Unsung rookie has tough task for Steelers on Sunday

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Veteran offensive lineman Max Starks has 118 NFL starts on his resume, including two in Super Bowls XL and XLIII.

But even after eight years in the league, the Steelers left tackle remembers well what it's like to line up as a starter for the first time.

For Starks, it came in the first game of his second season in the league in 2005 against the Tennessee Titans. Now, Starks is the eldest statesman on the offensive line and in position to impart some wisdom to rookie right tackle Kelvin Beachum, who will be making his first career start in place of injured Mike Adams on Sunday at the Baltimore Ravens.

"We've talked a lot," Starks said. "I've given him a lot of advice already. I've told him there is no equation that will make him successful or unsuccessful. The biggest thing for him is to be mentally tough. The game will be tough. He has to have a short-term memory, move on from one play to the other whether it's good or bad and just play the game."

Right guard Ramon Foster was in Beachum's shoes three years ago when he made the first start of his career in a late November game at Baltimore in '09. Sunday, he will be playing next to Beachum.

"The only thing I have to do with him is calm his nerves," Foster said. "He's prepared really well all year long. He's here longer than some of the vets after practice and meetings. He's a very smart guy. If we can keep him calm and tell him to work his technique, he'll be fine."

Beachum got to play in the second half of Sunday's loss at Cleveland after Adams injured his ankle and was carted off the field. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said he acquitted himself well.

"The good thing is he lined up and played a significant portion of the game last week," Haley said. "That's a good thing. When Mike got hurt, he had to go in. The majority of those were passes, and he held his own. He's getting a full week of practice taking all the reps. We need to make sure we're looking out for him like we always do with those guys on the edges. We expect him to step in and play at a high level."

Beachum, a 6-foot-3, 306-pound four-year starter at Southern Methodist, was the Steelers' fourth choice in the seventh round of April's draft. He was the 248th player chosen in the 253-player draft.

Two of the other seventh-round picks taken before Beachum -- cornerback Terrence Frederick and receiver Toney Clemons -- did not make the team. Beachum did after a strong training camp and preseason.

His teammates describe him as the consummate professional who works hard at his craft.

He stayed late after practice with Starks on Thursday to work on his technique and has done that regularly throughout the season.

The Steelers toyed with the idea of moving Foster out to tackle and having rookie first-round pick David DeCastro, who is coming back from a preseason knee injury, play right guard against the Ravens. But it does not appear that DeCastro is ready to assume a starting role just yet after being activated to the 53-man roster last week.

"I've been preparing to go in whenever they needed me to go in," Beachum said. "It's one of those things I have an opportunity now, and I have to go capitalize on it."

Beachum might be the only new starter on the line this week. Left guard Willie Colon, who missed the Cleveland game with a knee injury, practiced Friday for the first time. Colon, who was not available to speak with reporters after practice, is listed as questionable.

If Colon cannot play, starting center Maurkice Pouncey will move to left guard and Doug Legursky will play center. Pouncey practiced at guard all week and alternated between guard and center Friday when Colon practiced.

"It's not going to be as big an issue as you guys make it out to be," Legursky said. "In years past we've had multiple guys play multiple positions. It's just the next game for us.

"We have no concerns. We'll have five guys who will play hard and play hard together. We'll have five guys who will know what to do and try to get the job done."

Legursky has stepped in and played center and guard many times over the years when players have been injured. Foster has done the same.

If any team is equipped to deal with a line shuffle, it's the Steelers, who have successfully pieced together combinations when injuries have plagued them in recent years.

"It has become second nature almost," Foster said. "You don't want that to happen because you don't want guys to get injured. We have guys who are mentally strong in the room who can take on the responsibility. Whether that's playing another position or whether you have to play with another guy beside you, I think we'll be fine."


Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.

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