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Steelers personnel issues remain clouded ahead of meeting with Bengals

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By Christina Rivers

Week One was a disaster for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Starting the 2013 NFL Season with a loss after failing to be successful in the preseason wasn’t the direction the Steelers wanted to be headed in. With injuries to Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, running back LaRod Stephens-Howling and linebacker Larry Foote resulting in the end of their season, the Steelers will require good personnel management in order to be fortuitous against a stout Cincinnati Bengals team.

The loss of Maurkice Pouncey for the season proved nearly disastrous for the Pittsburgh Steelers offense. How he was injured was unusual, but not uncommon, as fellow offensive lineman David DeCastro rolled off of a block and directly into the back of Pouncey’s knees. The Steelers had little options outside of putting Kelvin Beachum in at center to complete the game against the Tennessee Titans due to a shallow depth pool at the offensive line position. When Beachum left his position as an additional blocker, the Titans defense created opportunities to disrupt Ben Roethlisberger, shut down the running game (mainly after running back LaRod Stephens-Howling was injured and left the game) and tied up the receivers. The end result was evident.

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 07 :   Larry Foote #50 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts after recovering a fumble against the Philadelphia Eagles on October 7, 2012 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

(credit: Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley admitted that the break down of the offensive line was “the worst-case scenario”, and there weren’t many answers to be had. “The other guys feel like they have to do more to make up for it,” said Haley. And as a result of doing so, the Steelers outplayed themselves, creating more opportunities for turnovers than points on the scoreboard. “We all have to bounce back,” Haley added. “We didn’t coach our best game, either.”

With Stephens-Howling lost for the season as well, the Steelers were forced to reach out to recently departed rusher Jonathan Dwyer (released in August) on Monday. Isaac Redman and Dwyer are expected to be the main ball carriers against the Bengals with backup from Felix Jones.

The Steelers’ loss of Larry Foote due to a biceps rupture cannot be easily solved. Due to an injury to kicker Shaun Suisham, the Steelers were forced to bring in Shayne Graham, capping their ability to make any more additions to the roster. Veteran center/guard Fernando Velasco was brought in to cover Pouncey’s departure. The Steelers then moved Kion Wilson to the top of the depth chart and placed rookie Hebron Fangupo behind him.

When Haley was asked about how preparation for the game against the Bengals would be, he said, “Having a week to prepare, understand and figuring out what our strengths and weaknesses are is a big part of what we do…those variables changed this week with a couple of personnel changes.” Haley went on to say that the Steelers feel they have made the “necessary adjustments” and that practices this week have gone well.

The fantasy outlook is not good on offense for the Steelers this week. With so many intangibles, it would be difficult to state who should start or sit on your fantasy roster if you have key Steelers players. While Roethlisberger is a viable quarterback option, it is likely that he will see pressure during the entire game – especially if former Steelers linebacker James Harrison has his way. Harrison was unexpectedly non-vocal about his thoughts on the game outside of where his own team needed to improve, but said, “If [Roethlisberger, Marcus Gilbert and I] talk before the game, ‘good lick’, but that’s about it.” Dwyer and Redman have had ball-control issues. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders will look to get more receptions this week, but with offensive line moves, they may see less production.

The Steelers defense, without Foote and cornerback Cortez Allen, is still valuable. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau admitted that the Steelers will have their hands full with A.J. Green and the Bengals tight ends. “They have two really talented guys (at tight end),” said LeBeau. “I would rather have three real good tight ends and no A.J. Green…They are a formidable offense, no doubt.” The Steelers won’t catch a break against the Bengals’ running game either. If you have a defense that is performing at a higher caliber, you may consider starting them. If not, the Steelers are still a defense that opponents fear.

Injury recap

CB Cortez Allen (ankle) did not participate in practice Thursday or Friday and is doubtful to return in time for the Monday night game. RB Le’Veon Bell (foot) also remained out of practice and is a big question mark as far as a return date. DB Curtis Brown suffered from an illness on Thursday, but returned to play on Friday. DT Steve McLendon (hamstring) saw limited time on Thursday but returned to fully participation on Friday. TE Heath Miller is progressing following a knee injury and saw limited time both days, but will most-likely remain out of the game on Monday. Kicker Shaun Suisham (hamstring) was limited Thursday, but participated fully on Friday. This begs a question as to whether Suisham will return on Monday or whether Shayne Graham will get the nod. The Steelers have Saturday’s practice to iron out any issues and get in shape to take on the Bengals.

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
Examiner.com.