Steelers’ Tyson Alualu Hurt, Key Rookie Starter Has Thumb Injury

Kendrick Green

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images Kendrick Green of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on August 12, 2021.

Yesterday, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had little to report in the way of injuries while looking ahead to Sunday’s season-opener versus the Buffalo Bills. “I am acknowledging that from a health standpoint, I think we’re in a really good spot,” said Tomlin during his weekly press conference on Tuesday.

But today, the Steelers revealed the existence of three potentially significant injuries, including an elbow injury to starting nose tackle Tyson Alualu, one that left him unable to practice on Wednesday.

No less thought-provoking is that rookie center Kendrick Green has a thumb issue that caused him to be a ‘limited’ participant in practice. Also ‘limited’ was second-year outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, who has a groin injury.

Each of these issues is potentially significant in its own way. If Alualu is unable to play against the Bills, Pittsburgh would be missing two of its three starting defensive linemen, as Stephon Tuitt is already on injured reserve, unavailable until at least early October.

Of course, a thumb injury is a worry for any offensive lineman, especially for a rookie center preparing to make his first NFL start. A thumb problem is that much more concerning if it happens to be on his snapping hand.

Finally, an injury to Highsmith has the potential to compromise the team’s depth at outside linebacker. That’s important because the Steelers don’t have a proven player beyond both-sides backup Melvin Ingram III, and T.J. Watt’s contract situation remains unresolved.

Assuming Watt plays on Sunday (which seems highly likely, considering that he was a full participant in practice on Wed.), it remains to be seen if he can take on his usual workload after not having practiced or played in a preseason game all summer.

The Bills Have Injury Issues, Too

Meanwhile, the Bills have a couple of injury concerns themselves, as starting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei did not practice on Wednesday with a calf issue. The Bills also had a pair of players who were ‘limited’ in practice, those being cornerback Taron Johnson (hand) and former Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who has a foot injury.

The Bills also listed two other players with injuries, those being wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie (shoulder) and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (knee). Yet both were full participants in Wednesday’s practice.

Emmanuel Sanders Begins His First Season with the Bills

As for the aforementioned Sanders, he’s the rare former Steelers player who reached the pinnacle of his career after leaving Pittsburgh. Sanders, now 34, was selected by the Steelers in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft and played four seasons in Pittsburgh before signing with the Broncos in 2014. It was in Denver where he made the only two Pro Bowls of his career (2014, ’16). That’s also where he had his single-best campaign, catching 101 passes for 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014. Since leaving the Broncos in 2019 he has played for San Francisco and New Orleans.

Now entering his 12th NFL season, the SMU product remains a starting-caliber receiver. Thus far in his career he has amassed 662 catches in 158 career games and has been responsible for 8,619 receiving yards and 47 receiving touchdowns.

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