Head to Head: Steelers LT Max Starks vs. Broncos LB Elvis Dumervil

A closer look at the game within the game

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Do not adjust your television sets. There is nothing wrong with your picture. Your eyes are not being deceived.

If it looks as if an undersized outside linebacker wearing No. 92 is wreaking havoc in the backfield and sacking the quarterback, it is not the same player wearing two different uniforms. It only appears that way.

There might not be two players in the National Football League who more closely resemble each other than Steelers linebacker James Harrison and Denver linebacker Elvis Dumervil, everything from their physical stature to jersey number to production on the field.

Dumervil is the right outside linebacker in the Broncos' 3-4 defense, the same position Harrison plays for the Steelers. Dumervil is 5 feet 11, 248 pounds and uses his lack of height to get under and around opposing tackles. Harrison is 6 feet, 242 pounds and torments left tackles in the same manner.

Dumervil leads the AFC with 10 sacks. Harrison is second with eight. Both wear jersey number 92.

"He has the speed to get around any tackle," said cornerback William Gay, who played with Dumervil at the University of Louisville. "But what people don't know about him is he's strong. In college, he would out-lift the offensive linemen and everybody."

Since he came into the league as the 126th overall pick in the 2006 draft, Dumervil has 11 games with multiple sacks -- second most among NFL players in that span. One of those games was against the Steelers Oct. 21, 2007, when he had two sacks on Ben Roethlisberger.

Dumervil has had two or more sacks in four games this season, including four against the Cleveland Browns in Week 2. None of those sacks, however, came against Browns Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas. After getting shut down by Thomas in the first half, Dumervil was moved to the left side in the second half and got all four sacks against right tackle John St. Clair.

Seven of his 10 sacks have come on third down.

"He's moving around some, attacking different people," coach Mike Tomlin said. "It's tough to get a bead on where he is."

The job of slowing Dumervil and keeping him away from Roethlisberger falls to left tackle Max Starks, who already has one big notch in his pass-protection belt.

Starks is coming off a game in which he did not allow a sack to Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, who leads the NFL with 11 1/2 sacks. Starks played against Dumervil in 2006 and '07, but this will be the first time each player is a starter.

This will also be the first time they will see Dumervil in a 3-4 defense -- an alignment more suited to his size and skills. The Broncos switched from a 4-3 defense this year under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who used a 3-4 defense when he was head coach with the San Francisco 49ers (2005-08) and defensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens (2002-04).

"The good news is, I have the opportunity to go against James every day in practice," Starks said. "If we didn't have someone like James and we had a 6-foot-5 guy trying to mimic a 6-foot guy and below, that would be tougher. But having James here and going against him for the amount of time I do is definitely an added bonus."

Especially when preparing for a James Harrison clone.

Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com .


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