By Christina Rivers
After a quick start due to a mental mistake by the Tennessee Titans on the opening kickoff during the home-opener at Heinz Field, injuries essentially shut down opportunities for the Pittsburgh Steelers. As players went down and were helped off the field, the big picture was a fuzzy one of uncertainty about the remainder of the game and the 2013 NFL Season. Scrambling to create solutions, the Steelers have made three big moves this week ahead of their September 16 game against their AFC North Division rivals; the Cincinnati Bengals.
Steelers guard David DeCastro’s freakish accident when rolling into the back of Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey’s right knee has resulted in Pouncey being placed on the injured reserve list and out for the remainder of the season. Pouncey is scheduled to have surgery to repair the MCL and ACL in his right knee on Thursday. The Steelers were forced to find an alternate solution after Kelvin Beachum stepped in at center following the injury only to have sporadic success at the position during the game against the Titans. The Steelers have signed veteran center Fernando Velasco. Velasco started 16 games for the Titans in 2012, three at left guard and 13 at center. Velasco was a restricted free agent, but was released by Tennessee on August 30. The Steelers tendered him a one-year contract. Beachum will move back to the tight end position, where he has been valuable as an additional offensive blocker.
Although it is a patch, Velasco has little time to learn the Steelers offensive line plays. Concerns about the durability and depth on an offensive line that was infused with youth during the offseason now rears its ugly head as the team tries to prevent a major bleed. If the Steelers can’t keep Cincinnati out of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s personal space, they will continue to struggle on offense, especially without an effective running game.
The running game, already in a questionable state, will also be affected by the loss of LaRod Stephens-Howling. Stephens-Howling left the game at Heinz Field in the third quarter due to a right knee injury. Following testing, it was determined that Stephens-Howling has torn the ACL in that knee and will also be lost for the season following surgery on Wednesday.
In a somewhat puzzling move, the Steelers then re-signed Jonathan Dwyer who was released on August 31. Ever-mysterious head coach Mike Tomlin said of Dwyer’s return, “It’s a positive when you can add somebody that knows your culture, what you are doing schematically.” Tomlin added, “We’ll get him back into the fold. He will be a quick plug in there.” The Steelers will now have to address the fumble issues that Dwyer and running back Isaac Redman have been haunted by if they want to have a viable option outside of relying on Roethlisberger’s arm to score points.
The Steelers faced their third curse when it was learned that buck inside linebacker Larry Foote had ruptured his bicep and would also lose the season. He was scheduled for surgery Tuesday. Foote was a defensive captain and made defensive calls via plays sent in from coaches through his helmet. Those duties may now fall on linebacker Lawrence Timmons. This leaves the Steelers with the option of moving untested Kion Wilson to the top of the depth chart in Foote’s place. Wilson took over at the position after Foote left the game and said that when he entered he was “a little nervous” about relaying the defensive calls. “You quickly get over that and you know you have guys depending on you and you don’t want to let them down,” Wilson said this week. Rookie Vince Williams will serve as Wilson’s backup.
The Steelers were unable to pick up another linebacker or re-sign Stevenson Sylvester to the roster due to the need to sign a kicker that will allow Shaun Suisham to heal. Suisham injured his hamstring.
The Steelers signed Shayne Graham who has played with 13 different NFL teams, most-recently the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland released Graham on August 31 after signing him in April. Graham has a history of being able to make long field goals and Pittsburgh has to keep their fingers crossed that their special teams improves over last Sunday’s showing.
There were some high points in all of the shadowy news this week. It was learned that veteran tight end Heath Miller may be ready to return to play as early as this coming Monday night showdown with the Bengals. Tomlin would not specify if Miller will play in a game situation, but Miller will practice with the team this week. Rookie running back LeVeon Bell, who suffered a foot sprain during the preseason, may also be on a timetable for return.
For more Steelers news and updates, visit Steelers Central.
Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on