By Christina Rivers
With many of the injured players on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster becoming healthy with only four games left in the 2012 NFL regular season, timing couldn’t be better. The Steelers (7-5) host the San Diego Chargers (4-8) in a game that many are predicting will be a great opportunity for many of those Steelers players to test their readiness and march one step closer to the playoffs. Some younger players will step up in the game to cover some of the veterans who are still nursing injuries, but are expected to play at a high level. Sunday’s game at Heinz Field could be just the right opportunity for the Steelers to rebound and play near full strength since earlier in the season.
The news that cornerback Ike Taylor had fractured his ankle in last weekend’s matchup against the Baltimore Ravens was yet another setback for the Steelers. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said, “We’re sure sorry to have [Taylor] sitting on the sidelines, but I know he’ll get back as quickly as he can. The guys that are in there will just have to step up and play well.” LeBeau was referring to Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown who will split time at Taylor’s position. Allen will get the start and Brown will come in on different defensive packages. “The defensive backs and the coaches obviously know what [Allen and Brown] are capable of,” said a healthy Troy Polamalu. “To replace somebody like [Taylor], who I don’t think has ever missed a game here, is going to be tough.” LeBeau talked about how the Steelers coaches get guys like Allen and Brown to step up during times like this by pointing out how they plan for the season. “We start from the coaching sessions, right up through training camp,” said LeBeau. “We don’t try to get four defensive backs ready to go, we try to get 8-10 because we know before the season is over, we absolutely will be playing 9-10 defensive backs in the games.” LeBeau credited defensive backs coach Carnell Lake for getting the players to the level they need to be at.
Defensively, the Steelers are looking like a complete unit. OLB James Harrison said that he feels the unit is getting healthier. “I guess it is good timing,” said Harrison. When he was asked about whether he felt his knee was 100 percent, Harrison responded, “No. It still hurts. I come into practice week, and I’m working my way to try to get back to how I felt on Saturday. I don’t expect to be 100 percent, but as long as I keep getting a little better come each Sunday, then that’s fine.” LaMarr Woodley will miss yet another game this weekend after no participation in practice due to an ankle injury. His replacement, Jason Worilds, has been doing a nice job on the left side of the defense. Even Harrison noted his performance was helping to keep the defense moving. Polamalu didn’t mind sharing snaps last weekend, his first start since he was injured during the Philadelphia Eagles game on Oct. 7. He felt overall it was a good game plan to have him come in and out. Regarding facing the Chargers’ offense, Polamalu said, “If [the big plays] come, they come.” LeBeau was more enthusiastic when he said, “Just count our blessings that we’ve got [Polamalu] back.”
The offensive line got a boost as well. While Rookie Mike Adams will miss Sunday’s game, fellow tackle/guard Willie Colon was able to participate fully in practice on Thursday and Friday and is listed as probable for the Chargers game. The most-likely lineup on Sunday would be (left to right): LT Max Starks, LG Willie Colon, Maurkice Pouncey back at center, RG Ramon Foster and Rookie Kelvin Beachum at right tackle. This is good news for Ben Roethlisberger who will get his first start at quarterback in four weeks after a shoulder/rib injury.
Roethlisberger will have a full compliment of receivers to throw to and a healthy set of offensive backs. Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery was able to return fully to practice all week and Antonio Brown, who missed practice on Wednesday was at full strength the next two days. Both are listed as probable, but in this case, Brown is sure to start. Receiver Emmanuel Sanders dealt with a shoulder injury he received in last weekend’s game and went from non-participant to limited to full participant in practice Wednesday through Friday. He is listed as probable as well. Mike Wallace seems to have cleared up his knee issues as well. Jonathan Dwyer is once again expected to get the majority of the rushing duties this weekend.
Fantasy owners who’ve been mourning all the injuries the Steelers players on their rosters have had this season can take a deep breath and feel secure playing most of those players this week. While Roethlisberger will start on the field, it may be a good idea to limit him as his game-play after injury is untested as yet. He could be worth the risk. Roethlisberger put up over 300 yards passing against the Chargers the last time these two teams met, and San Diego has a defense that hasn’t been able to stop passes from getting to receivers. Of all the receivers, Antonio Brown is probably the best selection to start. Sanders and Wallace should put up fairly good numbers. It’s up in the air at this point about Cotchery and Burress. Jonathan Dwyer is a good start selection, but Isaac Redman and Rashard Mendenhall have seen limited snaps the past couple of weeks. Redman is still a viable option in a deep roster league. The Steelers defense should dominate the Chargers and are a great pick to start, possibly through the remainder of the season.
Steelers Injury Recap
Adams, Mike, OT: Ankle
Taylor, Ike, CB: Ankle
Woodley, LaMarr, OLB: Ankle
Leftwich, Byron, QB: Ribs
Brown, Antonio, WR: Ankle
Butler, Drew, P: Illness
Clark, Ryan, FS: Hip
Colon, Willie, G/T: Knee
Cotchery, Jerricho, WR: Ribs
Johnson, Will, FB: Concussion
Polamalu, Troy, SS: Not Injury Related
Roethlisberger, Ben QB, Right Shoulder
Sanders, Emmanuel, WR: Shoulder
Wallace, Mike, WR: Knee
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Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.