By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season concluded much earlier than many expected after a 29-23 overtime playoff loss at Denver Sunday night, but the end came much more abruptly for three players who left that game early with significant injuries, according to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin in his final press conference Monday afternoon.
Offensive tackle Max Starks and nose tackle Casey Hampton both had ACL injuries to their knees, while defensive end Brett Keisel did more damage to the groin injury that sidelined him in practice early last week. Tomlin said that all three will be evaluated to determine if surgery is needed in either case.
“All the other injuries you know about,” Tomlin said. “Those guys are all in the process of rehabilitation. Our philosophy, as we push into the offseason, is to attack these issues and to be aggressive in dealing with them.
“We want to do them sooner rather than later, if procedures are going to be required. What we are going to do here over the next several days is wrap a bow around all of the operations. We are going to visit with people, housekeeping-type things. We will start the process of building for 2012.”
Tomlin added that Doug Legursky, who has been battling a shoulder injury the past couple weeks, and possibly center Maurkice Pouncey, could be candidates for surgery after they evaluated this week. But Tomlin did not believe that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s foot and ankle injuries would need surgery.
While player personnel moves are always part of the offseason, the Steelers generally have retained their coaching staff in its entirety or with little to no movement. For the second straight season, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has come under fire. Not surprisingly, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau also has been slammed a bit for the way his group played against Denver.
Still, Tomlin said that he anticipated both coordinators returning next season, although he left the door open by noting that change happens every year.
“We all understand what the end of the season is about, and movement is a part of it in today’s NFL for players and coaches,” Tomlin said. “We are going to try to maintain continuity like we always do.
“We believe that is a benefit to us, but we also understand that things can happen, and we will deal with those as they arrive.”
Tomlin also was asked if Roethlisberger has a say in any Arians’ decision.
“None, not from a coaches perspective,” Tomlin said. “Not from a staff building perspective. None. Of course, just in terms of hearing his opinion from a players-coach relationship, the same amount of say that you give anybody that is in a significant position of contribution to our football team. (But) there’s always going to be changes. There are changes every year.
“I’m not going to sit here and pretend like there’s not going to be changes. To what extent, at this point, I’m not ready to address. That’s why I enjoy these journeys. They’re precious. … There will be some changes. There are every year. (But) right now, I just have a great deal of respect and appreciation for the men in that room and what they are willing to do for us this year.”
Tomlin added that the formal and informal assessment about the roster already has started. Exit interviews with players are scheduled to begin Tuesday, and then some will be made available to the media.
Finally, Tomlin noted that if the situation would have presented itself at the end of regulation play, he would have sent place-kicker Shaun Suisham out to kick a game-winning field goal “anywhere from the low-to-mid 50s.”
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