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Key offensive line injuries put Steelers in a bind

According to Max Starks’ tweet this morning, his rehab is progressing from the torn ACL he suffered in that fateful wildcard loss to Denver.

@maxstarks78: Good morning tweeps! Another day of rehab w/ @Legursky. The knee is coming along nicely! #olinerehab

The return of a healthy Max Starks and Doug Legursky is something everyone is watching around the Steeler Nation.  Starks was the savior of the offensive line last year. If he doesn’t return there’s no guarantee that Ben Roethlisberger even survives the remainder of the season, let alone plays well enough to get to the pro bowl.  Starks only signed a 1 yr. deal to return to Pittsburgh,  so he will be an unrestricted free agent.  Kevin Colbert and the Steelers coaches are in quite a quandary with several players with similar injuries.  Guys like Starks, Casey Hampton, and Rashard Mendenhall all have had ACL surgeries this past month.  When it comes to Starks, if you offer him a 3 yr. deal for example and he can’t regain his form then you are stuck with that salary and nothing to show for it. If you don’t and let him walk, there are significant holes to fill before you even think of trying to field a team in 2012.  Hampton is in a similar circumstance right now, although not a free agent his injury affects the defensive line significantly.

Legursky is the ultimate “jack of all trades” utility lineman in the NFL. He can plan literally every position on the line and do it a good enough job to stay competitive until the starter returns.  Legs was offered the starting job at RG to start 2012 but struggled and was replaced by Ramon Foster who finished out the year there.  The problem with a player like Legursky as a starter is that when you stick him in there and something happens to another lineman, you are affecting more than one position.  For example, Legursky is in at LG for Chris Kemoeatu; then Maurkice Pouncey goes down and Legursky moves to Center and Essex comes in at LG.  It’s that type of constant movement that just kills an offensive line; not because the players don’t try but because you can’t build any continuity by swapping out players constantly.  If you want to give Legs a chance to start at LG for example then you better bring in ample depth to compensate so you aren’t moving him around so often. There are times when you just can’t help but swap players, no question about it, but the less Sean Kugler has to do it the better off the line will be in the long run.

Maurkice Pouncey also had surgery for the ankle problems that have plagued him since the AFC Championship Game before Super Bowl XLV.  It started again in preseason when his ankle was rolled up on near the goal line against the Falcons at Heinz Field. He was not the same the entire year despite being in and out of the lineup.  All indications are that he will be fine by the time training camp starts, and the Steelers can ill afford to have another season of Pouncey not being at full strength.  Legursky is his primary backup, which as we talked about previously affects not only Center but also other positions on the line when players go down.  Maurkice is a pro bowl center and needs to be on the field to anchor the line if the Steelers want to try and protect Ben Roethlisberger this year.  His contract isn’t an issue at this point; he is signed through the 2014 season.

There are things the Steelers can do; such as moving Marcus Gilbert to Lt and inserting Willie Colon back on the right side if Starks can’t return. Both scenarios are in play as well as any other players added via the draft or free agency. Regardless injuries have plagued this group for so long now that sooner or later the odds are in their favor to be able to finish a season together. Finding a way to do that with not only staying healthy but getting the right personnel on the field in week 1 is essential, if not crucial, to the success of the offense.

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