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Steelers' Gilbert pleased with steady progress

| Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, 8:21 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert during practice Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, at St. Vincent in Latrobe.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert during practice Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, at St. Vincent in Latrobe.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert practices Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, at St. Vincent in Latrobe..

Marcus Gilbert didn't know what to expect during the first days of contact drills at St. Vincent.

The Steelers' third-year offensive tackle had to curb his enthusiasm during the offseason to protect his reconstructed right ankle. Yet, he never considered pacing himself when he fired off the line of scrimmage to deliver his first block of training camp earlier this week.

“You never want to push yourself where doctors and trainers don't want you to go,” Gilbert said.

“At some point, you feel like you're 100 percent and can do certain things. But some things you have to take your time and don't rush back because you can have another setback.”

Gilbert, a second-round pick in 2011, didn't flinch as he engaged guard John Malecki during a zone-blocking drill. It was the first time he aggressively tested his ankle since injuring it at Tennessee in October. More importantly, Gilbert didn't feel any pain while maneuvering his 6-foot-6, 330-pound frame to protect the blind side of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Gilbert, who last season started five games at right tackle, said the biggest obstacle he faced on the road to recovery was mental.

“When you're dealing with a major injury like the one I had, I had to deal with the possibility of not being the same player I once was,” said Gilbert, now at left tackle. “But I had to push all the negativity aside and stay positive.

“I had to bust my tail during the rehab. Once I began to recover, I never looked back. I've been moving forward, and I'm trying to stay on top of things I can control.”

Gilbert has discovered the demands are greater since his return.

“He's more focused on staying healthy than I've ever seen before,” guard Ramon Foster said. “You can see the difference in him from his first season. He understands what he has to do for us to be a great team.”

Gilbert will be counted on heavily — along with Foster and center Maurkice Pouncey — to bolster a power run game.

The expectations are greater, too, especially for Gilbert in the passing game. The offensive line surrendered 37 sacks last season. Roethlisberger was sacked 30 times.

With Gilbert and second-year tackle Mike Adams at 100 percent, the offensive line appears to be as solid as the one that powered the Steelers during their Super Bowl run in 2005.

And Gilbert's move to left tackle signals a sense of urgency to protect Roethlisberger.

“I think Marcus is more natural at left tackle,” said Pouncey, whose right knee was heavily taped prior to Friday night's practice. “He's more comfortable at that position. When you're protecting Big Ben, you've got a lot of work to do.”

Gilbert put in plenty of work during rehabilitation. He ran more. He lifted more. He spent more time in the film room.

“I've been doing the little things to stay on top of it, especially the injuries,” Gilbert said. “My mindset is that this is work, and someone is going to be pushing me.”

It helped, too, that Gilbert could lean on his former college teammate at Florida. Pouncey, who twice endured ankle injuries, provided encouragement during the stressful days of Gilbert's recovery.

“I had a moment when I asked myself, ‘when am I going to feel 100 percent?' '' Gilbert said. “I hate feeling like that, so it helped know how (Pouncey) got through it. Now, I'm as good as gold.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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