Steelers coach Mike Tomlin ‘not feeling great’ about depth at outside linebacker
While the NFL continues its investigation into the alleged domestic incident involving Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Anthony Chickillo, coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday the organization is taking the incident “very seriously.”
Tomlin, though, would not speculate whether Chickillo will be permitted to rejoin the team Wednesday.
Chickillo, 26, was charged with simple assault and criminal mischief, both misdemeanors, and harassment, a summary offense, after a dispute involving his girlfriend early Sunday morning at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort.
The Steelers instructed Chickillo to stay away from the team’s practice facility at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Monday when the players returned from a four-day break. Players were off Tuesday, the day Tomlin meets with the media each week.
Tomlin said he has spoken with Chickillo since the incident but would not divulge any particulars from the conversation.
“There’s not a lot for us to say or a lot we can say pending the investigation and the sensitivity of the circumstances,” Tomlin said. “It’s obviously something we take very seriously, but I’ll let it ride at that and with the statements that we’ve provided.”
Moments before Tomlin’s news conference, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert released a statement that said the team “will continue to gather information, and we will fully cooperate with the NFL’s investigation.”
Colbert said any discipline for Chickillo will be determined “after the gathering of further information from law enforcement and the League Office.”
As for Chickillo possibly returning to practice Wednesday, Tomlin said, “I’ll leave it at the statement.”
In his fifth season with the Steelers, Chickillo has served as a backup at his position while also being a core special teams player. He avoided free agency by signing a two-year, $8 million contract in March to return to the Steelers.
Chickillo missed three games this season with a foot injury and has one-half sack and one tackle in three games. He played just 44 snaps — or about 10% of all defensive plays — this season.
Starting outside linebackers Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt rarely left the field in the first six games, with Dupree playing 92% of the defensive snaps and Watt 86. Watt, though, has been bothered by an abdominal injury he suffered against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 6.
The only other backup outside linebacker on the roster, aside from Chickillo, is Ola Adeniyi, a second-year player who has played 38 snaps in six games.
Another outside linebacker, Jayrone Elliott, was waived prior to the game against the Chargers. He could be brought back if Chickillo is suspended or released.
Depth at the position was weakened after the first week of the season when promising rookie Tuzar Skipper was lost on waivers to the New York Giants. Skipper was waived by the Giants on Tuesday.
“I’m not feeling great,” Tomlin said when asked about his positional depth, “but such is life in the National Football League. At times, you’re going to be challenged positionally. … It’s part of the team, part of this journey, part of this process. We’ll make do. We’ll make the necessary adjustments whether it’s outside linebacker or anywhere else we might be falling short in terms of depth.
“We’ll fill the group, and we’ll fill the group that is capable of playing winning football.”
Last week, while speaking about the loss of defensive end Stephon Tuitt for the rest of the season, Tomlin said outside linebackers may be tasked with helping fill the void. Given Watt’s abdominal injury and Chickillo’s potential absence, Tomlin was asked if that plan remains feasible.
“We’ll let the week reveal that to us in terms of player availability,” he said. “We also are comfortable of the rush capability of our inside guys. Vince Williams is a guy who has distinguished himself in terms of blitzing and rushing the passer. What we need is consistent pressure on the quarterback.
“Our words and our actions have always indicated that we’re a group that doesn’t care where that comes from, whether it’s defensive line, outside linebackers, inside linebackers. We make a conscious effort to make sure we spread that out over multiple positions in an effort to be a moving target.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .