During a conference call with Houston Texans reporters, Ben Roethlisberger was asked how he can have confidence in the offensive linemen the Steelers keep pulling off the street and plugging into the starting lineup.
He wasted no time correcting the assertion.
"Well, actually, the guys we've signed off the street are guys that have been here," he said.
With left tackle Jonathan Scott (ankle) and right guard Doug Legursky (shoulder) likely to miss Sunday's game, the Steelers will turn to a pair of backups — Trai Essex and Ramon Foster — who are quite familiar with the offense.
"I am not worried at all," center Maurkice Pouncey said. "If we just signed a guy and he had to come in and start this Sunday, it would be a little different."
That's not the case. Essex is a seven-year veteran who has played 62 career games. Foster started 10 games at right guard last year, including the Super Bowl. Having experienced backups is a luxury but also the product of recent instability.
"You feel they are vet guys, and you expect them to do well," left guard Chris Kemoeatu said. "There is no fall-off. ... They've been around."
But they're still backups, and that's not ideal for a line reeling from a poor performance at Indianapolis on Sunday, when it gave up three sacks and five more pressures and helped the team rush for just 68 yards. For the season, the Steelers are 22nd in sacks per pass play and 26th in rushing yards per attempt.
"As long as we don't overreact, we'll be OK," said Essex, who will start his first game at left tackle in more than four years. "Unfortunately, this has happened before to the Steelers, and we survived. We feel like we have a great situation here. Look at what we've done in recent years."
Last year, the Steelers had six starting line combinations and five linemen who played three or more positions during a game — and they advanced to the Super Bowl, had a top-10 running back and gave up their fewest sacks in five years.
"This has been happening for three or four years now," Kemoeatu said. "And we still find a way to get it done."
In the offseason, the Steelers went through a major overhaul on the line. They opted not to bring back veterans Max Starks and Flozell Adams, instead choosing to re-sign Scott and Willie Colon. The latter tore his triceps in the first game and was lost for the season, and the former is likely out for a while. Only Kemoeatu and Pouncey remain from the line that started Week 1 at Baltimore.
Offensive line coach Sean Kugler is used to these kinds of problems. In 2009 with the Buffalo Bills, Kugler lost three starters and five linemen total to injured reserve. He was forced to field six tackle tandems and nine line combinations. He twice signed players and had them in the starting lineup four days later — and once dressed an injured player as the sixth lineman in case of emergency.
The Steelers' case isn't nearly that extreme, which leaves them confident as they head to Houston.
"We have a lot of guys with experience in our room," Foster said. "We can pick up right where we left off when guys go down."