New Steelers center Cody Wallace is nearing the end of his sixth season in the NFL. He has been on six teams and has played a total of 58 snaps in his professional career.
On Sunday, he will make his first NFL start.
"It's been a long time," Wallace said after practice Monday. "I've always prepared with that hope in mind. For me, I'm not going to look at it differently than other games. Now, after warm-ups, I know I won't be getting cold, so that will be exciting."
Leave it to an offensive lineman to lighten the mood in a difficult circumstance. Wallace is the team's third center this season, and he's assuming the role with his team in a must-win situation for the final four games of the season.
It's not an ideal situation, but his teammates are confident that Wallace is ready for the challenge.
"It's time to show what he can do," veteran guard Ramon Foster said. "He's been in the league for a while. This will be his first start. He's starving for this and you can tell by the way he's working. He has prepared for this moment."
"He comes to work every day and he busts his tail," right tackle Marcus Gilbert said. "Knowing he was the second-string center, he always came to practice with the mentality that he was trying to get that starting job. He's on top of everything, asking question in meetings even though he was the second guy. He was that type of guy who strived for the best. That's what we're looking to get from him, to get the best out of him."
Wallace, drafted out of Texas A&M in the fourth round of the 2008 draft by the San Francisco 49ers, is stepping in for Fernando Velasco, who suffered an Achilles injury in the fourth quarter of a loss Thursday night to the Baltimore Ravens. Velasco was signed in September after Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the season with a knee injury in the opener against the Tennessee Titans.
Velasco had less than a week to prepare for his first game, and Foster and others had to guide him through his first few games by helping him with line calls and other nuances of the offense on the fly.
Wallace has been with the team all season, so it won't be about getting him up to speed mentally as much as getting him up to the actual speed of an NFL game. He only has been in 15 of them and until this season he almost never saw the field.
Forty of his 58 career snaps have come this season. He played 38 snaps at guard in the Oakland Raiders game and played two snaps at center against the Ravens after Velasco was injured.
"The good thing about it is Cody has been here so he knows the system," Foster said. "He just has to get game speed going. As far as knowing what to do and how to do it, he's on top of it."
The Steelers might be dealing with more than a new center Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum also was injured against the Ravens and his status this week is not yet known. He was seen limping across the parking lot Monday at the Steelers practice facility while his teammates practiced.
Former starter Mike Adams, who replaced Beachum against the Ravens, also was injured late in the Ravens game. That prompted the Steelers to sign veteran Rashad Butler on Saturday, but Butler abruptly left the team Monday without participating in a practice. The Steelers said it was for personal reasons.
Guy Whimper would be in line to start Sunday if Beachum and Adams do not improve. Whimper has played right tackle and both guard positions in games this season but his first exposure to left tackle came against the Ravens when he played the final five snaps of the game.
Gilbert said there had not yet been any discussion with the coaches about moving him to left tackle this week if Beachum cannot play.
If there is a positive to be drawn from the situation it's that putting together a game plan with a patchwork offensive line is nothing new to the Steelers. They have been dealing with injury-riddled lines for most of the past four seasons.
"Injuries are going to happen," Gilbert said. "You can't control it. You have to get the guys behind you ready to play. We took a lot of ownership out there in practice today getting these guys ready, pushing them to go harder and finish."
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.