On Thursday the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-0) continued preparations for Sunday’s matchup with the Dallas Cowboys (2-6), but did so without two defensive tackles. Tyson Alualu—who suffered a sprained MCL during Pittsburgh’s 28-24 win over the Ravens last Sunday—missed practice for a second consecutive day. Meanwhile, Alualu’s backup, Isaiah Buggs, also missed practice on Thursday with an ankle injury after being a “limited participant” on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Buggs insisted he’s “ready” to go if called upon, but wasn’t necessarily speaking about the condition of his ankle.
“I am ready, and I am prepared,” said Buggs, a 2019 sixth-round pick out of Alabama who played a career high 34 snaps against the Ravens. “Learning from Tyson, [Stephon] Tuitt and Cam, those guys I have been around for two years. Just watching those guys, learning how they play and do things around here, I am sure I am ready for the opportunity.”
If both Alualu and Buggs can’t play against the Cowboys on Sunday, Pittsburgh will have to reach far into its interior defensive line depth. With Chris Wormley on injured reserve and not eligible to return until November 22nd at Jacksonville, the “next man up” would appear to be first-year player Henry Mondeaux (Oregon), who was recently elevated from the practice squad. After that the Steelers have rookie seventh-round pick Carlos Davis (who has yet to be active for a game this year), as well as undrafted rookie Calvin Taylor (Kentucky), who is on the practice squad.
It’s also possible that Pittsburgh will soon add to its defensive tackle depth by signing Demarcus Christmas (a 2019 draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks), as the team had the stocky run-stuffer in for a visit earlier this week.
Regardless, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin indicated on Tuesday that stopping the run will be the primary focus of the defensive game plan against the Cowboys.
“We gotta deal with Ezekiel Elliott this weekend and we understand what that means,” said Tomlin, before reminding everyone that his defense is coming off a week in which it “bled, and bled badly” in the run game, with Baltimore’s No. 2 and No. 3 running backs—Gus Edwards and rookie J.K. Dobbins—combining for 200 yards rushing on only 31 carries.
“So we better work with some urgency and an edge in that regard,” Tomlin added. “We’ve got a lot of respect for Ezekiel Elliott. He’s an elite, elite running back, arguably the best in the business.”
Injury Updates on Mike Hilton and Stefen Wisniewski
In other injury news from Thursday, slot cornerback Mike Hilton was a limited participant in practice for the second day in a row. Hilton has missed the past two games with a shoulder injury suffered against the Cleveland Browns—the first games Hilton has missed since he broke into Pittsburgh’s lineup in 2017.
Meanwhile, interior offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski did not practice for the second consecutive day (pectoral), which is notable because he was re-activated on Wednesday to prevent him from spending the remainder of the season on injured reserve.
Practice Squad Protected Players for Week 9
Last but not least, on Tuesday Pittsburgh identified the four practice squad players it has chosen to protect this week:
WR Deon Cain
LB Jayrone Elliott
RB Wendell Smallwood
S Antoine Brooks Jr. (rookie)
Smallwood has been protected each and every week this season. Week 9 is the first week in which Brooks has been protected.
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