Steelers rookie running back Anthony McFarland is in the concussion protocol after being injured in practice Thursday, head coach Mike Tomlin announced.
McFarland, the Steelers’ fourth-round draft pick out of Maryland, was working as a kick returner during the team’s live action special teams session before his injury.
His injury adds to a running back room that was without Kerrith Whyte (groin), who was injured on Tuesday. Wendell Smallwood (shoulder) began working his way back into the lineup.
Tomlin said that fullback Derek Watt has been limited throughout camp as he recovers from offseason surgery, but is on track to be able to play in the season opener against the New York Giants.
“We’ve been thoughtful about his process as a guy that’s coming off a surgery,” Tomlin said. “He’s getting an in-helmet perspective on work every day.”
Also missing practice was tight end Eric Ebron, who has an illness, and wide receiver Ryan Switzer, who injured his foot on Tuesday.
Other players that were less than full participants, per Tomlin, were defensive end Chris Wormley (shoulder), wide receiver Diontae Johnson (calf), wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (undisclosed), guard Kevin Dotson (knee) and safety Terrell Edmunds (left knee).
Tomlin did not update the status of cornerback Alexander Myres (groin) and offensive lineman Jarron Jones (undisclosed).
Tackle Chukwuma Okorafor (groin) returned to action, as did tight end Vance McDonald, who had a day off on Tuesday.
Alex Highsmith Needs MRI after Ankle Injury Suffered vs. Browns
PITTSBURGH — Steelers rookie linebacker Alex Highsmith suffered an ankle injury that will require an MRI in Sunday’s playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns.
Highsmith left the game in the first half and was seen limping on the Pittsburgh sideline. He made an attempt to return to the game, but was unable to continue playing and did not see the field at all in the second half.
In-game, the Steelers announced that Highsmith was doubtful to return with an ankle injury. After the fact, head coach Mike Tomlin said that Highsmith suffered a high ankle sprain. Highsmith’s father posted on Twitter early on Monday morning that Highsmith will require an MRI on his injured ankle.
Not the way we wanted the season to end but I am thankful to have been a part of this amazing ride! The Highsmith Family is proud to wear the Black & Gold and we look forward to more success in the future! Please pray for Alex as he gets an MRI tomorrow on his ankle! #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/JJA4PpZpvx
— Sam Highsmith (@SHighsmithClan) January 11, 2021
Given that Highsmith was able to walk and even run in short bursts after the injury, it does not seem likely that it will impact his offseason training plans.
The team’s third-round draft pick out of Charlotte, Highsmith was thrust into a starting role after starting outside linebacker Bud Dupree suffered an ACL injury that required surgery.
On the season, Highsmith played in 16 regular season game and made five starts. He finished with 48 tackles, five for a loss, six quarterback hits, one interception and one pass defended.
With Dupree set to become an unrestricted free agent and unlikely to return, Highsmith should be expected to retain his starting role in 2021.
Steelers OLB Alex Highsmith Leaves Game with Ankle Injury, Doubtful to Return
PITTSBURGH — Steelers outside linebacker Alex Highsmith has left the team’s Wild Card Round playoff game against the Cleveland Browns with an ankle injury and is doubtful to return, the team announced.
Highsmith suffered the injury in the first half and attempted to return to play, but was unable to continue.
He was replaced on the field by a combination of third-year backup Ola Adeniyi and Cassius Marsh, who was signed from the Indianapolis practice squad in December.
Highsmith had been replacing starter Bud Dupree, who was lost for the season to an ACL injury.
The rookie out of Charlotte was the Steelers’ third-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Steelers Injury Updates: JuJu Smith-Schuster Practiced Fully Friday, Chris Boswell Limited
The Pittsburgh Steelers are relatively healthy entering their opening round playoff matchup with the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, as only kicker Chris Boswell was listed on the team’s injury report as being less than a full participant in practice on Friday.
Boswell was limited on Friday as he continues to recover from the groin injury that has forced him to miss the last two games. He was also limited on Wednesday, but was a full participant during Thursday’s session.
Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) returned to the practice field Friday after sitting out on Thursday. He had practiced fully on Wednesday as well, but was newly added yesterday.
Defensive end Isaiah Buggs (illness) was also added to the injury report Thursday, but was a full participant on Friday.
Safety Terrell Edmunds (shoulder), cornerback Steven Nelson (knee), nose tackle Tyson Alualu (ankle) and linebacker Vince Williams (quad) were all full participants during Friday’s practice session as well, positioning the Steelers to be healthy heading into Sunday’s playoff game against the Browns.