The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Pittsburgh Steelers exploring options for injury ravaged offensive line
PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Marcus Gilbert and Doug Legursky's left shoulders appear to be fine. Maybe. Jonathan Scott's left ankle remains tender but not terrible. Probably.
Still, if you're an out-of-work offensive lineman, there could be a call from the Pittsburgh Steelers in your near future.
Coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday the Steelers are "open to looking to maybe bring someone in" this week to provide the team with some much-needed depth after three starters had to be helped off the field during Sunday night's 23-20 victory over Indianapolis.
Tomlin stressed the team is looking for depth, not someone to show up Wednesday and be ready to play in Sunday's game at Houston.
"It would just be for practice purposes only," Tomlin said.
At least, as of now. Given the perpetual state of flux the line has been for the last two seasons, Tomlin knows it's too early to rule anything out.
If Scott can't go, veteran Trai Essex — signed off the street earlier this month — will be in charge of protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's blind side at left tackle against the Texas (2-1).
His job? Try and hold off a Houston pass rush led by Mario Williams. Not exactly the player the Steelers want to see after allowing Indianapolis defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis wreak havoc in the backfield in front of a national audience, sacking Roethlisberger three times and forcing him to put it on the ground twice.
Tomlin gave credit to Freeney and Mathis rather than point fingers at his players, though he acknowledges the line needs to get better if the Steelers want to take some of the pressure off Roethlisberger.
The running game is 20th in the league in yards per game (85.7) and 26th in yards per attempt (3.3). Not exactly the formula the franchise typically uses to win games.
Tomlin would like the offence to be more balanced but refuses to place blame on the line or running back Rashard Mendenhall.
"We're still very much a team in development in that area," he said. "I'm trying not to frame it."
Plugging holes along the line is almost an annual challenge for the Steelers. They did it with aplomb last year, using seven different starting combinations en route to a Super Bowl appearance.
If Scott can't play, the line will have its fourth different lineup in as many games.
There haven't been nearly as many injuries on defence, and there's proof the Steelers are starting to round into shape after getting whipped in Baltimore in the season opener.
Pittsburgh shut out lifeless Seattle and held the Colts to 241 yards even though Indianapolis managed a late touchdown drive to tie the game at 20 behind lightly experienced backup quarterback Curtis Painter.
The defence could get a boost Sunday if defensive end Brett Keisel's sprained knee continues to improve. Keisel sat out last week while third-year man Ziggy Hood held his own.
Although Tomlin says the run defence could be better, the Steelers have been solid against the pass, allowing a mere 164 yards per game. Linebacker James Harrison continues to round into form as he comes back from a pair of off-season back surgeries, registering a sack and forced fumble that safety Troy Polamalu returned for a touchdown.
Tomlin laughed when asked if there's evidence the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year appears to be getting healthier.
"He's a sandbagger," Tomlin said, "we expect that."
The Steelers also expect their turnover problems to end. Pittsburgh is minus-9 through three games, easily the worst turnover ratio in the league.
Despite the mistakes, they're still 2-1 on the season. The mistakes so far have been visible but not damaging.
"We were not perfect by any stretch," Tomlin said. "We're very much a team in development ... but it's encouraging to see necessary plays in all three phases of the game."
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