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Starks completes comeback with trip to Denver

| Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

The last time Max Starks stepped foot in Denver, he hobbled to the sidelines not knowing if he would step foot again on a football field.

A torn ACL during the first quarter of January's wild-card playoff loss to Denver, coupled with an expiring contract, left Starks' future in doubt.

Fast forward eight months to Sunday night's season opener at Denver's Sports Authority Field at Mile High, and it will come full circle for Starks.

“It is going to be literally picking up right where I left off,” Starks said. “It is nice to be able to finish the business that I started out there.”

Starks left during the first quarter of the 29-23 overtime loss and had surgery 10 days later.

Even the biggest optimist wouldn't have believed Starks would return for the season opener let alone start at left tackle, especially after the Steelers drafted tackle Mike Adams in the second round.

Still, Starks found himself needed again as he was signed a week before the start of training camp. After spending two weeks on the physically unable to perform list because of his still-healing knee, he quickly supplanted Adams, who had pushed aside veteran Trai Essex a week earlier.

“Max has worked hard to get where he has got,” offensive line coach Sean Kugler said.

Now it is time to see if the hard work paid off. Starks will take on Elvis Dumervil, one of the most dominant speed-rushing defensive ends in the league, in what will surely test Starks' knee.

“I wouldn't want it to go any other way,” Starks said.

Denver switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 alignment in the offseason and moved Dumervil to defensive end, but his role has changed little.

“You can now declare Elvis Dumervil a down lineman,” Starks said. “That is really the only difference.”

Dumervil, coming off a sub-par 9½-sack season, will be a challenge for Starks. In four games against the Steelers, Dumervil has 4½ sacks, with at least a half a sack in each game.

“It is a preview for the rest of the season,” Starks said. “I don't think we have any real easy games, and there are going to be tough pass rushers every week.”

In fact, Starks will see elite pass rushers possibly on successive snaps Sunday.

Von Miller, who had 11½ sacks in 15 games as a rookie last year, will switch to the weak side as the Broncos use a defensive scheme in which, in this case Miller, lines up over the tight end regardless of side.

“They pay Dumervil to get sacks and create havoc in the backfield on passing downs,” Starks said. “That's what he is really good at.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mkaboly@tribweb.com

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