By BOB LABRIOLA
In every sport during every season, stories emerge about teams that prepare diligently and are focused, about players on those teams who have a genuine respect for one another and have come to accept the all-for-one concept.
In every sport in every season, all of those qualities and components are nothing more than a code for "winning."
That's the way Coach Mike Tomlin sees the issue of the way some backups have stepped up so far this season to replace injured starters.
"Ultimately, the quality of depth determines the quality of your football team," said Tomlin. "We all acknowledge in this business that injuries are a big part of this game. People's ability to adjust and plug people in and keep the train moving, ultimately those are the teams that are going to be successful. Probably a lot has been made of our story, because of Mewelde (Moore) stepping up and Darnell (Stapleton) stepping up, but that's just football. Those stories can be told about any team that's winning, because any team that's winning has guys stepping up and making plays for them."
As the Steelers prepare for the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, some of their injured players have a chance to return just as some of their healthy players now are nursing injuries.
While there is the possibility that Willie Parker and Carey Davis and Casey Hampton will be off the inactive list and back on the field against the Giants, the Steelers know they will be without starting cornerback Bryant McFadden for the next few games, and Troy Polamalu's status will be updated later in the week.
Injuries heal, more injuries happen. It's the normal cycle of an NFL season.
"We take it all in stride," said Tomlin. "That's why training camp and the offseason are so important to us. That's why practice is so important for us, because not only are the guys you hear about – the headline-grabbers like Hines Ward – but guys like Limas Sweed need to prepare to play. And you can picks names across any position. Sometimes the star players dominate so much of our thoughts, as people who appreciate this game, that we fail to realize there are a bunch of developing guys trying to learn and master their craft, because they know the opportunity is going to await. That's what it's all about for us."
The depth on this Steelers roster indeed is proving to be a strength this season, and they have needed it to be so.
Two starters – punter Daniel Sepulveda and guard Kendall Simmons – plus No. 1 pick Rashard Mendenhall are on the injured reserve list already, while Parker, Davis, Hampton Brett Keisel, Nick Eason and Deshea Townsend are among those who have missed multiple games. And not included in that accounting are Polamalu and Marvel Smith, both of whom are Pro Bowl players.
In some instances – such as Stapleton replacing Simmons, and William Gay having to play more because of McFadden's broken arm – the depth is provided by up-and-coming players. Other times, it has been the veterans added to the roster for this very eventuality who are providing what the team needs.
"There is a lot of value to having veteran backups, and that's one of the reasons why we went out and acquired Orpheus Roye late in the process and were glad to do it," said Tomlin. "Also, a guy like Byron Leftwich. Those are been-there, done-that guys. They know what this game is about. They know what games like Sunday's at 4 o'clock are about. They're ready to pick up and lead the charge if we call on them."
And in increasing numbers, the Steelers have had to do just that.