The Steelers could get running back James Conner, cornerback Steven Nelson and center Maurkice Pouncey back to practice this week, head coach Mike Tomlin announced on Tuesday. Tomlin seemed less sure about potential returns for injured kicker Chris Boswell, cornerback Joe Haden and inside linebacker Robert Spillane.
Conner and Pouncey are the team’s last two players on the COVID-19 reserve list after tackle Jerald Hawkins and defensive end Stephon Tuitt were activated in time for Monday’s game.
“We have a couple of guys who have missed time because of COVID,” Tomlin said. “They probably have an opportunity to come off this week in James Conner and Maurkice Pouncey.”
Nelson was injured in the Steelers’ Dec. 2 win over the Baltimore Ravens and did not practice at all in the week leading up to the game against Washington, but Tomlin said he will have a chance to get back to work this week as the Steelers prepare to face the Buffalo Bills.
“Steve Nelson has a chance to be back,” Tomlin said. “We anticipate Steve working this week.”
Tomlin said Spillane is still being evaluated after he was injured in Monday’s loss to Washington. ESPN has reported that he is expected to miss time, but avoid surgery. Tomlin said he’s “hopeful” that Boswell will be available this week, after missing the Washington game with a hip injury. Haden is in the NFL’s concussion protocol after taking a hit Monday, which precludes Tomlin updating his status.
Benny Snell Jr. started for the second straight game with Conner out and was held to eight yards on five carries as the Steelers completely abandoned the run against a stout Washington front four. Snell had come of his second-best performance of the season with 60 yards on 16 carries against Baltimore. J.C. Hassenauer started two straight games in place of Pouncey.
Slot corner Cam Sutton moved outside to replace Nelson against Washington and second-year backup Justin Layne moved into a starting role after Haden left the game. Avery Williamson assumed Spillane’s spot at inside linebacker.
At kicker, Matthew Wright was elevated from the practice squad just a week after being signed off the street and made his only field goal attempt and went 2 for 2 on extra points, but Tomlin elected not to have Wright try a 45-yarder that would have put the Steelers in the lead with five minutes to play.
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.