary.