From Comcast SportsNetPITTSBURGH (AP) -- 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.Until now.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 on Wednesday, 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, not Batch's ability to channel the fountain of youth."Ben is our quarterback and if he's capable of playing then we're going to play him," Tomlin said. "But we appreciate the efforts of Charlie and all the other men that step up when given an opportunity due to injury."Roethlisberger said last week arm strength and pain have been major concerns during his rehab. He appears to have made progress on both fronts in the last week."Seven days does wonders for injuries," Tomlin said.So does the prospect of playing significant games in December. Tomlin allowed the victory in Baltimore is among the most significant of the last two seasons, so much so he was in a rush to get to the locker room afterward, one of the reasons the postgame handshake between Tomlin and Ravens coach John Harbaugh appeared strained."It took special effort to secure that victory and when I noticed that guys were headed to the locker room I was in a hurry to get there," Tomlin said.And Tomlin is in a hurry to get back to work, though he's not trying to read too much into similarities between the team's position now and the one it was in seven years ago, when the Steelers won their final four regular season games then added four playoff wins to capture their fifth Super Bowl."I do think our team has some unique characteristics that are kind of born out of unique circumstances or situations," he said. "Quite frankly, it's always 20-20 looking back at it. If we're able to put together a run and win necessary games and get some momentum, then you can say it was unique."If we don't, then you can say it was irrelevant."------NOTES:LB LaMarr Woodley will test his injured ankle this week and could play after missing the Ravens game ... WR Jerricho Cotchery's fractured ribs have healed enough that he has a shot to return against San Diego ... Tomlin said he's encouraged by the way S Troy Polamalu played against the Ravens in his first game in nearly two months and could see a heavier workload on Sunday.
The Celtics' two main targets in free agency are expected to be Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin. But what if neither signs here . . . or what if the C's have other plans? This week, we'll look at some of 'The Other Guys' who might interest the Celtics: TODAY: Dallas' Nerlens Noel.
BOSTON -- When the Celtics had trade talks with Philadelphia last season, it was no secret they had their eyes set on Nerlens Noel.
The 23-year-old has shown tremendous potential as an elite, rim-protecting big man.
THE OTHER GUYS: POTENTIAL CELTIC FREE-AGENT TARGETS
The Dallas Mavericks saw those same qualities, which is why they engineered a trade for him last season despite knowing he would be a restricted free agent this summer.
And while he would certainly be the kind of player Boston would absolutely love to add to the mix, seeing the Mavericks go in a different direction seems highly unlikely.
But until he signs with the Mavericks or any other team, the Celtics can’t be totally discounted as a possibility if they strike out on Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin.
WE LIKE HIM BECAUSE . . .
His proven body of work and his potential. Noel has shown flashes of being a decent player offensively, but he’s going to get paid handsomely this summer because of his defense and rebounding.
According to Basketball-reference.com, Noel has been among the NBA’s top 10 in defensive box plus/minus two of his three NBA seasons.
During the 2014-15 season, his defensive plus/minus was +4.5 (fourth in the NBA) and the following season it was +3.4 (eighth in the NBA).
And while his upside is viewed primarily through a defensive prism, his presence on the floor seemed to provide a much-needed jolt to the Mavericks offensively.
In his 22 games with Dallas, he averaged 8.5 points and 6.8 rebounds with a solid offensive rating of 106.1.
NOT CRAZY ABOUT . . .
You love Noel’s length and athleticism, but you wish he would add some weight to withstand the physical rigors of playing primarily in the post. In an ideal world, Noel will add another 10-15 pounds, which would put him weight-wise similar to another standout Maverick from a few years back, Tyson Chandler. But Noel’s narrow shoulders and pogo-stick thick legs will likely result in his current 228-pound frame not changing much in the near future. He will still be a factor defensively, but there will be nights when stronger, more physical centers will give him problems. Fortunately for him and the Mavericks, big men whose strength is well, their strength, are becoming scarce in this new age of position-less basketball in the NBA.
IN CONCLUSION . . .
Noel would look really good in a Celtics uniform, but there’s little to no chance the Mavericks allow him to get away. They've made it clear that re-signing the 6-foot-11 big man is their top priority. And short of Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry saying they want to become a Maverick, it’s highly unlikely Dallas will change course.
Four-year, $106.4 million. That’s the most a team outside of Dallas can offer the soon-to-be restricted free agent. Noel knows the Mavericks won’t hesitate to offer him a max contract, which would give him more guaranteed years (five), better raises (eight percent versus five percent) and a total package of $143.55 million, which is more than $37 million beyond what other teams like the Celtics can offer.
Again, something would have to go unexpectedly wrong for Noel to wind up on any roster other than the Mavericks.
The Bruins have locked up a potential fourth-line piece for next season at a bargain basement price.
The B's signed Rhode Island native and Providence College alum Noel Acciari, a restricted free agent, to a two-year deal worth $1.45 million, a contract that breaks down to a very affordable $725,000 cap hit for each of the next two seasons. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound bowling ball of a forward finished with two goals and five points in 29 games for the Bruins last season, and has appeared in 48 games at the NHL level over the last two seasons in Boston. It was also encouraging that Acciari seemed to be tapping a bit more into his offense toward the end of the season, and was building some confidence for whatever modest offense he’ll end up bringing to the NHL table once he’s reached his potential ceiling as a player.
Clearly the two-year, one-way deal portends that Acciari, 25, will be counted on as a high energy, hard-hitting fourth-line player who does a good job of aggravating opponents while playing at full tilt. The real question is whether his body can hold up with his maximum effort style of playing, and whether he can avoid serious injuries with some of the car-crash level of violence he puts in his hitting.
Acciari has battled several different injuries over the last couple of seasons, but managed to be healthy enough to log time in the playoffs for both Boston and the P-Bruins.
Either way it’s a low-risk, affordable contract for the Bruins for a young player who, if healthy, will be a large piece on their fourth line as a diligent worker and excellent teammate. So that’s a good proactive signing for Don Sweeney as he continues to work on a more complicated contract for a higher profile player like David Pastrnak.