There have been very few constants in Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s six years on the job.
The sight of Ike Taylor in his No. 24 uniform has been one of them.
The veteran cornerback will miss at least two weeks with a fractured right ankle, meaning his streak of playing in 135 consecutive games will end on Sunday when the Steelers (7-5) host reeling San Diego (4-8).
“You can say a lot of things about Ike, and a lot of positive things, but probably the thing that sticks out the most is his durability and availability,” Tomlin said. “This guy hasn’t missed practices, let alone football games, since I’ve been here.”
The 32-year-old Taylor has spent the last seven-plus seasons serving as an anchor on one side of the field. It’s not a coincidence Pittsburgh has ranked in the top 10 in total defense each year and is No. 1 overall and in passing yards allowed yet again.
Though Taylor doesn’t need surgery, the Steelers will have to rely on second-year reserves Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown against San Diego and Dallas, both of which have two of the more physical receiving corps in the leagues.
It’s a task, however, Allen and Brown appeared to be up to while playing extensively last week against Baltimore after Taylor went down. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco completed just 16 of 34 passes for 188 yards with a touchdown and an interception as the Steelers revived their playoff hopes following the franchise’s first two-game losing streak in three years.
To keep it going Pittsburgh will now rely a pair of 2011 draft picks to ease the pain from Taylor’s absence. Tomlin likened Allen and Brown to third-year wide receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. The duo were taken in the 2010 draft and have quickly evolved into key contributors.
Tomlin figures it’s time for the two cornerbacks to do the same.
“They’re both talented young guys who are continuing to improve and prove that the stage isn’t too big for them,” Tomlin said. “Obviously, we need them to answer the bell as we continue to push into a territory that we haven’t been in.”
While one familiar face will be out of the lineup, another one could return. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will practice this week with a chance to return since going down with a sprained right shoulder and a dislocated rib in a 16-13 overtime win over Kansas City on Nov. 12.
Roethlisberger threw on Monday, though Tomlin stressed that at the moment backup Charlie Batch is “our guy.”
Batch, who turns 38 today, passed for 276 yards and led the Steelers to a pair of late scoring drives in Baltimore. Tomlin, however, stressed the decision on Roethlisberger’s availability rests solely on the quarterback’s health.