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Win or lose, the Steelers locker room buzzes on Mondays

Jim Wexell takes readers up close and personal every Monday following a Steelers game.

In what will become a weekly Tuesday morning feature, a column that chronicles the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room the day after a game, this one a 30-15 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

I'll add that I was wise to have already read Craig Wolfley's terrific column detailing the effort of the Steelers and the difficulties they encountered in Miami, because otherwise I might just have been another angry fan looking for justice. You might see some of that in the questions anyway.

But this is the chronology of players to whom I spoke. Some of it's dull, and hopefully some of it's not.

Cam Heyward walked past with his usual wide grin and not a hint of a limp. That's the weird thing about hamstring injuries. You sometimes don't even know you still have one until you try to accelerate, and then you're out another three weeks. But I asked the big man if he had a minute to talk hamstring.

"I can't," he said. "I only speak English."

Ha, they ought to call him Chucklehead.

Do you think you're going to play Sunday?

"I don't know. We don't play today so I've got time. I've got to be smart. We don't want to re-injure it, but there's an optimistic look to this week."


"I have an optimistic outlook. I always do," he said. "But I'm going to approach this week as hard as I can to prepare. But me hurt doesn't give us the best shot to win so I'm not going to risk injuring myself even more."

The rest of the mob soon joined the interview. Heyward lamented the defense having allowed Miami RB Jay Ajayi 204 yards. The Steelers hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 50 weeks, and Heyward said, "In my tenure we never gave up 200 yards to one running back."

The last such performance was turned in by Fred Taylor (234) of Jacksonville in 2000. Before Taylor there was Joe Morris (202) in 1985. So, it's about a once-every-15-years phenomenon.

Landry Jones is so patient and easygoing, you can ask him why he didn't just hand off on third-and-1 and he'll calmly smile and say, "A pass play was called."

Did you miss an open receiver?

"Someone on the backside was running open," he said. "I didn't progress all the way through it. I just threw it away and lived to play another down."

Except that his next and last down was a kneel to end the half before Ben Roethlisberger returned.

Jones hadn't been told yet that he'll replace Roethlisberger next week, but if he does I know a mob of reporters who will be rooting for him. He's that good of a guy.

* I explained to the increasingly helpful, insightful and communicative Mike Mitchell that I am being asked these questions by fans on social media and feel it's my job to forward these questions to him: What's up with the personal fouls? And what is Mike Tomlin saying to you about them?

"I don't feel the need to," Mitchell said before re-starting. "I don't even want to explain anything. My teammates and coaches know I played hard, I played with heart. It's unfortunate we got the penalties yesterday. That's all I have to say about anything regarding penalties."

He walked away unhappy with the questions but with the understanding that we all have a job to do.

* A much more serious Ramon Foster today, and you'll have that after a loss. But he remained accommodating. We asked mainly about Jones, and those answers are in this story.

But I did want to ask him if -- considering the New England Patriots are 7.5-point favorites at Heinz Field this week -- the Steelers are better as underdogs anyway.

"We've just got to be better period," he said. "Our problem is we've got to be the same team each and every week."

Ryan Shazier has missed three-and-a-half games with a sprained MCL, so he's about ready to return. But he, like most of the young players, didn't give much away.

"I've just got to see what they say," he said.

Will he run later on Monday?

"I already ran a little bit today," he said. "It's starting to feel a little better. I just have to see what they say. It's getting better but it's not 100 percent."

Xavier Grimble caught another pass after a great week of practice. This guy can really jump, and he's already up there at 6 feet 4. So it could be cool to see him and 6-6 Ladarius Green on the field together in the near future.

"Be interesting, man," Grimble said. "We've got weapons all over this team. I think we're just really trying to figure out how to use them all in a one-game setting, which can be pretty tough. I think it's hard to try to scheme to even use us. It sounds easy because we've got weapons everywhere, but to use it collectively in a game setting, I could see that being a little difficult. We're figuring that out."

Grimble hadn't heard anything about whether Green would practice this week. Mike Tomlin will no doubt break that news at his noon press conference today. But is playing Sunday even feasible for a guy who's never practiced with the team?

"He's a pretty sharp dude," Grimble said. "And if you know our coach (James Daniel), Coach J.D. doesn't really let him sit in there and not know what's going on, so he's pretty aware. He knows the offense, I'm pretty sure of that. I think it really will just be the practice, seeing what it looks like in practice, and we'll probably go from there. As far as the mental part, I don't really see him having much of an issue. He's got to get those live reps and see what it looks like."

Grimble added that said he hopes to beat the Patriots, who cut him after only three days after he had hustled all the way from San Francisco, without any winter clothing, to join their practice squad.

* Shy, quiet Sammie Coates has been coming out of his shell since mobs have descended upon him lately for either big plays, big drops or big cuts on his hand. So he was pretty boisterous when I asked him if he was out there Sunday ready to catch passes or was he merely a decoy.

"Shoot, I was ready to catch passes," he said with a big smile. "You ain't never a decoy in football, not IN THE LEAGUE!"

OK, big guy. I hear ya.

What did you think of Darrius Heyward-Bey's 60-yard touchdown run?

"What you mean? Ask him."

Well, he's not here today.

"He's fast."

Who's faster, you or him?


The hand going to be even more ready this Sunday?

"I hope so. Gotta go day by day."

Cobi Hamilton wasn't in much of a mood to discuss not only his first career catch, but his first touchdown catch.

"Preciate it," he said without a smile.

I looked over and saw the cornerback who had been released to make room for Hamilton's promotion last week, Al-Hajj Shabazz, at his locker. It appeared that he would be called
back to the team at any minute, and I wondered whether the move had just been made and Hamilton's stint on the active roster was over. I didn't ask him, because it really wouldn't make much sense with Markus Wheaton hurt.

Anyway, Shabazz might just be preparing to come back to the practice squad and Hamilton might just be practicing some first-year humility.

"Just a good play. That's all it was," he said.

* Rookie linebacker Tyler Matakevich wasn't caught with his pants down by the Miami Dolphins. The play was inexplicably called back (because the Dolphins kicked before the whistle), but the onside kick they attempted in the first quarter was alertly recovered by Matakevich at the Miami 47.

"I definitely knew something was up," Matakevich said. "Everyone was just staring at me when they were in the huddle. The coaches were looking at me. Just from playing football
you just had a feeling something was up. One of the guys said there were two kickers on the field. I didn't see that, so I'm going to have to take a look at the film to see if there actually was. But I just knew something was up because they were all just staring at me. Coaches were looking at me, so I'm like, 'All right, this isn't right.' Plus, on film, when they lined up, the kicker was always deep. He would already line up and then they would break the huddle. When they were all huddled up this time he didn't back up. Just little stuff like

On tape, it's obvious that the man next to Matakevich, Anthony Chickillo, was also ready for an onside kick.

"Yeah, that's the thing," Matakevich said. " Coach Danny Smith, he gets you ready for anything. That's our job."

* Matakevich is so enthusiastic and helpful with reporters, but the next line of questioning -- about the heat -- was met with derision by Matakevich''s locker room neighbor, third-team QB Zach Mettenberger, who had just turned down an interview request by another couple of reporters.

Mettenberger sat by himself and listened to us, and repeated some type verbal gasp or another after several questions.

Matakevich easily held his own. It's not rocket science dealing with me. He didn't make excuses for the heat, and said the training staff was busy hydrating players properly the week before and the days leading up to the game, and again on game day.

I walked away as another reporter approached Mettenberger for an interview.

"No," he said loudly, before turning to Matakevich and saying, "That's all you have to do: Say NO."

I told you about these guys from out of town and the mistrust and disdain they have for reporters. Oh, well.

* The talk about heat had me scurrying to the record books, because I had heard the Steelers hadn't won in South Florida before November in years. And having remembered a particularly horrific hangover experience in the Jacksonville heat one September Sunday in 1996, I included Jacksonville and Tampa Bay in my research.

But what I had heard just isn't true. This was Tomlin's first pre-November loss in Florida. He's now 4-1. Bill Cowher was 3-7.

Le'Veon Bell didn't want to complain about the lack of carries in Miami. He's a polished pro and a guy I wouldn't hesitate to re-sign to a big contract. But he did offer some insight into the question of whether the coaching staff gets too creative with his versatility instead of just handing him the ball.

"I think sometimes we do get to a point where we're passing the ball a lot," Bell said. "They want to utilize me in the pass game a lot, but I don't know. The offensive line loves running the ball and I like doing what they like to do, so when they feel they can dominate up front, I'm always with them. If they want to run the ball, we need to run the ball. But I'm not a guy who always complains about getting carries. I just want to win the game. Whatever it takes to win the game, whether it's four carries or 34 carries."

* Finally, Big Dan McCullers, nice blocked kick.

"Appreciate you," said the biggest and possibly friendliest guy in the locker room.

That couldn't have been your first.

"In college I had like three, but this was my first in the NFL," he said. "Got that good push, got my hands up real quick and I blocked it. Maybe I can do more of it."

It should've been a spark.

"I was feeling that," he said. "But, dang, we couldn't get on the same page."

What about that bullrush on the center when you nearly sacked the quarterback?

"I thought he had thrown the ball off," McCullers said. "It seemed like he moved his arm, or pump-faked. I paused for a split second then I realized he still had it. So I picked up and he threw the bomb. I have to finish those plays."

Did your coach say anything?

"Yeah, finish it."


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