PITTSBURGH -- Their playoff hopes may have been dashed following back-to-back losses by a combined eight points, but Mike Tomlin is playing to win in the final three weeks of the season.
“There’s no question about that,” the seventh-year coach said.
The unequivocal response to a question about whether now is the time to also take a long look at some younger players is why Will Allen will remain as the third safety in the Steelers’ quarter package instead of giving way to rookie Shamarko Thomas. It is also why rookie Markus Wheaton, who played just four snaps last Sunday against the Dolphins, may have to continue to bide his time as the Steelers’ No. 4 wide receiver.
There is one case in which the Steelers can play to win but also use the final three games to further evaluate a young player.
Mike Adams played well enough at left tackle against the Dolphins to earn another start there, and the second-year man should finish the season where he started it: protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's blind side.
Adams’ early struggles were so pronounced that he lost his starting job at left tackle, but he impressed his coaches and teammates with how he responded to the benching after the Steelers' fourth game of the season.
Adams worked his way into the lineup as an extra tight end when the Steelers used six offensive linemen, and a knee injury to Kelvin Beachum provided an opportunity for him to start at left tackle against the Dolphins.
The offensive line struggled in the Steelers’ 34-28 loss but Adams’ play was a positive. He did not commit any penalties, and Adams did a solid job of protecting Roethlisberger.
“I thought he represented himself well and it was a great opportunity to get back in the tackle position and show his capabilities in that area,” Tomlin said.
The Steelers will have to decide in the offseason whether the 6-foot-7, 323-pound Adams is their left tackle of the future or whether they like Beachum enough to keep him there. Adams is easily the more prototypical left tackle of the two, and the Steelers used a 2012 second-round draft pick on the former Ohio State star for a reason.
If the Steelers determine that their future left tackle is not on their roster they will target the position early in the 2014 NFL draft. This year’s class is expected to be flush with left tackle prospects though it would help the Steelers if they didn’t have to use one of their top picks on one.
The defense is in desperate need of playmakers, and nothing would benefit the Steelers more than if they could address that side of the ball with their first-round pick in the draft.
Adams’ development will be a significant part of the equation when the Steelers decide how much of a priority they place on offensive tackle in the draft.
And the Steelers can take an extended look at Adams at left tackle over the next three weeks while still satisfying Tomlin's mandate of playing to win.