By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin always says that “The standard is the standard,” meaning that no matter who plays, they should perform at the same level as the starter at that position.
That was a difficult task for second-year player Doug Legursky, who had to replace rookie Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey during the opening 15-play touchdown drive in the AFC championship game against the New York Jets. Legursky usually enters the game on the goal line anyway as an extra blocker, but he was in there at center on this occasion and had to finish the game.
Legursky also could start when the Steelers (14-4) face the Green Bay Packers (13-6) in Super Bowl XLV Feb. 6 at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“I’m so proud of the way that Doug played,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “He came in and stepped up. He came in for a Pro Bowler that has played all year and has done a great job. But Doug has done so much for us this season, and I’m very happy with the way he’s worked.
“So, I can’t say enough about him. And I have all the faith in the world in our O-line. The last time we were in (Super Bowl XLIII), we had a makeshift line. But as Coach says, the standard doesn’t change. So, the guys know that, and they bust their butts every day. So, I have faith in anybody in that group.”
Trai Essex opened the season at right guard for the Steelers, but was shelved by a high-ankle sprain. Legursky replaced him as a starter in Game 3, and that lasted four games. Essex returned for three games, but Ramon Foster started the last seven regular-season games and two playoff games.
Now, Legursky is back in the spotlight, because Pouncey had a high-ankle sprain on the 14th play during that opening drive. Pouncey said after the game that he expected to start in the Super Bowl. Legursky can’t be concerned by that.
“When somebody gets hurt and another guy goes in there, the play can’t drop off,” Legursky said. “Hopefully, I showed that last week and every other time I got in there. It’s been a little crazy this season, but it’s been a lot of fun, too. That’s the way I look at it, and my preparation never changes anyway.
“I prepare every week like I’m playing, so this week won’t be any different in that regard. But it’s a tough situation to get thrown into a game after sitting out the first half or whatever, but I take pride in my ability to do that and perform at a high level. So, that’s what I’ll try to do.”
The last time the Steelers were in the Super Bowl, Legursky was an undrafted rookie from Marshall, and he spent the bulk of the season on the team’s practice squad.
“So, I basically had the task to prepare those other guys to play in the big game, and then I watched from the sideline,” Legursky said. “This year, hopefully, I’ll be able to put my hand in the pile and make some plays for my team. That’s all I’ve wanted to do this season.”
Legursky has been as valuable as any Steelers player this season, playing both guard positions, as well as center on the offensive line. Legursky also has lined up as a tight end and fullback in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
“It’s really not a big transition for me to switch around in the three interior positions, but that’s a tribute to what Coach Kugs has done this season,” Legursky said. “Coming into it, we have an entirely different O-line than the one we have now. So, he’s done a great job keeping us together.”
Foster praised Legursky for his play this season.
“We have a lot of confidence in Doug, and he’s very smart,” Foster said. “He prepares just as much as anybody else, as much as Maurkice does at center, so we knew he’d step in and do a good job. We knew that we wanted to win that game, so we all had to come together quickly after Maurkice went down.”
Since his appearance in the AFC title game, Legursky has received calls from “a lot of friends,” some he didn’t even know he had.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people since we beat the Jets, some of them I haven’t talked to for years,” Legursky said. “But they’re all proud of me, so I’m happy to get the chance to show them something.”
And if Pouncey can’t play, Legursky only has to do it for one more game.