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Kovacevic: Seven other than No. 7 who stepped up for Steelers

| Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, 11:15 p.m.
Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis plays against the Redskins at Heinz Field Oct. 28, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Of all the reasons to believe these Steelers finally have found their stride, maybe even a sliver of swagger, as they get set for the Super Bowl champion Giants this Sunday, No. 1 has to be No. 7.

What more can be spoken or written, really, about Ben Roethlisberger's play, which has ranged from steady to sensational from the season's first snap?

But that's obvious, and let's forgo the obvious for a bit. As Mike Tomlin reminded at his press conference Tuesday, this team lately has seen “a lot of positive contributions from a lot of people.”

So let's look a little beyond No. 7 here, at seven of the more off-the-radar types who have stepped up:

Will Johnson

The broadest smile to crease Roethlisberger's face after the win Sunday came when he brought up “getting Will his first touchdown” on that 1-yard flick in the third quarter.

Johnson's only 23, and he seldom gets on the field. But it's amazing he's out there at all considering he went undrafted out of West Virginia a couple years ago, wasn't among the roughly 2,720 players invited to NFL training camps in 2011 and never hooked up with anyone for the season that followed.

Any fullbacks out there seeking work, here's your role model.

Will Allen

In another where-there's-a-will tale, Allen, a rust-covered safety at age 30, has made three straight starts for the first time since 2006 — after only two starts over five years in the interim — and has fared quite well in Troy Polamalu's stead.

Allen was tested in Tennessee, but he's risen to the point where he delivered a game-high three passes defensed Sunday.

“He's done a nice job,” Tomlin said. “He plays with a great deal of energy. He's a very deliberate, physical-contact guy.”

That's a steep climb from what Ryan Mundy had been bringing.

Shaun Suisham

Of the NFL's 31 qualified kickers last season, Suisham ranked 31st in field-goal percentage at 74.2. And from 40-plus yards, he made just 7 of 13.

Now?

How about 16 of 17 overall and 7 of 8 from 40-plus yards?

You might recall, too, that Suisham's only miss was that ill-advised 54-yard attempt in Tennessee for which Tomlin took blame. Otherwise, we'd be talking a clean worst-to-first.

Mike Adams

Offensive linemen tend to get noticed only when they fail, so the lingering image of the big rookie right tackle among some fans will be that of getting pushed back into Roethlisberger for that fumble in Cincinnati.

Forget about it.

After looking so lost early in the season that he was lining up several feet off the line of scrimmage, he's drawn rave reviews internally, especially for his run-blocking. Off the field, too, he's carrying himself with a visible confidence.

Don't be too sure Marcus Gilbert will get this job back.

Ramon Foster

Don't be too sure first-round pick David DeCastro will get the right guard job soon, either.

Foster, seldom spectacular but typically sound in technique, has brought just as much as Adams in solidifying the right side of the line.

And really, this shouldn't be some great surprise.

A few days before the opener, when I asked Foster how he'd feel about starting because of DeCastro's injury, he laughed: “Man, every year I'm not the starter, and count up my starts.”

His four NFL seasons have seen him play 14, 12, 15 and now all seven games. And counting.

Keenan Lewis

He predicted in Latrobe he'd make the Pro Bowl in his first year as a starter, which sounded silly then and worse once the secondary got off to a soft start.

But something seemed to click in Cincinnati — maybe with that sweet leaping tip to spare fellow corner Ike Taylor a touchdown — and it carried into Sunday, when he graded better than anyone on the Steelers' defense.

No, there aren't any interceptions yet, but his 12 passes defensed lead the team. By five.

Not that he's surprised.

“I'm watching a lot of film, and I'm making the plays,” Lewis said.

Emmanuel Sanders

Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown get the big yards and the big money, but Sanders is quietly blowing up the notion that he's some final-checkoff possession receiver.

His 22 catches for 282 yards amount to a 12.8-yard average that's tied with Wallace for the team lead. That includes 90 yards after the catch, mostly in high-risk territory across the middle.

Yeah, I know: It's about time, given all of Sanders' previous injury issues, right?

“Honestly,” he said Sunday. “What's happening right now is what I've wanted all along.”

Know all that praise heaped on Roethlisberger and Heath Miller — rightly so — for the Steelers' third-down successes?

Well, Sanders has been targeted 14 times on third down (second on the team to Miller's 17), and he's come through with 10 catches (second to Miller's 12), including nine for first downs (second to Miller's 10).

That's not all No. 7, or No. 83, for that matter.

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