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Tomlin: Steelers are “walking dead”

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PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers entered training camp knowing what they had in a prolific offense that returned every starter from 2014 and not knowing much at all about their young defense.

After four games and six weeks of the preseason, they still do not know much about their defense and their offense has been weakened by injuries and suspensions.

They lost All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey for perhaps half the season with a broken lower fibula, then got word that dynamic young deep threat Martavis Bryant would be suspended for four games after he reportedly failed multiple tests for marijuana use. They already knew they would lose All-Pro halfback Le’Veon Bell for the first two games because of his marijuana use last year.

And their most accurate kicker in history, Shaun Suisham, tore his ACL in the preseason opener at Canton and is done for the season. Even backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski could not escape the carnage when he went down with hand and shoulder injuries in the third preseason game and was placed on injured reserve.

Their defense, in the meantime, has been a mess. New coordinator Keith Butler wanted to increase pressure on the quarterback and drilled in the idea they need to come up with more interceptions. They had just 33 sacks and 11 interceptions last season. They did have six sacks in their third preseason game, but just five in the other three games. They have only one interception this summer.

It prompted an unusually angry response after their 43-19 loss at Buffalo Saturday when the defense allowed 395 yards passing and 156 rushing.

Head coach Mike Tomlin twice called it “disturbing” and referred to some of his young players as “walking dead.”

“We continue to be slow starters, and that’s disturbing,” Tomlin said. “We’ve got to address that … Some of our young guys who pushed through this game — who are quite frankly fighting for jobs — did not execute with enough detail to be in consideration. And that’s disappointing. As we push towards the end of this thing, I’d like to see guys with their arrows pointed up; fighting for jobs.

“Some of those guys looked like they were just walking dead. We’ve got to analyze that, and keep those committed to fighting. Some of that stuff was quite disturbing; not the type of performance we’re looking for. After a performance like that, you analyze every element of it; not only from a player’s standpoint, but also from a coach’s standpoint.”

–The Steelers acquired veteran kicker Josh Scobee in a trade with Jacksonville for a sixth-round pick in the 2016 draft. They also were in the process of reducing the salary for 2015 in the final year of his contract of $3.4 million.

–Quarterback Mike Vick’s first game with the Steelers was a winner. He completed four of his five passes for 106 yards, including a 63-yarder on his first attempt to Martavis Bryant.

“I didn’t know it was going to be that early,” Vick said of his debut, which came in the first quarter at Buffalo Saturday after just two practices with them. “It’s been a long preseason (for the starters) and I was able to get in and get some reps early, which was good because it was against Buffalo’s first-team defense.”

–Marcus Gilbert, who received a new contract a year ago as the team’s starting right tackle, worked his way down from 335 pounds to 305 since he arrived as a rookie in 2011.

“You’re either going to get better or you’re going to stay the same,” Gilbert said, “and I want to get better at what I do.”

Notes: Kicker Garrett Hartley pulled a hamstring while kicking off at Buffalo Sunday and was placed on injured reserve Monday. … Defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who sprained his left ankle in the third preseason game, should be ready to return for the opener at New England Sept. 10. … Tackle Kelvin Beachum still does not have a new contract after summer-long negotiations and time is growing short. The Steelers have a policy of not negotiating contracts once the regular season starts. Their starting left tackle enters the final year of his rookie deal. … Punter Jordan Berry kicked off in Buffalo after the hamstring injury to Hartley, and also had a 78-yard punt in his attempts to unseat Brad Wing, who punted for the Steelers last season.


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