By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — For the first time this season, the Pittsburgh Steelers are expected to have both their cornerbacks ready to start against the Baltimore Ravens in the season-opener Sunday at 1 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium.
Ike Taylor, who has had a cast on his hand after thumb surgery Aug. 16, is expected to have the pin removed Tuesday and then practice to prepare for the game. The same should be true for Bryant McFadden, who missed nearly the entire training camp and all the preseason with a right hamstring injury. Both said Monday that they should play against the Ravens.
While McFadden was not able to practice much until this past week, Taylor hasn’t missed much time since he broke his left thumb during the Steelers’ second defensive play in the first preseason game Aug. 12 at Washington. But that’s not out of the ordinary for Taylor, who rarely has sat out practice during his now nine-year NFL career.
“I’ve been lifting weights and running to stay in shape, but I only missed two days of practice, I think,” Taylor said. “So, other than that, I’m doing good. (But) it’s just want to. As far as running with the pain and dealing with the pain, just getting my body mentally tough even though I knew it was going to hurt.
“But at the same time, guys really aren’t 100 percent during the season anyway, so I had to get in the right mindset. This is a different obstacle for me, so learning to adjust to this is a lot different for me. I’ve had to adjust my training and everything, but it’s made me more mentally tough, I think.”
Taylor would not definitely say that he expected to play against the Ravens, opting to put the onus on Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, but he added that,
“nine times out of nine” since he’s able to practice he we should believe that he’s going to be able to play. That latter part was implied.
While Taylor has been the starting practice cornerback more often than not, McFadden was unable to practice more than position drills until last week going into the preseason finale at Carolina. Both he and Tomlin believed that McFadden would have played if it were a regular-season game.
“I feel real good right now, probably the best I’ve felt since I injured it early in camp,” McFadden said. “I guess I could have played last week, but we’ve been concerned about re-aggravating it. It’s felt pretty good the past couple weeks, and I’ve been out there practicing. So, that’s the biggest thing for me.
“It just needed time to heal, and you just don’t know how long it’s going to take. This is the first time I ever pulled my hamstring, but I knew I wasn’t ready because I tried to practice and was sore the next day just walking around. That wasn’t the case this week. I’ve practiced, and I’m not sore at all.
(But) if you don’t treat this injury correctly and come back too early, it could be lingering,” McFadden added. “That’s especially true with secondary skill guys. You can’t try to play with it. Either it’s well enough to play or it’s not. You can rip it off the bone, and then you’re in trouble. So, you have to be certain.”
Another player who has been monitored during the preseason is outside linebacker James Harrison, who has had a difficult time getting completely healed after two offseason back surgeries a week apart. He was held out for the Carolina game, but believed he was much better now.
“I’m a lot closer than I was two weeks ago, that’s for sure,” Harrison said when asked if he was at 100 percent. “So, I’ll be all right. There won’t be much of a problem. (So), I’m not worried about my back. I’m good. I’m ready to go, so I’ll take the punches as they come and roll with them.”
Harrison normally is a tireless worker, lifting weights and training extremely hard once the season begins. But his weight-lifting regimen has been altered due to his back issues. It has affected his strength and leg drive, but Harrison has relied on an ancient treatment method.
“I always get acupuncture,” Harrison said. “I get acupuncture before every game, and it lasts 4-5 hours. I started doing that last year, and I think that’s really the thing that got me through (the season) with my back the way it was.”
The adrenaline will be pumping for the season-opener, but especially since it’s Steelers-Ravens. And quarterback Ben Roethlisberger put things in perspective.
“We had some big rivalries in college (at Miami, Ohio), like against Cincinnati, the longest rivalry west of the Mississippi,” Roethlisberger said. “So, it was a big game. … But they’re the Ravens, so it really doesn’t get any better than that when you’re talking about the Steelers.”
The two teams split the regular-season games with each winning on the other’s home field. But the Steelers won two when it mattered most, late in the season at Baltimore to clinch home field in the playoffs and at home in a divisional playoff matchup.