PITTSBURGH – Ever since Jerome Bettis’s old offensive line began breaking up – about the time Mike Tomlin took over as coach of the Steelers – every losing streak had the offensive line’s fingerprints all over it.
The Steelers have lost two games in a row, but it’s due primarily to injuries at quarterback and wide receiver, and a bad case of fumblitis at running back.
The offensive line has been an improving work of art, yet the offensive line was in a state of utter disarray Wednesday at practice and will remain so unless left tackle Max Starks and left guard Willie Colon can return to action.
In their places, from left to right Wednesday, were Kelvin Beachum, Maurkice Pouncey, Doug Legursky, David DeCastro and Ramon Foster.
The quick details:
* Beachum is a rookie seventh-rounder with two games as an emergency replacement under his belt.
* Pouncey is an All-Pro center playing guard for the first time since training camp of his rookie season.
* Legursky played left guard in place of Colon last week and showed that he’s better suited for his primary position of center.
* DeCastro is the rookie first-rounder just activated Monday from injured reserve. He hasn’t played since the third preseason game.
* Foster played right tackle at the University of Tennessee but has made all 37 of his professional starts at guard. He last played right tackle for a series in the Steelers’ 2010 playoff game against the Ravens.
Foster and the rest of this patchwork line prepared for the Ravens at these strange positions, but the line will settle back down Thursday with the anticipated return of left tackle Starks.
Starks said his absence Wednesday was “just a day off today. I’m an old guy. I wanted to rest my old bones.”
“If we get Max back tomorrow,” said Foster, “I’ll be back at right guard and Kelvin will be back at right tackle.”
So that’s half of the fix. But it will be Foster at right guard and Beachum at right tackle without DeCastro.
“Beachum will start the game,” said Pouncey. “Beachum will definitely start.”
Beachum was a four-year starter at left tackle at SMU and was the Steelers’ fourth and final draft pick of the seventh round. He played as a reserve in the Oakland game and last week replaced Mike Adams at right tackle in the third quarter after Cleveland defensive tackle Phil Taylor drove Legursky back into quarterback Charlie Batch for a sack and on to the back of Adams’s ankle.
Beachum stepped in and was immediately hit with a questionable holding call that wiped out a 33-yard completion to Heath Miller.
Beachum played the rest of the game without allowing a sack.
His opinion of his play?
“We didn’t win, so that says it all,” said Beachum, who’ll be up against Baltimore’s sacks leader, Paul Kruger, a scary proposition for those who watched the rookie struggle last preseason.
“I think I’ve improved dramatically since the preseason,” Beachum said.
As for Pouncey at left guard, Starks and Foster both said they are “excited” to see it happen.
“He has great pulls. He’s very athletic,” said Starks. “Maurkice is a very athletic dude, very convertible, knows the entire offense.”
“He’s a fiery type of guy. He’s fast on his pulls,” said Foster. “And he’s definitely up for that challenge. I talked to him earlier and he’s looking forward to it.”
“Whatever for the team,” said Pouncey. “They asked me to do it and I said yes.”
But will he be able?
“Coach put us in pads today,” Pouncey said. “It gave me an opportunity to go out there and get the technique down at guard, going out there seeing the physicality of it and just the different looks that you see at guard not center.
Is he, at 285 pounds, big enough?
“All I’ll say is you’ll be surprised,” said Foster, as Pouncey was taken back a bit by the question.
“I’m still a man,” Pouncey said. “I’m not going to go out there and let nobody mess me up because I’m at a different position. I’m going to go out there and fight.”
Mark that down as the Steelers’ slogan come Sunday.