Steelers mix things up on offensive line
Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey in action against the Cleveland Browns Sunday.
PITTSBURGH – Maurkice Pouncey is the leading vote getter among AFC centers for the Pro Bowl.
If things continue as they are for the Steelers, when the team lines up in Baltimore Sunday to play the Ravens, there’s a good chance Pouncey could see his first NFL action at left guard.
With Willie Colon still out nursing a deep bruise in his knee, the Steelers (6-5) shifted Pouncey to Colon’s left guard position as they began preparations Wednesday to play the Ravens (9-2). It wasn’t the only major move for the Steelers, who also were missing right tackle Mike Adams, out this week with an ankle injury, and left tackle Max Starks, who was resting a sore back.
Ramon Foster, the starting right guard, moved to right tackle, while rookies Kelvin Beachum and David DeCastro were at left tackle and right guard.
Only backup center Doug Legursky was in a position at which he previously started an NFL game.
“They asked me to do it, and I said yes,” said Pouncey, who has not played a game at guard since his freshman year at the University of Florida. “If Willie’s not playing, I’ll go there.”
The Steelers had a practice in pads Wednesday as they prepared their contingency plan against the Ravens, who defeated Pittsburgh, 13-10, just two weeks ago.
“I’m glad we went in pads,” said Pouncey. “It gave me a chance to work on my technique and the physicality of it, just the different looks you see at guard and not center.”
Legursky started at left guard in last Sunday’s 20-14 loss at Cleveland when Colon was a surprise scratch after his knee began acting up Friday.
But the Steelers obviously feel Legursky is better suited to play center, where he can share blocking assignments as opposed to being asked to block a defensive tackle one-on-one all the time.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday the plan was to have Beachum, a seventh-round draft pick, start at right tackle in place of Adams, who suffered a high ankle sprain against Cleveland. With Starks also sitting out Wednesday, that plan might have fallen by the wayside.
Considering Beachum has had limited playing time this season, the Steelers want to get him as much practice as possible at the position at which he would start.
If Starks doesn’t practice today, it could mean DeCastro, the Steelers top draft pick, would get his first career start after being activated from injured reserve Monday.
“It’s not definite right now,” said Foster of his move to right tackle. “If we get Max back, I’ll probably be back at right guard, and Kelvin will be back at right tackle. We’ll have to see what happens.”
Using a number of different starting line combinations is nothing new to the Steelers.
Though they have stayed relatively healthy on the line this season, using only three starting combinations, in 2010 and 2011, the Steelers started nine different combinations each because of injuries or ineffectiveness.
But the one player they had been reluctant to move was Pouncey, who earned Pro Bowl trips in each of his first two NFL seasons.
“I’m a little excited by that,” said Foster. “He’s a fiery guy. He’s fast on his pulls. And he’s definitely up for the challenge.”
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was limited Wednesday, doing some light throwing in practice as he continues to attempt a comeback from shoulder and rib injuries that kept him out of the past two games. ... In addition to Adams, Colon and Starks, quarterback Byron Leftwich (ribs) and linebacker LaMarr Woodley (ankle) did not practice. Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (ribs) also was limited, but receiver Antonio Brown (ankle) and safety Troy Polamalu (calf) were full participants. ... The Steelers waived corner Josh Victorian from their practice squad and signed offensive linemen Joe Long and Justin Cheadle and wide receiver Bert Reed.