Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and outside linebacker T.J. Watt will both have an opportunity to play, while safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is expected to miss Sunday’s road game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Roethlisberger entered the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 protocol on Saturday night after testing positive and he missed Sunday’s tie with the Detroit Lions. Coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Roethlisberger has a chance to play, but the Steelers are currently preparing to start backup quarterback Mason Rudolph.
Watt left in the third quarter of Sunday’s game with hip and knee injuries and did not return. Fitzpatrick played on Sunday, but he joined Roethlisberger on the COVID-19 list on Monday.
“We don’t anticipate him coming back,” Tomlin said of Fitzpatrick.
Tomlin said that Roethlisberger could play, provided he gets the required negative COVID-19 testing to be available. He is virtually participating in meetings this week.
“If we get to a point where Ben has an opportunity to get on a moving train, that’s exactly what he’ll do,” Tomlin said.
Until then, Tomlin said the Steelers intend to build their game plan around Rudolph, who completed 30 of 50 passes for 242 yards with a touchdown and an interception on Sunday against Detroit.
“Mason plugged into Ben’s plan last week,” Tomlin said. “Largely, he functioned the way that we needed to. He gave us a chance to win.”
Last season, Roethlisberger spent five days on the COVID-19 list because he was in close contact with a person who tested positive, but he returned in time to throw for 333 yards and four touchdowns in a lopsided win against Cincinnati.
“I really have no reservations about Ben,” Tomlin said. “He missed a significant amount of work last year when he was on the close contact list. He got back to us and performed. He’s been injured, and he’s had personal discomfort over the course of the 15 years that we’ve worked together and he always answers that bell.”
Tomlin said that Watt could also be available against the Chargers.
Watt, the highest-paid defensive player in the league, was hurt when he took down Lions quarterback Jared Goff in the third quarter. He has 12 1/2 sacks, second in the NFL by a half sack to Cleveland’s Myles Garrett. Watt’s 62 sacks are the second most in NFL history by a linebacker in his first 70 regular-season games.
“I’ll always leave the light on for T.J. Watt,” Tomlin said. “The things that he does routinely are not things that are done routinely by others. We’ll see where his participation leads us this week.”
Teams are not required to release information on whether players are vaccinated. If Fitzpatrick is vaccinated, he would be required to be free of symptoms and have two negative tests 24 hours apart. If he is not vaccinated, the two-time All-Pro could be sidelined for at least 10 days.
Tomlin said the Steelers may use multiple players to replicate Fitzpatrick’s role on the defense.
“When you have significant players, those that are multi-talented, usually that’s the case, as opposed to putting the onus of it on one individual,” Tomlin said. “I’d imagine it’s going to be a multi-person discussion.”
Tomlin expects second-year wide receiver Chase Claypool to practice this week. Claypool missed Sunday’s game with a foot injury. Tomlin also expects veteran guard Trai Turner to practice, but he’s unsure on the status of veteran cornerback Joe Haden and second-year lineman Kevin Dotson. Turner (ankle), Haden (foot) and Dotson (ankle) were all hurt during Sunday’s game.
“We’ll give Dotson an opportunity, but we don’t know where that leads in terms of his practice participation,” Tomlin said. “Same with Joe Haden and his foot injury. I feel confident that Trai Turner is going to be able to show up.”
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