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Insider Only Wednesday Practice Notebook: Essex preparing to make 1st start at LT since 07 wildcard game

By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — In a conference call with the Houston media Wednesday morning, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was asked how the club remains successful even though they’ve had to bring in a couple guys off the street to plug into the offensive line.
Roethlisberger laughed at the question and told the Steelers media about it.

“I was trying to figure out who we pulled off the street,” Roethlisberger said. “I told them that I’ve known our guys for a long time, and they’ve been here for a long time. (And) I have all the confidence in the world that the guys who need to step up will step up for whomever they need to step up for.
To me, that’s what’s so impressive. … Those guys can play a lot of positions, and it’s impressive to watch. We lose linemen around here more than anybody I’ve seen. I don’t know what it is, but it’s hard for those guys to get into a rhythm with each other.
“But they aren’t just off the street. They do know each other, and they can play together,” Roethlisberger added. “(And) I’ve always thought that this offense, the sky’s the limit for us. So, we’ve just got to get on the plane.”
Left tackle Jonathan Scott (left ankle) and left guard Doug Legursky (left shoulder) were listed on the Steelers injury report Wednesday. Neither is expected to play this week, as Scott has been limping noticeably and Legursky reportedly has a separated shoulder. But that hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm.
“I feel pretty good, but we’re just going day by day,” Legursky said. “I’m just trying to keep rehabbing and trying to get better. We’re still pretty close to where we want to be, and I’m prepare as if I’m playing and rehab as much as I can to get there to help this team and contribute to a win. I don’t know what coach’s timetable is for me, but I’m trying to get ready to practice this week.
“(So), we’ll see where I am later in it. It’s a little sore, but it’s getting better every day. So, we’ll see what happens later in the week. (But) we’ve done it in years past, so the next person in line has to step up and make plays. We’ve done that multiple times in the past, especially last season, and we’ll continue to do it. So, this is nothing new for the guys on this offensive line.”
If Legursky and Scott can’t play, the Steelers offensive line will have Trai Essex at left tackle, Chris Kemoeatu at left guard, Maurkice Pouncey at center, Ramon Foster at right guard and rookie Marcus Gilbert at right tackle. Foster already has started at left guard this season, two weeks ago for Kemoeatu against Seattle, and the second half of last season, including the playoffs and Super Bowl at right guard.
“I’m doing pretty well right now, and I think having a full week to practice it going to help me a lot more than just getting thrown in there,” Foster said. “I’ve played both the left side and right side before. You always play both sides in training camp anyway, but I’ve also played them in games before.
“So, I’ll be ready no matter what they want me to do. I’m going to be ready to go. I’m very well-prepared, and I think we’ll be ready to rock-and-roll this week. We want to get this run game started and show the kind of team we can be on offense. I think we can be pretty good, but we need to be more consistent.”
Essex noted that the last time he played left tackle was against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the wild-card playoff game at Heinz Field that capped Tomlin’s first season in 2007. He also started there as a rookie in a Monday Night Football game at Indianapolis in 2005.
“Me and Ramon, we’ve been doing this for a few years now, and if Doug Legursky and J. Scott can’t go, we’ve started enough games in this league to be able to step right in,” Essex said. “As long as we don’t overreact, we’ll be OK. Unfortunately, this has happened before to the Steelers, and we survived.
“We feel like we have a great situation here. Look at what we’ve done in recent years. It’s a great situation for the Steelers to have two veteran guys like me and Ramon to come in and start on the O-line. I don’t know about other teams, but it’s always been that way here. And we’ve gone to the Super Bowl.”
Essex likely will be matched against Houston rush-end Mario Williams, who the Steelers lineman described as “one of the best, a combination of strength, quickness (not as quick as Dwight Freeney) and length. He uses those long arms to his advantage to get around you.”
Walking Wounded
Along with the two offensive linemen, WR Arnaz Battle (knee) and DE Brett Keisel (knee) did not practice due to injuries, while ILB James Farrior, DE Aaron Smith and WR Hines Ward were given the day off. WR Mike Wallace (ribs) was limited in practice, while QB Ben Roethlisberger left early and did not return. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he had a conference call to attend.
For the Houston Texans, WR Andre Johnson (knee, toe), CB Sherrick McManis (hamstring) and RB Derrick Ward (ankle, shoulder) did not practice Wednesday, while TE Joel Dreessen (knee), CB Kareem Jackson (knee), WR Jacoby Jones, WR Kevin Walter (shoulder) and linebacker Mario Williams (knee) were limited. Among those with injury issues who practiced fully were starting RB Arian Foster (hamstring) and linebacker DeMeco Ryans (knee, elbow).
Final Note
What was Steelers safety Troy Polamalu doing lined up 30 yards deep on occasion at Indianapolis last Sunday?
“Making sure nothing gets behind me, probably,” Polamalu said. “I’ve learned a lot of different things from a lot of different safeties, and one of the things I’ve gotten from Ed Reed is that he plays really deep. It’s tough to be deep if you have to make an open-field tackle against the run.
“But the nice thing about that is you don’t have to back-pedal. You’re able to see things in front of you, and you’re able to run downhill. It’s obviously good to try to disguise things, but if you play close you have to back-pedal and then break downhill. You obviously lose a couple steps, too, so I got that from watching great safeties in this league.”
On other occasions, Polamalu was at the line, ready to blitz right as the ball was snapped. How did he time it so closely?
“I would say that there’s a lot of guessing involved,” the modest Polamalu said. “Sometimes, it can cause problems, but it didn’t in that last game.”
When James Harrison forced a fumble, Polamalu scooped up the loose ball and ran it in for a touchdown.

About The Author

Dale Grdnic

TIOPS Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Grdnic is a contributor to Inside Pittsburgh Sports, covering the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pitt Football. Dale has covered the Pittsburgh Sports scene for over 15 years with various publications

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