By Teresa Varley
The Steelers got some bad news on the injury front as offensive tackle Max Starks is done for the season after suffering a meniscus injury of his left knee against the Baltimore Ravens.
Starks was starting at left tackle for the injured Marvel Smith, who also is out for Saturday's game against the Jaguars with back problems.
With the two of them sidelined the next option at offensive tackle is Trai Essex, who filled in admirably for Starks in Baltimore. There are also other options the Steelers will explore, such as moving Alan Faneca from guard to tackle or moving tackle Willie Colon.
"It creates an issue at left tackle for us," said head coach Mike Tomlin. "I feel like Trai Essex did a solid job in relief of Max at Baltimore. We have some other options we will explore. But we will start first and foremost with Trai Essex at left tackle. He made a good accounting of himself versus a very good front in Baltimore. We kept Charlie (Batch) pretty much clean all evening. He was a big part of that.
The Steelers will sign an offensive lineman this week for depth, but it won't be someone expected to come in and play against the Jaguars.
"When we are talking about signing a lineman at this point in January football we are talking about for depth," said Tomlin. "It's unrealistic to think that somebody that comes in here today is going to help us play winning football this weekend. We always look for our answers from within. Trai is the next guy up. The level of expectation will not change."
Linebacker Clint Kriewaldt also has been ruled out for Saturday's game with a neck injury.
"Clint has been dealing with an injury for a long time," said Tomlin. "It hasn't gotten any better. We are probably going to make a move to get a healthy guy to participate for us. It's probably the best thing to do for him and us."
In other injury news cornerback Bryant McFadden (ankle) and safety Troy Polamalu (knee) will be limited in practice early in the week, but Tomlin is hopeful they will play.
Wide receiver Willie Reid, who handled the kickoff return duties with Allen Rossum out against the Ravens, will also be limited in practice with an AC shoulder sprain. Rossum's status for the game will depend on how his hamstring handles running later in the week. If neither can go the return duties could fall into the hands of a number of players, including Najeh Davenport, Cedrick Wilson and Santonio Holmes.
"We're looking at a variety of candidates," said Tomlin. "Najeh Davenport has returned kicks for us. Cedrick Wilson has fielded punts for us. Santonio Holmes has an ability to do those things. We will look at some guys. We will start with Najeh and Cedrick."
Deshea Townsend (foot) and Hines Ward (knee) are also nursing injuries but are expected to play on Saturday.
"These guys understand the gravity of the moment," said Tomlin of all of the injured players, other than Starks and Kriewaldt. "We know they are going to do everything in their power to get well and they have done that. They were in the building yesterday and today. We anticipate these guys pushing and getting through it and being able to participate for us.
"Injury is a part of the game. When I say it I believe it. We're not unlike any teams. Any of the 12 teams left standing have had injury issues and they found ways to overcome it. We don't dwell on that. That's as much a part of the game as blocking and tackling. The healthy guys play and the standard of expectation do not change. You have to play to win and that's what we do. I believe in the men on this football team and understand what team is all about. That is why this is the ultimate team game. We won't make excuses."