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Steelers

Steelers bring back Starks on one-year deal

| Tuesday, July 17, 2012, 2:46 p.m.
The Steelers' Max Starks back in the fold during practice on the South Side Oct/ 5, 2011. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
The Steelers' Max Starks back in the fold during practice on the South Side Oct/ 5, 2011. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
The Steelers' Max Starks back in the fold during practice on the South Side Oct/ 5, 2011. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
The Steelers' Max Starks back in the fold during practice on the South Side Oct/ 5, 2011. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

Whenever the Steelers sense a bit of trouble or a lack of depth, they summon Max Starks. That won't change in 2012, even as the Steelers perform a youthful reshaping of their offensive line.

Starks, given a favorable medical report after having surgery in January to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, signed a one-year contract Tuesday that is expected to include a base salary of $825,000 — the minimum for a player of his experience.

“It's real and sealed,” Starks wrote while posting a picture of his contract on his Twitter account. “I'll be seeing you in Latrobe.

"I am excited about being back in Pittsburgh," Starks told the Tribune-Review. "It's the only place I've known and happy to call home."

By re-signing Starks, the Steelers give themselves protection in case second-round draft pick Mike Adams of Ohio State isn't ready to start immediately. Starks and Adams will compete during training camp, although Starks may begin camp next week on the physically unable to perform list. The normal recovery time for a torn ACL is nine months, and Starks said in May he expected to be ready when the season started. Starks worked out on his own at the Steelers' complex then, while he was in town for a follow-up visit with team orthopedist Dr. James Bradley.

“It's a good move for them, a bad move for the Falcons,” said NFL Network analyst Jamie Dukes, referring to Atlanta's believed interest in Starks. “This gives them a lot of options. They can go with Starks if the kid isn't ready. They'll work him (Adams) up slow, because going up against James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley in camp, that'll be a fastball.”

This is the second consecutive season the 30-year-old Starks returns after temporarily being off the Steelers' roster.

When the offensive line struggled for the first four games in 2011 with Jonathan Scott at left tackle — Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 14 times — Starks returned to start the fifth game and was the starting left tackle the rest of the season.

His playoff game injury left his status for this season in doubt, but he posted a Twitter message that said, “It's a great day, doc gave me a great report. On my way to being game ready.”

The offensive line is growing much younger with the drafting of center Maurkice Pouncey in 2010, tackle Marcus Gilbert in 2011 and guard David DeCastro and Adams this year, so Starks provides big-game experience they lack. Gilbert, projected to start at right tackle, worked some at left tackle during minicamp last month as the Steelers evaluated their various options.

Starks started during each of the team's past three Super Bowl seasons in 2005 (right tackle) and '08 and '10 (left tackle), even after losing his starting job to Willie Colon in '07. He then shifted to left tackle and became a starter again when Marvel Smith was injured in '08.

Starks signed a $26.3 million, four-year contract in 2010 only to be released in a salary cap move after that season. Because $2 million of that deal counts against the cap this season, the team's total cap hit for re-signing Starks is expected to be $2,605,000, accounting for the discount given for experienced players who sign for the minimum.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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