By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — It seems that every season the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line is labeled as a question mark on the team, but three times in the past six years those have been answered with a Super Bowl appearance.
Injuries, attrition and level of play have altered the line again this year, but that doesn’t matter to veteran Willie Colon, who returns at right tackle after missing last season with an Achilles injury.
“We’re not going to make excuses for anything,” Colon said. “The standard is the standard, as Coach Tomlin says, so we just have to move the next guy in there. We all prepare to play every game.
“That’s from the first team to the last guys, and our attitude is to practice hard all the time. And when you get your chance, you’ll be ready to play hard. So, that’s our motto all the time, during every week and every game.”
That credo came into play in a big way during the previous preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles, as the Steelers lost both starting left tackle Jonathan Scott (hyperextended right knee) and backup Marcus Gilbert (right knee sprain). Gilbert, the Steelers rookie second-round pick, said he practiced on a limited basis Sunday. But Scott is not ready to go just yet.
“I guess you could say that I’m day-to-day, because there’s still a lot of swelling in there,” Scott said. “We’re working to get it down, but you really can’t tell much until that happens. It feels a lot better today, but you never know.
“We’ve got to get that swelling down before I can even think about playing. I guess my injury isn’t as serious as it could be, so I’m thankful for that, and I’m just putting my faith in our medical staff to get me back to good health.”
The same thing likely is true for veteran defensive end Aaron Smith, whose swollen right knee has been giving him trouble as well. Scott said that he and Smith have been riding stationary bikes during practice to try to keep their conditioning up, but that’s about it for now.
While Scott and Gilbert are out, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said that 2010 practice-squad player Kyle Jolly — a 6-foot-6, 300-pound North Carolina product — is manning the left tackle spot. And fourth-year player Tony Hills has worked exclusively at right guard. He expected a second straight start when the Steelers play host to the Atlanta Falcons Saturday night at 7:30 at Heinz Field.
“Things are going really well,” Hills said. “I got some good technique work in today, and I’ve been at right guard the past two days. So, I’m really diving in head first now and getting great coaching tips from my guys and the staff, and I’m getting more comfortable at that right guard spot.”
Center Maurkice Pouncey liked Hills’ athleticism and size (6-5, 3-4), noting that when a team can pull a guy like him and left guard Chris Kemoeatu (6-3, 344) it has a lot of options. Hills explained his move from left tackle to right guard.
“I think it comes naturally to me, but our defense is giving me some great looks with the twist stunts,” Hills said. “Moving from tackle to guard, that’s the biggest thing, but playing Philly really helped me a lot, too. They’re a big twist team up front, so I got a lot of good looks from them as well.
“The Eagles are a fast, physical team, so they gave me more than enough to look at. You’re always working to get better, but I think I’ve done pretty well so far. And I’m getting more comfortable every day. And I guess that’s all anybody could ask for in this game or any other one for that matter.”
Cornerbacks Bryant McFadden (right hamstring, quad) and Cortez Allen (right hamstring), a rookie fourth-round draft pick, both practiced on a limited basis Sunday. That pleased Allen, because it was the most he’s done since the opening training-camp week at Saint Vincent College near Latrobe.
“The type of injury I have is something that can linger around if you’re not careful, so that’s what we’re all concerned about,” McFadden said. “We don’t want this to be a problem all season, so we’re taking care of it now.
“I did a little bit more in practice today, and I hope to do more and more each day. But I don’t know if I’ll be able to play at all this preseason. I’m really shooting for the season-opener at Baltimore (Sept. 11).
Outside linebacker Jason Worilds (right quad) also practiced on a limited basis, but said he felt better every day and hoped to be back to full-time duty soon.