By Teresa Varley
Offensive tackle Trai Essex spent 12 games this season on the sidelines inactive but on Saturday he likely will be front and center as he is expected to start at left tackle for the Steelers against Jacksonville.
Essex should be called on to fill in for Max Starks who suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Ravens. And with Marvel Smith already ruled out with a back injury, Essex is next in line.
"Any time is the right time for me," said Essex about his opportunity. "I am just looking for the opportunity to perform and show everybody what I can do.
"I have fresh legs. A couple of our linemen have gotten banged up and the season tends to have that wear and tear on the body, so I am pretty fresh."
He is going to have to be. He has a tough task ahead of him. Essex will have to protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's blind side. The Jaguars formidable defensive front came up with five sacks in the last meeting and it's likely they will go after him again, especially with a banged-up line.
"They have a good front four," said Essex. "That is what they are known for, as well as their physical play. Getting used to the game speed once again is a key, because I haven't really been in the mix since my rookie year.
"I have my work cut out for me. They have a great front. I have to concentrate on my technique and fundamentals, because it has been so long since I have been in the mix and seen the game speed. Getting used to the speed of the game is it."
But his teammates have confidence in him, including Roethlisberger who is going to rely heavily on him.
"I know Trai is going to do a great job of filling in for Max who is filling in for Marvel," said Roethlisberger. "He has done it before and I have confidence in him."
Essex saw considerable playing time against the Ravens after Starks was hurt and while Roethlisberger wasn't on the field with him as Charlie Batch got the start, he was impressed with his performance.
"He did a great job," said Roethlisberger. "Trai was awesome out there. He did a phenomenal job against a speed rush team. Trai is going to have his hands full this week because they are a power team and they're going to try to run through him. Trai has been working really hard and getting ready. I am encouraged he will be ready to go as will the rest of the guys."
But just in case, he will check in with Essex before the game just to make sure.
"It's your blind side so you always have to have faith in them," said Roethlisberger. "Before every game I would tell Marvel and Red (Alan Faneca) do you have my back and they always tell me yeah. We'll see if Trai says yeah."