Monday, June 09, 2008
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Steelers' Max Starks (78) blocks a field goal against the Dolphins last season.
Normally when a team bestows the kind of money the Steelers did on Max Starks, it comes with much fanfare, usually a news conference.
The Steelers made Starks their second-highest paid player without even a photo op, then told him to go win a job.
Starks has been doing that all spring, trying to win back his old job of starting right tackle. He lost it to Willie Colon last summer, which set off an unusual set of circumstances that culminated when Starks signed a one-year contract for nearly $7 million in April.
Six weeks later, he's taking snaps at right and left tackle but remains the No. 3 tackle on the team behind starters Colon and Marvel Smith. The real competition, if there is one, will occur in training camp at Saint Vincent College.
"He's establishing his role," coach Mike Tomlin said. "It's the same thing I've said, and I mean what I say -- he's a starter-capable offensive lineman. We're able to keep him in the fold. He's working like others are working and they'll establish their roles in Latrobe."
It's normally not difficult to determine who the favored players are in competitions -- look at their contracts. The Steelers did not give Sean Mahan a $4 million signing bonus as part of his five-year, $17 million contract last season to back up Chukky Okobi at center.
Starks' case is different. It would come as little surprise, even to him, if he filled the same role he did last season, when he earned $1.85 million on a one-year contract.
"It doesn't surprise me," Starks said. "It's not like, 'OK, we give you this money, guess what? We're giving you a golden ticket to Willie Wonka's factory, you know, a starting job.' It's going to be something that has to be earned."