Defense could be without three starters
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In the Steelers' case, there is rest for the weary.
Steelers linebacker Keyaron Fox replaced injured linebacker Lawrence Timmons in Sunday's win against the Vikings.
Along with linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Keyaron Fox, the rest of the defense that spent 62 percent of the game Sunday on the playing field gets a chance to catch its breath during this open week.
Yet circumstances threaten to snatch three more starters from their lineup before their next game Nov. 9 in Denver. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons and defensive end Travis Kirschke each left the game against Minnesota with injuries in the fourth quarter, and free safety Ryan Clark still is not certain if he will play in Denver.
Timmons left with a sprained right ankle. A high left ankle sprain kept him out of the season opener. Kirschke left with what looked to be a bad left calf injury. Their status for a game 12 days away remains unclear.
"Thankfully we've got a little time to get those things addressed here not having to play a game next week," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
Clark has had more time to think about whether he wants to play in Denver, where he lost his spleen and gall bladder after his sickle cell trait caused his blood to attack his organs while playing in the high altitude there Oct. 21, 2007. He said again last week that he will decide this week after consulting with his doctors, and he repeated that assertion after the game Sunday.
I don't know yet," Clark told the Denver Post. "I've been checking, we've been doing our due diligence on it. Through the offseason and up until now. I don't think it's a decision you can make in a week or two. It is something you have to feel confident you can do.
"Any kind of test where they can look at your insides, they've run it on me. I think next if they can stick their head down my throat and look they'll do it. And things look good, but it's still a tough decision.
"I can promise you I will be on the plane, either way, and we'll just figure it out from there."
Fox has been more than a suitable replacement for Timmons at inside linebacker, particularly Sunday when he was in position to intercept Brett Favre's pass that sailed through halfback Chester Taylor's hands and return it 82 yards for the clinching touchdown with one minute left in the Steelers' 27-17 victory against Minnesota.
"We're aware that he's a quality football player," defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "We lost Lawrence so we were kind of using two guys in the nickel there, [safety Ryan] Mundy and Fox and I'm glad we had Fox in the game on that play.
"I think he's a confident player. You can't play as well as he does on special teams and not have the confidence that you're a very quality football player. I think this will just substantiate it. It might lift his status in the locker room a little bit on a big play like that. I think people have great confidence in him."
Kirschke, who replaced injured Aaron Smith, was replaced by Nick Eason the rest of the way Sunday. Eason and rookie Ziggy Hood would have to step up if Kirschke cannot play, with rookie Sunny Harris in the wings. Tyrone Carter or Mundy would start at free safety if Clark does not play in Denver.
"We have guys in here who have been tested," right defensive end Brett Keisel said. "Nick Eason has been on this team for a long time. We all have trust in him to come in and play and he did well [Sunday].
"Fox is the same way. Fox is maybe the best special teams player in the league. Obviously Lawrence is a great player but to have guys like that, that are ready to come in to play when called upon, is great. That's why great teams make it to the playoffs, because guys step up and play.
"We're not out there playing touch. Guys get nicked up and people have to step up."