Keeping with a theme over the past few years, the Steelers could be looking at yet another offensive line change Sunday against a Detroit Lions front coach Mike Tomlin said will "trample the run on the way to the pass."
Starting left guard Ramon Foster, the ironman of a line dressed in bandages and crutches since the 2012 season, was walking around with a protective boot on his right foot Tuesday. He has a high ankle sprain, what else? It follows on the heels of tackle Marcus Gilbert's high ankle sprain last week along with David DeCastro's ankle sprain. Mike Adams had to take a pain-killing shot to his ankle so he could play 28 snaps at tight end last Sunday.
Tomlin did not rule Foster out, but if he cannot play for the first time since the 2011 season, the Steelers will deploy their fifth starting offensive line combination in 10 games. That does not count many of the in-game changes, such as what occurred in Oakland when backups Adams, Cody Wallace and Guy Whimper entered the game because of injuries.
Foster might play. He has played through other injuries, and Tomlin merely said he would be limited in the "early portions of the week."
Foster started every game either at right or left guard last season when all around him were getting carted off. It began in the preseason with a major knee injury to DeCastro. By the end, the Steelers had used seven line combinations over their final 11 games.
This year, three-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey was knocked out for the season on the first offensive play, and the trend has continued from there, although not with such major injuries.
Is it any wonder they rank 28th in the NFL with an average of 3.6 yards per run, or that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked at a record pace of 35 times?
Whimper likely would replace Foster if he cannot go.
Whoever plays will do so against a Detroit Lions 4-3, which features the NFL's eighth-best rush defense. But despite Tomlin's glowing words of praise, the Lions have a woeful sack attack almost akin to that of the Steelers. Detroit has 15 sacks, led by Ndamukong Suh's 4.5.
They might "trample the run on the way to the pass," but the Lions rarely get to the passer.
Tomlin called Suh "the bell cow of the group, but he's not the lone ranger. Nick Fairley is another first-rounder that plays inside with him, from Auburn. Ezekiel Ansah is another first-rounder, a rookie out of BYU."
"They rush the passer extremely well," Tomlin said, with a serious look. He called them "vertical penetrators."
Tomlin has acknowledged using his news conference at times to speak to his players. Maybe this time, he was trying to scare them.
Thomas won't face Lions
Rookie safety Shamarko Thomas has a more severe high left ankle sprain than Foster and was the only player Tomlin ruled out for the game Sunday at Heinz Field.
Others with injuries will be limited in practice early in the week but all have a chance to play.
Besides Foster, they are Adams (ribs). Brett Keisel (foot, plantar fasciitis), LaMarr Woodley (calf), Fernando Velasco (right knee bruise) and Kelvin Beachum (hip flexor).
"We will take a look at these guys and see what their status is ... and let that be our guide in terms of how we prepare," Tomlin said.
Dwyer shows some bite
Jonathan Dwyer, so deep in the doghouse that he was cut before the start of the season, is back as a top dog these days and could move to the primary backup halfback behind starter Le'Veon Bell.
Dwyer has 68 yards on seven carries in the past two games, plus two receptions for 26 yards. His 4.8-yard average per carry is the best among the running backs.
"I like the energy that he brings, not only on offense, but he's been a sparkplug for us in terms of the things we've asked him to do on special teams," Tomlin said. "We've had some big returns in the punt-return game and the kick-return game in the recent weeks.
"He's been a significant part of that. He made a significant block the last several weeks in that phase as well. I like where he is. I like the contribution that he's providing us."
Asked if being cut changed Dwyer, Tomlin replied, "I would imagine unemployment does that."
Felix Jones, who averages 3.7 yards per carry, has been the main backup to Bell.
3-4 defense vs. the spread
Anyone hoping the Steelers might change to a 4-3 defense anytime soon will be disappointed in what Tomlin said about why he prefers his 3-4 scheme, which the Steelers have run the past 32 seasons.
"I just think it provides you more flexibility in terms of some of the spread football," Tomlin said. "That's why, I think, you see increasingly more colleges going to three down [linemen].
"I think the more men on their feet that you have at the snap provides more flexibility in terms of dealing with some of the things that occur in spread football, which obviously all levels of football are kind of leaning toward in recent years. I think that hybrid front provides flexibility."
Skip 'erroneous' story
Tomlin declined to talk about the NFL Network report Sunday about a possible trade of Roethlisberger, which all parties have vehemently denied, including the quarterback and team president Art Rooney II. "I'm not gong to provide any more legs to an erroneous story," Tomlin said. "I thought it was handled and handled appropriately."
Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette.Steelers - football