With Pouncey, Foote out, young players must step up
One of the Steelers' worst fears came true, and it had nothing to do with losing a home game to an opponent they expected to beat.
The Steelers endured two key injuries Sunday that will require unknowns to step into starting roles.
They lost center Maurkice Pouncey — perhaps for the year — with a knee injury in a 16-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Veteran inside linebacker Larry Foote suffered a ruptured biceps.
“Injuries are a part of this league,” Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said. “Guys have to step in to play. It happens every year that we have injuries to guys who are crucial components to our team. Someone is going to have an opportunity, and somebody has to step up.”
Replacements will require both physical and mental know-how: The center and inside linebacker make the calls for the offense and defense, respectively.
“The next guy has to be ready to step in and be ready to play,” Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley said.
Kelvin Beachum replaced Pouncey against the Titans. It was the first time the second-year lineman played an NFL snap at center.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wouldn't say if Beachum would remain at center, but he may be his best option. The Steelers signed Cody Wallace last week, but he has played only 18 career NFL snaps.
“It is going to be tough,” Steelers running back Isaac Redman said. “Pouncey is the heart of our offensive line. We are going to have to have guys step up and we all are going to have to play better.”
Foote also will be difficult to replace.
“Losing him is big just because, who is behind him?” Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. “I just learned (some of the players') names this week. We have to step up around (Foote) — the guys who have been here with the Keisels, (the Woodleys, the Timmons') — these are the guys who are going to have to pick up the slack whether calling the plays or making the plays.”
Kion Wilson and Vince Williams are the only inside linebackers currently on the roster; neither has played in a regular-season game. Wilson is a fourth-year veteran out of South Florida signed as a free agent in January. Williams was the Steelers' sixth-round pick this year out of Florida State.
“This is the NFL,” nose tackle Steve McLendon said. “You are going to lose somebody every week. It is an opportunity for the next man in line. I had my opportunity that same way, and a lot of guys did, too.”
Guard Ramon Foster was one of them, and he also took advantage.
“The guys behind them should be salivating right now,” Foster said. “This is their opportunity. Hopefully guys take advantage of being able to fill in and make plays.”
Wilson views it as an opportunity.
“Whatever the coaches want from me, I will gladly accept it and help the team out as best as I can,” he said.
The Steelers also lost cornerback Cortez Allen (ankle) and LaRod Stephens-Howling (knee). The extent of their injuries is unknown, but they might not be available for next Monday's game against Cincinnati.
“Losing guys isn't an excuse for losing football games,” Clark said.