Sports

Steelers’ Mike Tomlin says worrying about COVID is a coach’s first job each day in pandemic season

However Mike Tomlin wakes up each day — he did not specify, so you are free to imagine Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 or Miles Davis’ “So What?” blaring from his phone — his first activity always is the same: worrying about COVID.

“Every morning at 6 a.m., I am looking at my phone, waiting for verification of the previous day’s test results,” Tomlin told reporters during his weekly news conference. “Are we in the clear or are we not? And what necessary adjustments need to be made? What investigations, if any, need to be made? That has been our life — and not only ours here in Pittsburgh, but ours collectively as members of the National Football League — since July.”

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Tomlin spoke at noon Tuesday, less than an hour after the Browns revealed that they had two more players and multiple members of the coaching staff, including head coach Kevin Stefanski, test positive for COVID-19. They will not be able to participate in the Browns’ first playoff game since 2002. Stefanski can contribute remotely to pregame preparation but is not permitted to engage in coaching the team during the game Sunday night.

Tomlin was asked whether the Steelers are reinforcing the message to be careful about avoiding circumstances that might result in a positive test.

“It is something that I have done and we have done since July 20,” Tomlin said. “We don’t need a daily reminder because we have daily continual reminders of how fragile these circumstances are.”

The Steelers have had multiple games impacted by COVID issues with other teams, most notably the postponement of their planned Week 4 matchup against the Titans until midway through the season and then the on-again/off-again nature of their scheduled Thanksgiving night game against the Ravens, which ultimately was played six days later in a late-afternoon time slot.

They have had such players as linebacker Vince Williams and cornerback Joe Haden miss games because of reported positive tests.

But at no point have the Steelers dealt with outbreaks at the level that impacted the Titans, Ravens and, now, the Browns. The Cleveland practice facility was shut down several days prior to the season-ending game against the Steelers and was closed against Tuesday.

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The Browns will be without not only Stefanski, but also guard Joel Bitonio and wideout KhaDarel Hodge, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will serve as acting head coach. Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will take over for Stefanski calling plays.

Tomlin said he maintains “complete confidence” in protocols established by the NFL as the league has maneuvered through a 17-week season in which all regular-season games were completed. He said, however, the league is taking extra precautions with the playoffs, expanding testing availability to “those around us — friends and family and so forth — in an effort to continue to isolate this group.” He also said there are added precautions regarding those teams that are traveling to play but chose not to itemize those.

The Steelers still may be without Haden and tight end Eric Ebron against the Browns. Tomlin declined to specify when they might be eligible to be removed from the COVID list.

Tomlin was asked what he learned Tuesday at 6 a.m. when he checked his phone after waking up, whether any complications that had not been evident when he left work Monday had developed overnight.

“In regards to this morning,” he said, “it was a good morning.”

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