Steelers put Starks on injured reserve
With the Steelers speaking of losing starting left tackle Max Starks for the season as a devastating blow, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians reminded them that the scenario had a familiar ring to it.
Make that a Super Bowl ring.
When left tackle Marvel Smith and right guard Kendall Simmons were lost to injuries in 2008, the Steelers plugged those holes on the offensive line with backups and went on to defeat the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII for their sixth Lombardi Trophy.
The Steelers (6-2) are hoping for a reprise, starting Sunday night against the New England Patriots (6-2) at Heinz Field. Jonathan Scott will replace Starks, who was placed on injured reserve Wednesday with a herniated disc in his neck that will require surgery.
"He's 6-8, 300-some pounds, so it's a big loss," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said of Starks, who started 37 of the past 38 games at left tackle, missing only the game at Tennessee in Week 2. "Max has been my blind side for a while now, and you never like to lose a guy like that who you have confidence in. But I have confidence that J. Scott or whoever else it will be will step up and do just fine protecting my back."
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was emphatic yesterday that Scott will stay at left tackle and Flozell Adams on the right side, despite Scott's ability to play either side and Adams' extensive experience at left tackle in Dallas.
Tomlin called it Scott's opportunity to "answer the bell" and "play winning football" for the Steelers. That would be new to Scott, a fourth-year veteran who was drafted out of Texas by the Detroit Lions and spent the past three seasons with the Buffalo Bills.
"This is a guy that's kind of experienced the ups and downs of the National Football League, been in several cities and tough circumstances," Tomlin said. "I think that guys are hardened mentally through experiences and are generally better for it if they're smart. And, no question, he's a sharp young man."
Scott is familiar with being elevated into the starting lineup, as well. He started eight games for the Bills last season, including five of the final six, and has 15 career starts. One of those came at left tackle against the Patriots, a 17-10 loss last Dec. 20 that saw the Bills allow six sacks, including three by outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain in the fourth quarter. One of them saw Banta-Cain bull-rush Scott backward and into his quarterback.
But the Steelers don't expect a slip in play from Scott, who started against the Titans and played both left guard and left tackle Monday night at Cincinnati. Instead, they expect him to rise to the level of a starting left tackle, an attitude that Scott welcomes.
"It just kind of reassures that what they preach in the meetings when it comes to 'the standard is the standard,'" Scott said. "It reaffirms that, if somebody goes down, the next person comes in and is expected to play at the same level as the guy in front of him. That was definitely uplifting to hear that, hey, they expect the same type of play as they did with Max."
That didn't stop the Steelers from lamenting the loss of Starks - who was replaced on the roster by the activation of rookie tackle Chris Scott from the physically unable to perform list - and hoping that they can continue their winning ways without one of the stalwarts on their starting line.
"It's a huge blow," right guard Trai Essex said of Starks. "He's a great player, a great teammate, and to have him out for the rest of the year is devastating but, at the same time, we've got guys who need to step up.
"This is the life of the NFL. Injuries happen. You're only as good as your backups are, as coach likes to say. That's going to be a huge part of our success the rest of the year."