PITTSBURGH — Fitzgerald Toussaint stood at his locker, a black hoodie pulled tight over his head. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin saw the 25-year-old running back basking in the TV lights and jokingly wondered aloud why a player who spent most of the year on the practice squad was getting so much attention.
It's one way Tomlin is trying to relieve the pressure on his unlikely starter. Not that Toussaint needs it. He understands he's doesn't have the resume of injured stars Le'Veon Bell or DeAngelo Williams. So what? Toussaint remains confident about tonight's AFC wild-card game against the Bengals.
"I can be a very electrifying and a very disciplined guy," Toussaint said.
With Bell rehabbing a busted right knee and Williams still in a walking boot dealing with a bum right foot, Pittsburgh will turn to Toussaint and journeyman Jordan Todman to carry the bulk of the load.
Todman and Toussaint combined for 64 yards rushing this season, or 1,399 less than Bell and Williams, but Pittsburgh feels confident enough in the duo that the Steelers declined to sign a warm body off the street as they did a year ago when Bell hyperextended his left knee in the regular season finale. Pittsburgh brought in well-traveled Ben Tate, who ran for 19 yards and fumbled in a loss to Baltimore.
Not this time.
"We had a guy that hadn't been here and didn't understand protection," offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. "It forced us into a little bit of a corner on some of the things we were able to do on game day. I think everybody feels a lot better that way in the sense that we have guys that understand protections, understand the runs (and) understand the language that we're using."
Pittsburgh signed Todman on Sept. 6 after Todman was one of the final cuts in Carolina and added Toussaint to the practice squad a day later. Neither figured to be part of the Steelers' plans. That changed when Bell's right knee folded awkwardly under him against Cincinnati on Nov. 1 and Williams was injured last week in Cleveland.
Enter Toussaint, two years removed from his days as a feature back at Michigan. He finished with 12 carries for 24 yards against the Browns, though he had a two-point conversion and proved willing to put his 5-foot-10, 200-pound frame in front of a blitzing linebacker.
Blocking might be Toussaint's most important job as Pittsburgh figures to rely heavily on one of the league's best group of receivers while trying to win its first playoff game in five years.
"Just go out there and play hard and play physical and just go hunt," Toussaint said. "That's our motto in here: just go hunt."