By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Just a few short weeks ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line looked like a M.A.S.H. unit with so many injured players that the club had to bring veteran Max Starks out of exile to steady the ship.
As the Steelers (6-3) prepare to face the Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) Sunday at 1 p.m. at Heinz Field, the offensive line is the team’s healthiest and deepest unit.
“It’s great to see Doug (Legursky) out there this week, and we’ll make a decision in the next day or so about who’s ready to go,” Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said.
“That’s a big change from the first 6-7 weeks, but it’s nice to have them all here.
“The starting lineup should be the same, but we’ll take a look at the backups. And I don’t have to worry so much about (center Maurkice) Pouncey getting hurt quite as bad. Knock on wood. (But) Ramon will start at right guard, and we’ll take it from there.”
Legursky (toe) was a full participant in practice Thursday for the second straight day to solidify the offensive line’s depth, but the same can’t be said about the linebacking corps. Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) said he’s still day-to-day, but did not practice either Wednesday or Thursday and certainly doesn’t appear anywhere near ready to play.
James Harrison, the Steelers other outside linebacker, returned to practice last week just four weeks after surgery to repair a fractured eye socket. Harrison turned up on the Steelers’ injury report Thursday as a limited participant in practice due to a toe injury.
Inside linebacker James Farrior (calf) has practiced two straight days now, and he’s likely to play after missing the past two games. Woodley should miss a second straight game. Jason Worilds started last week.
“It’s still a day-to-day situation for me, but I feel like I’m on pace to play,” Farrior said. “We’ll know more as we get closer to game time. I really pushed it last week, and they felt like it was better for me to get more rest last week.
“That way, I wasn’t taking a chance on getting injured even more. But I feel a lot better this week, so we’ll see. But it’s going to be up to the coaches and doctors if I’m going to play.”
On A Record Pace
With just four forced turnovers — two interceptions and two fumble recoveries — the Steelers are on track to finish with 7-8 turnovers in 16 games. The 5-11 Washington Redskins had 12 forced turnovers in 2006, while the 8-8 Denver Broncos tallied 13 in 2008.
“It’s been very frustrating for us, but we’re just going to keep swinging away,” Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “I think it’s going to turn around, and I keep saying that every week. We’ve had a couple turnovers the past couple weeks, but we need to get more.”
The NFL record for forced turnovers is 11 by the Baltimore Colts in 1982. The San Francisco 49ers had 13 that year, a strike-shortened, nine-game season.
Harrison actually was listed as a limited participant in Thursday’s practice due to a toe injury. He still expected to play this week thanks to keeping up his conditioning while he was sitting out four games after eye-socket surgery.
“I tried to do the same things the previous weeks that I would have been doing if I was going to play,” Harrison said. “So, instead of actually having a game on Sundays, I came in here on Mondays a week after the surgery and worked out with our strength and conditioning coach Garrett Giemont.
“(We) did a series of plays, 60-70 plays, to work on different situations and try to keep up the conditioning that I had. So, that worked out pretty well for me, and I guess I played pretty well. The eye swelled up a little, but that’s normal, they said. So, I didn’t have any pain, and the visor worked out fine.”
When asked if his collision with Ravens guard Marshal Yanda was the play that signaled he was OK to play, Harrison had a quick response.
“I knew I was OK before the game,” Harrison said. “Me and (Lawrence) Timmons got after it during pre-game, so I was fine during pre-game. But I was ready to go, and I’m better this week.”
Along with Woodley (hamstring), safety Troy Polamalu (ribs), WR Arnaz Battle (hamstring) and WR Emmanuel Sanders (knee) did not practice Thursday. Polamalu would not comment on the injury and deferred to Tomlin. Joining Farrior (calf) as a full participant Thursday were WR Jerricho Cotchery (knee), OG Legursky (toe), LB Stevenson Sylvester (knee) and WR Hines Ward (concussion). Ward said he definitely will play this week, while NT Chris Hoke (neck) has practiced both days and expected to play after missing three weeks.
For the Bengals, DE Carlos Dunlap (hamstring), TE Jermaine Gresham (hamstring), CB Adam “Pacman” Jones (hamstring) and TE Donald Lee (foot) did not practice Thursday, while WR Andre Caldwell (groin), LB Thomas Howard (hamstring), RB Brian Leonard (knee), LB Rey Maualuga (ankle) and OT Andre Smith (toe) were limited participants. Both CB Nate Clements (knee) and safety Chris Crocker (knee) went through a full practice Thursday.