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.