Steelers sign former Titans center Velasco, kicker Graham
By Alan Robinson
Published: Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, 4:39 p.m.
The Steelers, nearing a crisis point only one bad loss into a season that already looks unpromising, sent out a distress signal.
With their unfocused offense in disarray, their defense missing its on-field leader and a critical game in Cincinnati next, they spent a busy Monday adding center Fernando Velasco and kicker Shayne Graham, and bringing back running back Jonathan Dwyer.
Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey (torn ACL and MCL in right knee), linebacker Larry Foote (ruptured biceps) and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (torn ACL in right knee) all went on the injured reserve list, officially ending their seasons.
There are 15 games remaining. How many are meaningful might depend greatly on how well they play Monday night in their favorite road stadium.
“It's frustrating, it is, any time you lose key contributors,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. “But it happens every year with every team. One man's misery is another man's opportunity.”
Misery loved company during a dismally played 16-9 loss Sunday to the Titans as the running game gained only 32 yards and the defense again failed to make game-altering plays, which worries safety Ryan Clark.
Counting the season-ending stretch of five losses in seven games last season and their 0-4 preseason, the Steelers have lost 10 of the past 12 times they've stepped on a playing field.
All of a sudden, the substandard is becoming the standard.
“If we continue to play like this, we'll continue to see the same results,” Clark said.
The Steelers haven't missed the playoffs in successive seasons since 1999-2000, but their chances of returning will diminish greatly if they don't beat the Bengals (0-1), who've lost 11 of their past 12 at home to Pittsburgh.
Since 1990, only 22 of 190 teams (11.5 percent) that opened 0-2 made the playoffs.
“We've got to bounce back,” Keisel said. “We've got a big divisional game next week, and hopefully we can.”
The Steelers didn't have much choice but get a veteran center once Pouncey went down. Their only options were backup lineman Kelvin Beachum, who hadn't played the position at any level until Sunday, or recently signed Cody Wallace.
Velasco, 28, started all 16 Titans games last season — 13 at center and three at left guard — but was let go after Tennessee signed veteran center Rob Turner. According to Pro Football Focus, Velasco graded out as the NFL's 11th-best center last season — one spot ahead of Pouncey.
Graham, 35, will temporarily replace Shaun Suisham, who injured a hamstring during the pregame warm-ups. Graham's 84.7 percent career success rate (227 of 268) is higher than Suisham's 80.9 percent (123 of 152).
Graham was cut last month by the Browns, who chose instead to go with oft-erratic Billy Cundiff.
Foote is expected to be replaced by Kion Wilson, who is with his third team since 2010 but wasn't in the NFL last season.
“Losing him is going to be hard,” Clark said of Foote. “I mean, who's behind him? I just learned (Wilson's) name like this week.”
Maybe these are the no-name Steelers.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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