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Injured Steelers reflect on lost season

| Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, 7:21 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey is carted from the field after sustaining a left-ankle injury during a game against the Packers on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Maukrice Pouncey was injured in a preseason game Aug. 23 and didn't return to the field.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham is congratulated by holder Brad Wing after booting a first-half field goal against the Vikings at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2015.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers second-round pick Senquez Golson works out during rookie minicamp Friday, May 8, 2015 at the Steelers facility on the south side.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski and Mike Vick sit on the bench after Vick was hurt against the Cardinals on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Mike Adams was a second-round draft selection out of Ohio State in 2012.

One would have been the Steelers' leading scorer, another was their most decorated All-Pro. Two others would have started several games at important positions. Yet another was a prized rookie.

But those integral roles for the 2015 Steelers didn't materialize. Far from it.

Instead, Shaun Suisham, Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Adams, Bruce Gradkowski and Senquez Golson never got to participate in a regular-season practice. All five had their seasons end before the team's season began.

“It was real weird,” said Adams, who would have been in line to start 12 games (including playoffs) at left tackle. “You're just wanting to be out there all the time, but you can't. And you want to do more, but you can't. It's one of those parts of football that's just tough.”

Adams joined Golson in saying they had not sat out a full season at any level. For Suisham and Gradkowski, it had been more than a decade (Gradkowski redshirted at Toledo in 2001; Suisham was undrafted/unsigned in 2004).

Even Pouncey started the season opener in 2013 before his right ACL was torn during the first quarter.

He has been first- or second-team Associated Press All-Pro center in every other season. But in 2015, a broken ankle suffered Aug. 23 landed Pouncey on the injured reserve/designated to return list.

Pouncey never returned.

Similar early prognoses for Adams (at the opening of training camp, coach Mike Tomlin said he would return in “four weeks”) and Golson (“Just taking precautions,” the second-round cornerback said on the day of the first camp practice) ultimately proved wrong.

At least Golson's rookie season wasn't a total loss.

“You see how it's done; what it takes to be a professional,” Golson said, “just from being around the guys.”

For Gradkowski, it was a second injury that did him in. A “precaution” landed him on the physically unable to perform list for the opening of camp — for his shoulder. A broken finger in his preseason game debut is what got him placed on IR.

“It was tough,” Gradkowski said. “Of course I want to be out there playing.”

The developments could have been even harder to take for the Seton-LaSalle alum after Ben Roethlisberger suffered four injuries this season. Gradkowski signed with the Steelers on a three-year contract in 2013 as Roethlisberger's backup.

The Pro Bowl quarterback did not miss a snap because of injury in the 2013 season, when Gradkowski was healthy.

This past season, it was two other backup quarterbacks who combined to throw 126 passes.

“Yeah, crazy,” said Gradkowski while letting out a chuckle, “but it is what it is.

“I understood that and tried to help out in any way I could.”

That meant mentoring Landry Jones, assisting Mike Vick in learning the playbook and frequently serving as a sideline consultant for Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

“I appreciated how Coach Tomlin kept me part of the group and part of the process,” Gradkowski said.

Suisham likewise made himself available to young kicker Chris Boswell.

“It's a long process,” Suisham said of the rehab from a torn left ACL suffered in the preseason. “It took a while to settle into it, but by the end I was certainly trying to help any way I could to help with Chris or (first-year punter/holder Jordan Berry), so I kind of found a role where I felt like I was contributing.

“And I was enjoying that, but certainly it doesn't compare to actually playing the game. So I'm looking forward to doing that again.”

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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