By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — It appears that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates already have forgotten their debacle in Baltimore, and that’s probably a good thing because they have another daunting task facing them this week.
It’s not that the visiting Seattle Seahawks will be a tougher opponent Sunday at 1 p.m. at Heinz Field. They most assuredly will not, but with another drastic change to the offensive line Roethlisberger’s head could be on a swivel just as often as it was last Sunday.
Rookie Marcus Gilbert from Florida takes over for veteran Willie Colon at right offensive tackle. Colon suffered a season-ending triceps injury against the Ravens and basically will miss a second straight season. Gilbert primarily played the left side during the preseason and did not play at all in the opener, so his debut against Seattle will be quite a test.
“We expect him to step up in a big way and grow up real quick,” Roethlisberger said. “It seems like every year we go through offensive line changes, moving guys around. … You need to have 100-percent trust, faith and belief in the next guy, and I have that. (But Gilbert) has to be up to speed right away. We’re not slowing down for him, so he better catch up and get on the same page with us.
“And I’m fully confident. B.A. and everybody else are fully confident that he’s ready to go. I told him Monday, that not only does he need to know this offense, but he better learn the no-huddle, too, because we’re going to do it. And I’m not slowing down for him. … We didn’t do the no-huddle really at all the last game, so I’ll make sure we get to it early. We have to do it.”
For Gilbert, there have been a remarkable turn of events since he arrived in Pittsburgh. Without any rookie mini-camp or offseason workouts, training camp was his indoctrination into the NFL, and he clearly wasn’t ready. Gilbert was heavier than he should have been and generally unprepared, and he suffered a hamstring injury the opening week.
That’s when former Florida teammate Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers second-year center, approached Gilbert to set him straight.
“I basically told Marcus that it’s not college now,” Pouncey said. “It’s a lot different here, because you’re not getting pampered all the time. You have to go out here and be accountable for what you do. He was a little bit unprepared, but he’s a lot better now than he was. He wasn’t in shape as much as the other guys, either, but he’s definitely in shape now and ready to play football.
“I came to OTAs and a mini-camp, so I had the experience then to find out how everything goes. But he missed all that, so he needed a little bit more of a pep talk. And it seems to have helped, because he’s been in his playbook a lot and he’s been on the board very little for missed assignments. … I’ve been keeping him close by, so we can go over things and talk about what we need to do.”
Gilbert readily admitted that he got off to a slow start during training camp and the injury set him back a bit, but he also noted that a strong finish to the preseason has helped him be ready to make his NFL debut in a starting role.
“Pouncey really helped me out and got me to realize the bigger picture here,” Gilbert said. “In college, you had to deal with school, as well as football, but in the NFL this is your job. It’s your only job. It’s your livelihood. People will fight for your job every day to try to take your position, so it really helped me. It made a big difference. … Maurkice is a good friend, and I trust him.
“So, I took to heart what he said. I study with him every night, and I’m basically living with him right now. So, having him by my side, it really helps me a lot. I’m thankful for that. … I’ve dreamt about this every day, to get an opportunity to go out there and play the game that I love. It’s all that I’ve wanted to do, and now I’m going to get the chance. So, I can’t wait for Sunday.”
Gilbert also gave credit to Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler for putting in one-on-one time with him to aide in his preparation. Kugler was unavailable for comment Wednesday, as the coaches only talk on Thursdays.