Cook: Steelers might have lost without a Whimper


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Max Who?

Is it just me or is this the first week that no one has screamed for the Steelers to re-sign Max Starks?

Their much-maligned offensive linemen played their best game Sunday in the 19-16 win against the Baltimore Ravens. They kept quarterback Ben Roethlisberger relatively clean against a fierce pass rush. They opened enough holes for the team to run for 141 yards, 93 by rookie Le’Veon Bell.

“They fought,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s the thing that showed up most on the film. They fought. I’m always proud of them, but I’m a little extra proud this week.”

Some have suggested the win against the defending Super Bowl champions saved the Steelers’ season. That’s awfully premature. The football club is 2-4 after an 0-4 start, not 4-4 or 6-4 or 8-4. But let’s assume for a moment the Steelers still are relevant in the AFC North Division and will continue to be after games at Oakland and New England the next two Sundays. Will it really be such a reach to suggest that Guy Whimper saved the season?

Seriously.

Whimper had become a joke around here and not just because he has maybe the most ill-fitting name in football, especially for an allegedly big, bad, mean, tough offensive tackle. I’m thinking it’s rivaled only by Pitt kicker Chris Blewitt. Those are two of the great football names of all time.

But Whimper was ridiculed more because he couldn’t get on the field in a season when the Steelers tried everyone but Bruce Gradkowski at tackle. Mike Adams opened the season as a starter but failed miserably. The team traded for Levi Brown despite howls to bring back Starks, who was cut by the San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams this season and is out of work. Brown was hurt in warm-ups before his first game and is done for the season with a triceps injury. Kelvin Beachum finally stepped in at left tackle the past two games and provided competence.

How bad was it for Whimper, who signed with the Steelers as a free agent in the offseason and has done enough to endure eight seasons in the NFL? He got a hat for each of the first five games but wasn’t on the field for one offensive snap.

The only time he played was on special teams in the game against the Minnesota Vikings in London.

So what was Whimper doing Sunday lined up at right tackle against Ravens monsters Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs?

Playing pretty darn well, actually.

“The thing I notice is pressure and where it’s coming from,” Roethlisberger said. “I didn’t notice it coming from his side. It definitely wasn’t too big for him. He stepped into a sticky situation and did really well. I’m happy for him.”

Whimper played the final 48 snaps after starter Marcus Gilbert left early with a quad injury. The Steelers could have put Adams at right tackle, but they had a significant package of plays with him as a third, blocking tight end and didn’t want to lose it. So coach Mike Tomlin went with Whimper and …

What?

Hoped?

Prayed?

Whimper didn’t let the team down. According to Pro Football Focus, which analyzes the work of every NFL player, he graded out better than all of the linemen except right guard David DeCastro.

Know this:

Dumervil and Suggs weren’t on the Heinz Field lawn ridiculing Whimper’s name.

“I felt like I did pretty good,” Whimper said. “I let Dumervil get inside of me a few too many times, but I could have sworn he was offsides at least five times.”

You should have seen the big, bad, mean, tough Whimper laugh.

Dumervil and Suggs didn’t do much, combining for 1½ sacks and two hurries of Roethlisberger. They came into the game with a combined 12 sacks.

“[Beachum] and I talked during the week and knew Suggs and Dumervil could cause problems,” Whimper said. “We worked extra hard in practice to get prepared. We were able to neutralize them.”

It is to Whimper’s credit that he put in the time and effort. He’s a professional and was smart enough to take advantage of extra practice work because Gilbert was limited last week. But it can’t be easy for a backup, especially one who had no real indication he ever would get to play.

“It wasn’t that hard at all,” Whimper said. “I’ve got to stay ready through every game. Somebody goes down, I’ve got to be ready to go.”

Said Tomlin of Whimper: “He was prepared. More important than that, he delivered an above-the-line performance.”

Whimper called beating the Ravens “the best feeling ever.” It’s fair to assume his linemates shared his excitement. They have been widely criticized from the start of the season. This time, they were really good.

“We don’t look at what’s being said on the outside,” Whimper said. “We’re a tight-knit group, a family, a brotherhood. As long as we don’t let anything get between us, we’ll be fine. We couldn’t care less what people are saying on the outside.”

Tomlin said Gilbert’s quad “still is an issue” but that he is “optimistic” Gilbert will be able to play Sunday at Oakland against the Raiders. If not, it’s likely Whimper will get his first start with the Steelers.

No one is laughing at the man now.

No one is calling for Starks.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Vinnie and Cook” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

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