By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — With the Pittsburgh Steelers re-signing tackle Max Starks to a one-year contract, there’s a good chance the club could have three University of Florida products on its offensive line by the end of the week.
With second-year player Maurkice Pouncey at center, rookie Marcus Gilbert at right tackle and now Starks possibly at left tackle, the Gators would be well-represented with the Steelers. Starks and Jonathan Scott split the reps with the first- and second-team groups at left tackle Wednesday.
“That’s pretty tight, huh?” Gilbert said. “We’re representing with swag, and I think it’s going to help us tremendously. That’s all I can say. Max is an outstanding player, and he’s done that for years. So, I’m looking forward to this opportunity and a chance to learn from him.”
Pouncey noted that he wasn’t surprised when told that Starks was re-signed.
“I was happy,” Pouncey said. “Max was a guy who helped me a lot last season, even though he wasn’t playing during the last half of the season. And to get another Gator on this team, it can’t hurt. That’s for sure.”
Scott, the man who replaced Starks when he suffered a season-ending neck injury midway through last season, eventually could be replaced by Starks at left tackle. Scott has had a knee and ankle injury. The latter caused him to miss this past game, as he was replaced by Trai Essex. Neither played too well when they were in there, so Starks could play as soon as he’s ready.
“The rehab process definitely helped me a lot,” Scott said. “This is just step one, but I’m going to get out on the practice field to see what I can do. That’s just the first step, though. I have to test it out. As far as Max coming back, I don’t know what that means for me, but I’m definitely going to be prepared to play wherever and whenever they need me to play.
“Max is a great player, though, and we’re lucky to be able to bring in a veteran. So, whatever direction that takes me and the O-line, I’ll be ready for it. I didn’t know anything about it, that they were going to re-sign him, but he’s a good guy. And like I’ve said, he’s a veteran guy who really helped me last season when I took over for him at left tackle. So, having him back is a great addition.”
Scott didn’t believe the Steelers move to re-sign Starks was a reflection on their woes at left tackle this season or the offensive line’s general inability to keep quarterback Ben Roethlisberger upright more often than not this season.
“No, I don’t look at it that way at all,” Scott said. “No, I don’t. I just think it was a chance for them to bring in a good, veteran player.”
Starks was in Detroit when he got the call that the Steelers were interested.
“I was happy all the way on that flight back,” Starks said. “It’s been a long time since I was in this room, but I’ve kept in contact with a lot of the guys on the O-line and Ben. And to be back here is an awesome opportunity for me.”
When asked where he saw himself in the next week or two, Starks was specific.
“Hopefully, in a (Steelers) uniform on the field, whether that’s on the sideline or even in a starting role,” Starks said. “My job is to come in here and make sure that I’m ready to do whatever they need me to do. They just said, the way Coach Tomlin put it, was strictly because he needed leadership and experience. But we’ll see what happens in practice. It’s my first one in 11 months.
“So, I think we want to get a feel for that before any decisions are made. But I wasn’t sure what would happen. I went on a couple workouts and had some great workouts. … But once we heard about Pittsburgh, it was an easy decision to make. I can’t imagine playing anywhere else. It’s comfortable. It’s home for me and my wife, and we’re happy to be back.”
Starks went through his usual training regiment in the offseason at the Athletes Performance complex in Phoenix, Ariz. and believed it was only a cap issue as to why the Steelers did not bring him back before training camp.
“I wasn’t any further out of shape or overweight than any other lineman who came into camp,” Starks said. “In fact, I was in front of a couple, including one who has a purple jersey and a number similar to mine (Ravens No. 78 Bryant McKinnie). I definitely know I was way ahead of him.
“But you can’t throw rocks, especially when you live in a glass house. You can’t throw too many rocks, but you can roll a couple in his direction. But I ran my conditioning test to prepare for training camp and killed my conditioning test, so physically I felt fine. It was just a matter of what people said, but it all came down to the salary cap. That’s just how it was.”
(But) I’m excited enough to play football, No. 1, and we’ll see everything else once I get out there. There’s going to be a transition, but we’ll get right at it.
Starks said he did not take any snaps at right tackle Wednesday, so it appears that the Steelers are getting him ready to play this week.
“You also want to ease Jonathan back into it, because he was out last week and is just getting back,” Starks said. “So, it’s one of those things to go half and half to see who’s going good, and if I need to spell somebody then I’ll be able to do it. But I do remember how to do this. I thought I might have a little bit of amnesia, but it’s coming back, slowly but surely.”
At least Starks didn’t have to fight rookie practice-squad members Trevis Turner and John Clay for his No. 78 and locker next to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, respectively.
“I just had to Super-Size it for him, he and his wife, I had to take them out to dinner,” Starks said. “And he was very appreciative. He said just $20, so that was a good price. (And) no kids. That’s why I said it was just he and his wife, (because) $20 only goes so far in this economy.
“But I came in here this morning and didn’t even have a locker. I said I guess it wasn’t official yet. … I’m sorry I had to evict John Clay to get back in the high-rent district, but that’s how it goes. He’ll be all right. He didn’t move too far down the line.”
Starks reported that he had no health issues with his neck after practice, and he felt pretty good. Starks noted that his weight is the same as when he played last year, but it’s just distributed a little differently.