Playing on a squishy, rain-soaked field Monday night forced Max Starks to make at least one adjustment to keep his cleats from sinking into the mud.
"You always had to keep your feet moving, so I actually think it was a great cardio workout," Starks said with a laugh.
The mammoth offensive tackle got more of a workout than usual in the Steelers' 3-0 win over the Dolphins at Heinz Field. Starks started at left tackle in place of the injured Marvel Smith and performed capably while protecting the blind side of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. With it looking increasingly likely that Smith's bad back will prevent him from playing Sunday night against the visiting Bengals, Starks could make his second career start at left tackle.
Smith's uncertain status -- he didn't practice again Thursday -- and a season-ending knee injury sustained by fullback Dan Kreider prompted the Steelers to sign tight end Jon Dekker from their practice squad.
Starks had been used as a third tight end, but the Steelers may need him to play exclusively at tackle on offense against the Bengals.
"Right now, he's just strictly left tackle until we know what's up with Marvel," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said.
The 6-foot-8, 337-pound Starks had been the Steelers' starting right tackle the previous two seasons, but Willie Colon beat him out for the job during training camp.
Rather than sulk, Starks embraced a multipurpose, if unorthodox, role of playing both tackle positions on the offensive line as well as tight end in short-yardage situations.
"I look at it as a gift that I actually get to learn more and expand my role on this team," Starks said.
His attitude has been as valuable to the Steelers off the field as his versatility has been on it.
Even after losing his starting job to Colon, Starks never stopped helping the second-year pro or offering encouragement to him.
"I can't ever say he did anything shady or did anything to kind of misguide me and try to make me look bad," Colon said. "He's been pretty awesome and he gets a lot of respect on my part."
Starks has been such a team-first player that if the coaches had considered making a switch at right tackle given the recent struggles of the offensive line, he may well have argued against it.
"You can't sit there with the expectation level of 'Oh, man, he had a bad game, I should be in there right now' because that's not helping the chemistry of the group, and that's not going to help our team," Starks said. "I, personally, being an offensive lineman and being in that position that Willie's been in, would not want somebody to just come in and say 'Hey, we're going to mess up the chemistry of the offensive line, we're going to take you out and put somebody brand new in.' "
As for moving to left tackle, Starks said it hasn't been that much of an adjustment.
He played the position at the University of Florida, and he got plenty of practice on the left side during training camp in the event that something happened to Smith. "I'm left-handed," Starks said, "so it didn't bother me at all."