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Following mother's death, Steelers' Foster forges on

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Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers offensive lineman Ramon Foster blocks during practice Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, at St. Vincent in Latrobe.

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Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, 10:50 p.m.
 

Amid incalculable heartache, Ramon Foster has found solace at St. Vincent.

Training camp has become a refuge, of sorts, for the Steelers left guard, a place to escape, even temporarily, the pain of losing his mother, Wyvonia Morgan.

“It was very much a therapeutic experience being back on the football field,” said Foster, who made an emotional return to camp Wednesday, a week after his mother's death at age 49. He did not explain how she died. “You can forget about everything else for a while and focus on this.

“The guys made it easier by saying they were happy to have me back. I was able to be physical and get the job done. It felt pretty good putting on the pads.”

The past week has drained Foster emotionally and mentally. However, he didn't ease into his workouts or practices. He seemed eager to participate in contact drills before spending a couple of hours lifting weights.

“As one of the older guys, I try to be on top of my game,” Foster said. “I was a couple of days behind in pads, so I had to make it up somehow.”

Tackle Marcus Gilbert said Foster is a consummate professional. He arrived at training camp expecting nothing less than a grueling first session.

“We just have to be there for him,” Gilbert said. “We're like brothers. We try to take his mind off the negativity, but the reality is no one can replace his mom because a big part of him went with her.

“Ramon does a good job of focusing on his job. He knows we need him, so when he stepped on the field, you can see him playing his heart out as if his mom was there watching him.”

The Steelers used the draft to rebuild their offensive line, investing first-round picks on center Maurkice Pouncey and guard David DeCastro. But Foster, who began his career with the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2009, has evolved into arguably the team's most consistent, most reliable pass- and run-blocker the past three seasons.

Pouncey is the undisputed emotional leader of the offensive front, but Foster could be considered its anchor.

An inordinate number of injuries have kept the offensive line from working together. Foster, though, has been the one constant the past three seasons. He predicted experience and continuity will make the unit among the best in the AFC.

“I think with the transition, it took awhile with older guys going out and young guys coming in to understand nothing is going to be handed to us,” Foster said. “Hopefully, guys will grasp that and not look back.”

All eyes will be on an offensive front eager to get a chance to escort Le'Veon Bell to at least 1,000 yards rushing — a mark not reached by a Steelers running back in a season since 2010.

Foster said he expects the ground game to be more efficient. The Steelers tied for 27th in rushing with 86.4 yards per game last season.

For the Steelers to win the AFC North, Foster said he believes the ground game must lead the way. Rival Baltimore parlayed a solid running game into a Super Bowl championship two seasons ago.

“Our division is tough, so if you can run the ball, you will have some success,” Foster said. “We have to start fast because other teams have rebuilt their defenses.

“Everyone made a lot of fuss about the outside zone (blocking) last season. We did that, but we've been good inside the tackles as well.

“If you control the line of scrimmage, you control the clock — and your destiny.”

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

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