Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger eludes a sack by Bills' Jerry Hughes as he tosses an incomplete pass in the third quarter at Heinz Field last Sunday afternoon.
By Ray Fittipaldo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert knows he and his teammates on the offensive line will have their hands full Sunday when the Detroit Lions and their aggressive front four visit Heinz Field. From his view, the last thing the team needed was another distraction.
The latest came courtesy of the second report in the past few days from the NFL Network, this one saying some teammates believe quarterback Ben Roethlisberger must become more "cerebral" and prepare better when he is away from the team's practice facility. The report also said Roethlisberger's unwillingness to change his style of play is the biggest obstacle in his remaining with the team long term.
Gilbert, for one, is tired of it all.
"We don't need any of that nonsense," Gilbert said. "I guess someone has a personal agenda out for him. But they don't see the things we see, especially being an offensive lineman. He works with us as much as anyone. We like having him here. He's helped us progress over the course of the year.
"From what I see, I think he works just as hard as anyone on the offense. He's trying to fix this thing and turn this around."
Roethlisberger did not speak with reporters before leaving the locker room after practice Friday, but he addressed the report Friday morning on WDVE, the Steelers' flagship radio station.
"I would love to find out what these sources are," Roethlisberger said in the radio interview. "If a player, coach or front-office person has an issue or wants to talk to me about how I can be a better teammate then come tell me.
"When someone is a source and unnamed, they have an agenda. Their agenda is not winning football games and helping this team win. My agenda is trying to win football games."
The first report from the NFL Network came Sunday morning hours before the Steelers played the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field. That report prompted Roethlisberger's agent and Steelers president Art Rooney II to issue statements refuting the report that said Roethlisberger was frustrated with the direction of the franchise and that the team expected him to ask for a trade after the season was over.
The Steelers went out and beat the Bills. Now they play the Lions under the latest cloud of distraction and the possibility that three starters could miss the game because of injuries.
Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf) is listed as doubtful and defensive end Brett Keisel (foot) and offensive left guard Ramon Foster (ankle) are questionable.
Woodley said he has played in the past without practicing. If he cannot play, rookie Jarvis Jones would start alongside fellow outside linebacker Jason Worilds.
Keisel's injury, plantar fasciitis, got worse as the week progressed. Ziggy Hood, who lost his starting job to Cameron Heyward earlier in the season, would take Keisel's place in the starting lineup.
Woodley leads the team in sacks, and Keisel leads the team in quarterback pressures.
"We have to do what we've been doing and play the defense, play our technique," Hood said. "If we get there, we get there. If we don't, we have to put enough pressure on the quarterback to where we force bad decisions and help guys on the back end with hustle plays."
Veteran offensive lineman Guy Whimper said he expected to get the start in place of Foster, who did not practice for the third consecutive day after spraining his ankle against the Bills.
Whimper has proved to be a valuable asset for offensive line coach Jack Bicknell. Whimper stepped in to play left guard for Foster when he had a concussion during the Oakland game. He started at right guard the next week in New England in place of the injured David DeCastro. He also played the majority of the win against the Baltimore Ravens at right tackle after Gilbert was hurt.
"He's so versatile," Gilbert said. "We trust him to put him at any position on the line. He does whatever he's asked to do and he gets the job done. That's the most important thing. He's a very accountable guy. That's what we're looking for."
Gilbert and every other starter on the line were listed on the injury report this week with an assortment of injuries. Gilbert and DeCastro are playing through ankle injuries and center Fernando Velasco is dealing with a knee injury.
It's not an ideal circumstance facing the eighth-ranked rushing defense in the NFL, led by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
"That's football," Gilbert said.
"You have to deal with adversity. We have to fight through that. Guys who are able to go have to go and they have to go at 100 percent. If they can't, next man up."
■ Game: Steelers vs. Lions.
■ When: 1 p.m. Sunday.
■ Where: Heinz Field.
■ TV: WPGH.
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Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.
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