Steelers bring Next Man to life with Leglue, Witherspoon and Adams in win over Ravens

John Leglue had to open his remarks to the media on Monday by giving a tutorial on how to pronounce his name.

“Leg, glue,” said the offensive lineman. “Just like Elmer’s glue.” “

The night before, Cameron Heyward had to explain the name of Montravius ​​Adams.

“We call him ‘My’,” Heyward said.

It’s week 13 of the regular season, and it’s not usually the time for introductions. But it’s been that kind of season for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

You’ve heard of how they like to operate under the “Next man up” credo. Now, what about the next man, after the next man … after the next man, after the other man … who replaced the original man … standing?

“That’s what it’s all about in this game, isn’t it?” Said coach Mike Tomlin. “Especially at this level: guys have opportunities and guys take advantage of them.”

There was no shortage of previously unknown or forgotten players on Sunday in a high-profile rivalry match who, out of necessity, were given opportunities and shone:

Signed five days earlier, Adams played nearly half of the Steelers’ defensive snaps as the best nose tackle.

With his fourth set-up in 2.5 years since not being drafted, Leglue replaced injured BJ Finney in the first quarter and played the rest of the way to left guard.

A healthy scratch in eight of the first nine games after arriving in a post-practice camp exchange, Ahkello Witherspoon served as the outside cornerback every time.

All played an important role in Sunday’s 20-19 victory that kept the Steelers alive in the AFC North race.

“Anytime you’re on a 53-player (or) practice squad in an NFL setting, you’ll get the chance to do whatever it sounds like,” said Witherspoon, who has five tackles. and a critical break from a pass in the fourth quarter. “I know (the Steelers coaches) believe in me, and I believe in me.

“In this game, that’s the goal, to show who you are day in and day out, no matter what the difficulties and challenges.”

The challenge Witherspoon faced was to join a third team in about eight months. In September, the Steelers acquired him in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick from Seattle, who signed a one-year contract with Witherspoon in March – after spending his first four seasons in the NFL playing for San Francisco.

Witherspoon conceded that this was an adjustment to suit the Steelers’ pattern, and it showed. On one of four snaps he played in the first 10 weeks of the season, he was beaten for a 61-yard touchdown in a loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.

“What I’ve learned through my trials and tribulations in this league is to take a step back and move on to the next game, the next opportunity,” Witherspoon said. “Whether it’s in a week or in four weeks. “

Or, eight weeks, in the case of Witherspoon, whom the Steelers finally turned to after an injury to veteran Joe Haden and after being frustrated with substitute James Pierre’s play.

Leglue’s path has gone even deeper into the depth map. He is the fifth left guard the Steelers have deployed this season. Starter Kevin Dotson and top interior substitute JC Hassenauer are on the injured list. Utilities veteran Joe Haeg is on the covid list. Finney injured his back in the first offensive streak on Sunday.

“It’s one of those things that you prepare every week like you’re going to play,” said Leglue, who spent the entire season on the practice squad until promoted to the 53-man roster there. two weeks ago. “The O-line coaches emphasize this. Coach Tomlin always tells us, ‘Make sure you take every opportunity’, and one of the most important things is that every day in training we all train with a goal so that we can maximize our performance. opportunity when we get it. . “

According to Pro Football Focus, Leglue did not allow QB pressure in his pass block and ranked as the Steelers’ second-best lineman in the race block on Sunday.

Defensively, Adams was credited with QB pressure, a battered pass and two tackles.

A five-year veteran who was released by two teams in the past 3 1/2 months, Adams was needed when the Steelers started last week with three defensive linemen on the injured reserve and three more on the report. of injury.

“It was a good experience,” Tomlin said of the Adams Steelers debut. “We had the opportunity (after the game) to walk up the tunnel together after the game, and I expressed my gratitude for his efforts. He expressed his appreciation for the opportunity.

Adams wasn’t the only one who felt grateful the day the “next man in place” turned out to be more than just a coaching speech for the Steelers.

Chris Adamski is an editor for Tribune-Review. You can contact Chris by email at or via Twitter .

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