Five Steelers did not practice on Thursday while dealing with injuries, including one new injury.
Outside linebacker Alex Highsmith (groin), nose tackle Carlos Davis (knee) and wide receiver Diontae Johnson (knee) all missed practice for the second consecutive day, and their availability for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals is in serious jeopardy.
Joining them on the sidelines on Thursday were cornerback Justin Layne (Achilles), who was limited in practice on Wednesday and inside linebacker Marcus Allen (abdomen), who was a fill participant on Wednesday before missing Thursday.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (left pectoral) and outside linebacker T.J. Watt (groin) were both limited for Thursday’s practice.
Cornerback Joe Haden (groin) returned to full participation after being limited on Wednesday. He and Devin Bush (groin), who was a full participant for the second straight day, appear to be on track to return after missing Week 2 with their injuries.
Melvin Ingram will likely start at right outside linebacker if Highsmith is unable to play, with Jamir Jones serving as a rotational backup or the other starter if Watt can’t go. Practice squad linebacker Derrek Tuszka appears to be the best-suited for a gameday call up, if necessary, with Taco Charlton still learning the defense.
Isaiah Buggs is expected to be the team’s nose tackle in the 3-4 defense with Tyson Alualu on injured reserve and Carlos Davis banged up. Buggs and Isaiah Loudermilk will be the second-team tackles behind Cam Heyward and Chris Wormley in the Nickel and Dime alignments, with Henry Mondeaux playing on special teams and serving as end depth.
James Washington should be expected replace Johnson in the starting lineup, with Ray-Ray McCloud seeing an elevated role. Cody White could be activated from the practice squad, as well.
Layne’s absence would provide more opportunities for Ahkello Witherspoon, though with Haden returning, that would likely be limited to backup and special teams duties.