The reality of a season-ending neck injury sustained by Chris Hoke may have hit one of his proteges harder than it did the veteran nose tackle.
"I was sitting in the meeting room and I looked back probably 10 times because I always have him in my ear, telling me how to play, what to do. It was kind of weird that he wasn't there today," Steelers defensive tackle Steve McLendon said. "He keeps telling me to keep my head up. I feel worse about it than he does."
Hoke sustained a stinger in the Steelers' Oct. 16 game against Jacksonville, and the 10th-year veteran saw a doctor yesterday as he is still experiencing the effects from the injury.
Hoke played in six games this season — he started two of them in place of the injured Casey Hampton — and recorded three tackles and a quarterback pressure.
Hoke, who turned 35 in April, is the second defensive linemen that the Steelers have lost for the season. Defensive end Aaron Smith went down with a neck injury in the Steelers' fourth game.
Both players are in the final year of their contracts, meaning their respective careers with the Steelers may be finished.
Like Smith, Hoke had been one of the elders on the Steelers' defensive line and in the locker room.
Hoke made the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2001, and he served as a valuable reserve to Hampton. The Steelers were 17-1 in regular-season games that Hoke started, and the gregarious tackle is one of the most popular — and respected — players on the team.
"You've got to follow a guy like that," Steelers defensive end Ziggy Hood said. "Seeing a guy like that makes you want to work harder because you can see what hard work gets you."