By John Perrotto
Marcus Gilbert’s heart couldn’t stop pounding in the opening moments of the game.
“I was so pumped up,” the Steelers rookie offensive tackle said. “I was too pumped up.”
That was understandable. The second-round draft pick from Florida was thrust into the starting lineup for Sunday’s 24-0 victory over the Seattle Seahawks at Heinz Field after veteran right tackle Willie Colon suffered a season-ending torn triceps muscle in the opener a week early.
“I just couldn’t believe it was happening,” Gilbert said. “I was out there running with the ones and I was so excited. It was my second game in the NFL and I was starting. It was just hard not to be pumped up.”
Gilbert eventually settled down and, by all accounts, turned in a strong performance as the Steelers dominated the Seahawks in a complete turnaround from their 35-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on opening day. The Steelers outgained the Seahawks 421-164 in total yards and held large edges in first downs (23-8), third down conversions (8-of-15 to 2-of-12) and time of possession (38:44-21:16).
Gilbert did a solid job against left defensive end Chris Clemons, who had one of the Seahawks’ two sacks along with a quarterback hurry and a defensed pass.
“Without looking at film, going back and critiquing it, I think he did a great job,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “I am very proud of the way he stepped up. I don’t think that the game was too big for him. I told him that before the game, I said ‘let the game come to you, don’t go to it,’ and I think he did a good job of that.”
Tight end Heath Miller was lined up alongside Gilbert for most of the day and felt the rookie did well. Gilbert was one of two new starters up front as Chris Kemoeatu missed the game with a knee injury and was replaced by Ramon Foster.
“To step in as a rookie (in) the second game, I thought he played great,” Miller said. “It seemed like we didn’t miss a beat with him in there.”
While Gilbert is short on professional experience, he feels facing the Steelers’ defense in practice on a regular basis has given him a pretty good crash course in playing offensive line at the NFL level.
“We see great speed rushers every day,” he said. “It really gets you ready for Sunday. I didn’t see anyone today who was better than anyone I see in practice. It was just the greatest feeling in the world being out there and contributing to a win. We ran the ball well early and that opened up the pass then the Steelers made a lot of big plays. It was a good team win.”
And a good individual effort by Gilbert, who drew the praise of coach Mike Tomlin.
“It was above-the-line, a winning effort,” Tomlin said of Gilbert’s performance. “I thought we had some movement there in the first half, running the football on his side.”