Chase Claypool made his Chicago Bears debut Sunday while the Pittsburgh Steelers enjoyed a bye week, but head coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t expect Pittsburgh’s offense doesn’t skip a beat with him gone.
“Specifically, as it pertains to the offense, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about how to divide the labor up,” Tomlin said. “Who we’re choosing to feature, in what component play, and how much we’re choosing to feature people.”
Second-year tight end Pat Freiermuth and the speedy slot receiver Steven Sims figure to fill the void. When not dealing with head injuries — he has three concussions in a season and a half in the Steel City — the former has been a reliable pass-catcher.
Over 23 games played in black and gold, Freiermuth has reeled in 92 passes for 864 yards and eight scores. With him and Claypool typically occupying the same area, the latter became expendable.
“It’s not just the depth at the position that we were comfortable with, in terms of making that move,” Tomlin said. “The space on the field in which Chase had made a lot of plays for us also is the space on the field where Pat Freiermuth makes a lot of plays for us. It’s reasonable to expect him to get continually highlighted in that area.”
Obviously, half a foot shorter and roughly 60 pounds lighter than Claypool, the shifty Sims fits a much different mold. To Tomlin, the difference is simply a matter of the evolution at the slot receiver position.
“I think we’ve been having that discussion continually during the season,” Tomlin said. “The different types of athletes that play inside. There are guys that are vertical slots, there are guys that are non-vertical slots, that are zone winners, that are man winners. It just speaks to the specialization that’s occurring in today’s game.”
Tomlin hopes Sims’ skills in the return game translate to his touches as a wideout. Out of the halftime break, he almost took a kick back in Week 6 against Tampa Bay, going 89 yards before being tracked down.
STEVEN SIMS WITH A HUUUUUGE RETURN! 😱 pic.twitter.com/hf9wf9IuFs
— PFF PIT Steelers (@PFF_Steelers) October 16, 2022
It would have been the Steelers’ first kick return for a touchdown since JuJu Smith-Schuster made a 96-yard house call against Cleveland in 2017.
“He’s been a guy that has made some plays when given an opportunity,” Tomlin said. “When available, he’s electric with the ball in his hands. He flipped the field on us a few weeks ago in the kick game. We’re excited about giving him a continual exposure to see if that continues.”