Steelers' offensive line fights through pain
If the Steelers had to face the Patriots on Thursday, right tackle Marcus Gilbert would have been the lone survivor among the opening-day starters on the offensive line.
That, of course, doesn't mean Gilbert has escaped the first half of the season without injury. He suffered a quad injury against the Jets.
The offensive line took a beating in a 21-18 loss to the Raiders. Three guards — Ramon Foster (concussion), David DeCastro (ankle) and Guy Whimper (knee) — didn't make it to the finish Sunday.
“I'm doing good so far, but I did have a mild headache (on Monday),” said Foster, who expects to play at New England on Sunday. “I just have to see what it's going to be like on Saturday night.”
The Steelers' first-team offensive front consisted of three backups earlier this week. Another, center Fernando Velasco, signed shortly after All-Pro Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the season with a knee injury.
In what has been an alarming pattern for the Steelers, Kelvin Beachum displaced the underachieving Mike Adams. Yet Adams finds himself on the field as an extra tight end — a role once designated for Beachum — to help power an uneven ground game. The Steelers' problems could have been more pronounced if coach Mike Tomlin hadn't decided to put eight offensive linemen on the game-day roster. In previous games, only six linemen were dressed.
“It's definitely an unusual situation,” guard Cody Wallace said. “We could have easily been short-handed, which would have forced us to play a tight end at tackle.”
Said Gilbert: “It's frustrating, but you can't let it get to you. Mentally, you have to push each other to overcome this kind of adversity. We have to get these guys ready to go, because we have a lot riding on every game.
“If we have to play hurt, then it's what they pay us for. You have to push through anything. It's part of being a football player. If you can't go, someone else has to step in and go.”
Whimper, Beachum and Wallace have gotten plenty of reps this week. Whimper will start at right tackle if DeCastro can't go, and Wallace is the likely starter at left guard is Foster sits.
“It all boils down to, we're all professional,” Velasco said. “Everyone knows their assignments. We have all the faith in the world they can get the job done.”
The Steelers (2-5) have little time to hang their heads, considering their slim playoff chances probably hinge on the outcome of their matchup with the favorite Patriots (6-2) at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
“Some things are out of your control,” Gilbert said. “Obviously, when guys who you haven't worked with all week get thrown into the game, it's a challenge with communications.
“The injuries are something you have to work around, but it limits some of the formations and plays. We have to be more detailed with the plays we have, especially against a team like New England.”
The Steelers' walking wounded are getting plenty of ice and salve in an effort to stitch together a offensive line that can protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whom the Raiders sacked five times.
“I'm all right so far,” Roethlisberger joked. “As long as we slow it down soon.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the offensive line against the Patriots is paving the way for rookie running back Le'Veon Bell to improve on his dismal numbers at Oakland: 24 yards rushing on 13 carries.
“It's unfortunate, all the injuries, but it created an interesting scenario,” Adams said. “We did all we could. They guys are pretty flexible. We've got to do a better job of getting it done.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.
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