Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Mike Tomlin focused on Steelers, not trades

November 10, 2018

Mike Tomlin is accustomed to serving as the voice of Steelers Nation, but never has the Pittsburgh Steelers coach spoken so much for the fans.

“I’m very hesitant to acknowledge happiness with anything,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side.

Tomlin was talking about something specific - the safeties, I believe - but he captured the sentiment of Steelers fans everywhere. They always seem to find something to complain about, except for the Steelers moving into first place in the AFC North during a bye.

Tomlin said he spent time looking at trends around the league. One he should acknowledge is that the Steelers are in a division with the Bengals, Browns and Ravens, three teams who found ways to lose on Sunday. Despite a 1-2-1 start, the Steelers still have a strong shot at winning the division title and clinching an AFC playoff berth.

Of course, the Steelers need to beat the Browns on Sunday at Heinz Field for that to happen. And they tied in the season opener, a reflection of why Tomlin can’t allow for even a moment of satisfaction.

1. Baker & Co.: These Browns look so much different that the outfit that tied the Steelers, with several new starters at key positions.

Most notable is quarterback Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 overall draft pick who Tomlin called a “tremendous competitor” and said is a “catalyst for good” for his Browns teammates.

The Browns also have a new starting running back in Nick Chubb, and Tomlin raved about the splash plays made by second-year tight end David Njoku, calling him a “big-time situational target.”

That gives the Browns a different look than the Steelers saw on Sept. 8, when Tyrod Taylor started at quarterback, Carlos Hyde at running back and Josh Gordon at wide receiver.

The Browns have scored only six points in the first quarter this season. They have four touchdowns in the past three games. What’s worse, they scored only seven points off four turnovers against Tampa Bay.

2. Turnover machine: The Browns are plus-10 in turnover ratio this season, and Tomlin was adamant that the Steelers’ five-turnover performance in the opener “was no lightning strike.”

Tomlin showed admiration for the Browns’ “growth and development of quality talent” and “quality players at every position.”

Drafting high can do that for you.

The Browns feature the 2017 No. 1 overall pick in defensive end Myles Garrett, who has seven sacks, and 2018 No. 4 overall pick Denzel Ward, who has three interceptions.

Tomlin talked about the challenge the Steelers face in not only maintaining possession but minimizing turnovers, especially in the red zone. Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception at the Cleveland 13, and had a fumble returned to the Steelers’ 1.

3. Safety dance: One of the notable revelations by Tomlin is that safety Morgan Burnett is a partial participant at practice.

Burnett has to be the biggest disappointment of the off-season acquisitions, as his free-agent signing was supposed to address the starting strong safety position and allow top pick Terrell Edmunds to serve in a sub-package role.

Instead, Burnett has played in only two games for the Steelers. He’s been sidelined by a groin injury, forcing Edmunds into a starting role and leaving the Steelers thin at safety.

You know it’s bad when the head coach says your role will be determined by the need to prove your dependability.

4. Name recognition: The bigger issue in the secondary has been at cornerback, where Artie Burns is listed as the starter after being pulled against the Bengals.

Where Tomlin raved about the Browns’ young first-round picks emerging as playmakers, Burns needs to prove that he’s not a bust. Not only does he fail to make splash plays, Burns is getting beat on routine routes and has his share of penalties.

Burns has been splitting reps with Coty Sensabaugh, but Tomlin said he liked the way Burns approached practice during the bye week. That said, the Steelers know the Browns will go after Burns.

“When you have negative plays on tape at the cornerback position, people are going to throw at you,” Tomlin said. “That’s how it goes.”

5. Trade talk: Interesting that Steelers left guard Ramon Foster said on 93.7 The Fan that players “absolutely” have talked about a potential trade for Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson.

“I feel like when you have an opportunity to get a guy like him or position yourself with a defensive player of his magnitude, you got to see if your management team would take the shot,” Foster said.

Wishful thinking, maybe, as Peterson would bring a $6.47 million salary cap hit in a trade. But that close to what the Steelers have saved on Le’Veon Bell, and Peterson is signed through 2020.

Tomlin was having none of it.

“I don’t delve into the hypothetical fodder about who is potentially available and who is not,” Tomlin said. “Some of those things are just speculation, there is no significance to it so why comment on it, why think about it, why waste one iota of our time?

“We’ve got real tangible issues relative to the guys on our team that need to be addressed. ... I’m focused on the guys here. Same goes for Le’Veon, if anybody’s got those kinds of questions.”

Tomlin’s hesitance for happiness is acknowledged.

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