By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — There’s a good chance that second-year safety Ryan Mundy will get a second straight start for Troy Polamalu when the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-4) play host to the Carolina Panthers (2-12) Thursday night at 8:20 at Heinz Field, but it might not be the club’s only personnel move.
Sixth-year pro Trai Essex could start at left tackle for the Steelers. He replaced a banged up and less-than-stellar Jonathan Scott during the club’s final drive against the New York Jets Sunday and graded out pretty well.
“I’d like to say that I did pretty good, because I watched the film and saw it on tape,” Essex said. “It took a couple plays to see what Jason Taylor was bringing me, but I was all right after that. (And) I would hope to get another shot this week. So, we’ll see what happens.”
Essex and Scott split reps at left tackle during practice Tuesday, but Scott got more reps there and could remain the starter.
“I’ve been doing this for the last few years and I’m used to it,” Essex said. “It has been a little crazy this year, because I’ve played every position on the offensive line (except center). So, it’s been a little different, but I’m ready for anything and everything. And if they want me to play, I’ll play.
“Left tackle, actually, is my natural position. (And) I made my first NFL start as a left tackle, at Indianapolis, and that was wild out there. I was a rookie. I was thrown into the kitchen, and it was hot. I had Dwight Freeney over there, so my eyes were wide open. But I’ve come a long way since then.
“You never want to get thrown into a situation like that as a rookie, but it was an interesting start to my career. And since then, I’ve learned a lot from guys like Marvel Smith and Max Starks, two of the best left tackles in the game. I’ve fine-tuned my technique since then, so I’ll be all right.”
Essex played left tackle for a few reps against Oakland when Scott initially was injured, and he also played the position in a playoff loss to Jacksonville during Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s first season. However, despite his previous experience, the Steelers went with Scott to replace Starks.
“Sure, I was disappointed when I didn’t get the call when Max went down, especially since it’s my more natural position, but the coaches did what they thought was best,” Essex said. “And maybe I’ll finally get my chance.”