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02-01-2011, 06:22 AM
Steelers: Battered line bands together
By: Mike Bires
Beaver County Times

DALLAS — As Maurkice Pouncey arrived in North Texas with the rest of his teammates, he symbolized the state of the Steelers’ offensive line.

There was the rookie center, hobbling down the stairs from the team charter that just landed at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

He slowly and carefully descended toward the tarmac, step by step with the aid of crutches, his injured left foot encased in a cast.

Pouncey represents the latest adversity to strike the line.

It’s going to take a miracle for him to play Sunday in Super Bowl XLV. But as Pouncey gripped on to his crutches, he also embodied the unity that exists between those mammoths on the Steelers’ front line.

Like his other line mates, Pouncey wore a green No. 76 Michigan State jersey to pay tribute to tackle Flozell Adams, a veteran who’s 14 years older than Pouncey.

Pouncey, 21, may miss a Super Bowl in first season. But in his 13th year, Adams will play in his first.

And his teammates are so excited that he’s doing it with them.

“The greatest service you can do for a teammate is to honor him properly,” said Max Starks, the Steelers’ injured left tackle. “And bringing him back to Dallas for the Super Bowl, his first and only Super Bowl, it’s pretty special.”

“I had no idea this was going to happen,” said Adams, who spent the past 12 years playing for the Cowboys. “When I got through security at the airport (in Pittsburgh), I saw a bunch of them wearing my throwback jerseys and I’m like ‘Whoa!’

“They were probably planning this for a couple of weeks. Like I said, I had no idea. But I’m grateful. It was special of them to bring out the throwbacks.”

It’s been special for all the Steelers to make it to the Super Bowl this season. But it’s been really special for the offensive line.

The Steelers overcame much adversity, including the four-game suspension of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the trade of wide receiver Santionio Holmes, the fines levied against linebacker James Harrison and the release of kicker Jeff Reed.

But the position that’s been hit the hardest has been the offensive line. Right tackle Willie Colon tore his Achilles’ tendon in July and was lost for the season. Right guard Trai Essex sprained his ankle in the second game of the season and missed four games. Left guard Chris Kemoeatu missed a game with an ankle sprain. Starks was placed on injured reserve in early November with a disc problem in his neck.

And now Pouncey, who had an amazing rookie season, is hurt.

If Pouncey can’t play against the Packers, and it’s hard to believe he will, Adams will be the only starter on the line to start every game this year. And he wasn’t signed until July 30th as the Steelers reported to training camp.

“I know it sounds like a broken record, but we have shown a lot of resiliency on the offensive line,” sad Jonathan Scott, who’s started the last 10 games at left tackle in place of Starks. “Guys have gone down numerous times during the season. I had to step in at guard a few times and I’ve never played guard before.

“I guess adversity is part if our culture on the O-line. But we’ve fought through it. There’s definitely a mentality we have. It’s something that’s embedded in us. We’re always going to find a way to get the job done.”

That’s why the Steelers remain confident they can beat the Packers with Doug Legursky at center, and not Pouncey.

To be sure, there’s a drop-off in talent. Legursky made the Steelers’ practice squad two years ago as an undrafted free agent out of Marshall. Pouncey is a stud who helped Florida win a national championship two years ago. He was the Steelers’ first-round pick in this year’s draft. He’s only 21, yet he already made the Pro Bowl.

The Steelers wish Pouncey can play, but barring a miraculous cure for his wounded ankle, it will be Legursky.

“It’s been a wild ride for the O-line,” Starks said. “It’s been one of the wildest and most exciting rides (for the O-line) since I’ve been here.

“Look at the way the offensive line has evolved over the years. We’ve had some significant change on the offensive line in each of our last three trips to the Super Bowl. But this year, it’s been crazy.”

It has been a wild and crazy year for the Steelers’ patch-work offensive line. But the bottom line is that those brutes up front have been good enough to make it to Dallas.

“When someone goes down, the next guy steps in,” Legursky said. “That’s the way it is around here. The standard is the standard. Hopefully, I showed in that last game when Maurkice went down. Hopefully, I’ll be able to put my hand in the pile and make some plays for the team in the Super Bowl.”