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Offensive line injury bug continues to linger for Steelers

| Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, 10:24 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers center Fernando Velasco is out for the season with an Achilles injury. The team has used 12 different in-game line combinations this season.

The numbers are surreal and it's something that veteran offensive lineman Guy Whimper has never witnessed, and he's been in the NFL for seven years.

“I will tell you, I have never been a part of something like this before,” Whimper said.

Few can say they've seen as many injuries along the offensive front as the Steelers this year.

All five of the opening day offensive line has missed snaps — four have missed games. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey has missed all but eight snaps.

And now it is getting worse at the worst possible time.

When the Steelers host Miami Sunday with center Fernando Velasco out with a season-ending Achilles injury and left tackle Kelvin Beachum nursing a sore knee, it will mark the sixth different starting offensive line combination in 13 games. David DeCastro (ankle) and Mike Adams (ankle) are also banged up with Ramon Foster coming off a high ankle sprain a few weeks back.

It is just something that we have to overcome,” Whimper said. “It is adversity and it happens during the season. Now, maybe not to this magnitude, but we just have to face it.”

The Steelers have used 12 different in-game line combinations as well. It's gotten so bad that the tackle they just signed (Rashad Butler) left the team before putting on a helmet. The team has been forced to put a practice squad player in the starting lineup and a defensive lineman in with the scout team just to get through practice.

“I've been a part of a team when one guy would go down and then another, but nothing like this,” tackle Marcus Gilbert said. “We are now going into the backups. Yeah, it is football and people get hurt, but I've never seen anything like this before.”

Injuries to the line couldn't be more ill-timed as the maligned unit has played well over the last two games. The Steelers didn't allow a sack for the second consecutive game, marking the first time in 170 games that they didn't give up a sack in back-to-back games dating back to 2003.

“Yeah, it's a bad time,” Gilbert said. “We've been playing well together.”

Velasco is the latest casualty that will force the Steelers to start six-year veteran Cody Wallace against the Dolphins. It will be Wallace's first career start despite being 29-years-old.

“I've been preparing to play every week,” Wallace said. “It's nothing new to me. I am always ready to step in there if needed. Everybody has had to step in at one point or another.”

Wallace already filled in right guard earlier in the season and played the final two snaps last week against Baltimore — his first ever snaps in a game at center.

Still, Wallace doesn't expect the Steelers to change much with him in the lineup and that includes the no-huddle.

“Hopefully they won't scale back anything on my account,” Wallace said. “I've studied all year and I know everything and I have always been ready to step in if I have to. Hopefully, they have the confidence in me to call whatever they want to call.”

With the playoffs still a possibility, albeit slim, the Steelers don't have a choice but to march forward with their patchwork line.

“We have to answer the call because we know how the offensive line goes is how the team goes,” Gilbert said.

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib

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