Most of the Steelers spent their off day Tuesday preparing for their trip to Dallas for Super Bowl XLV, taking care of all the details for their families, making final arrangements for flights, hotel rooms and tickets to the big game.
Maurkice Pouncey, Doug Legursky and Trai Essex spent a big part of the day preparing for the Green Bay Packers.
Centers, you know?
Pro Bowler Pouncey, backup Legursky and emergency backup Essex were at the Steelers' South Side headquarters with offensive line coach Sean Kugler, getting their weekly advanced look at the game plan, which will be given to the rest of the team today. Here's hoping Pouncey wasn't wasting his time because of a left high-ankle sprain that makes him questionable -- at best -- for the game Feb. 6. Here's also hoping Legursky paid extra attention.
Just in case.
"I'll be ready if I have to go," Legursky said. "I'm ready every week."
Legursky didn't let the Steelers down Sunday night in the AFC championship game against the New York Jets after Pouncey went down midway through the first quarter when linebacker Bryan Thomas rolled up the back of his leg. Running back Rashard Mendenhall scored on a 1-yard touchdown run on the next play for a 7-0 lead, which quickly became 24-0. Legursky did well enough with his run-blocking that Mendenhall finished with 121 yards. His pass-blocking was good enough that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stayed relatively clean, sacked just twice. The Steelers held on, 24-19.
That extra film work with Pouncey, Essex and Kugler the previous Tuesday night paid off for Legursky. He made all the line's blocking calls, seemingly with little trouble.
"There was no dropoff whatsoever," said offensive tackle Jonathan Scott, who knows a little something about stepping in for a fallen teammate, putting his hand in the pile and keeping the standard as the standard.
Column note: The second half of the above paragraph is dedicated to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
Back to Legursky ...
"He played his tail off. I'm so happy for him. That's my guy, man," Pouncey gushed.
A little love for a valued teammate is nice, but Pouncey and, especially Scott, might have been guilty of embellishment. That has little to do with the two snaps that Legursky botched with Roethlisberger, the second resulting in a fourth-quarter safety and prompting Legursky to fess up, "That was 100 percent my fault. I was trying to get my arms under the guy in front of me and I short-armed the snap." It has just about everything to do with Pouncey, who, though a rookie, has been called, "The Freak," by Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians because of his smarts and physical skills. Few NFL starting centers -- let alone backups -- are as good.
But it's fair to think the Steelers wouldn't be in their third Super Bowl in six seasons without players such as Legursky and Scott. Kugler has done a terrific job plugging the leaks that seem to develop each week on the line. Legursky started four games at right guard early in the season when Essex was hurt, has played at left guard at times and gets the occasional snap as the blocking fullback in the team's goal-line offense. Scott has played both tackles, taking over as the starter on the left side when Max Starks was lost for the season with a neck injury in the Cincinnati game Nov. 8. Starting right guard Ramon Foster has played multiple positions. So has Essex. Only Pouncey and right tackle Flozell Adams have started every game at their regular position.
"I don't think there's ever been an O-line like this one," Legursky said.
Clearly, that standard-is-the-standard sermon that Tomlin always preaches means something to the proud linemen. Enough people have blamed them when the Steelers' offense has struggled. I'm here this morning to applaud them.
The other claps you hear are coming from Roethlisberger.
"You know me, I'm the biggest fan of our offensive line regardless of how much bad stuff is written about them and how supposedly terrible they are. They are a great group. They are a very close group. They will do anything for me, which makes it a little more special. They find ways to fill in and step up and play for each other. I can't say enough good things about those guys."
The Steelers are down to one game with everything at stake. The big fellas have to get it done one more time. Pouncey isn't expected to practice until next week -- if then -- but has vowed to play against the Packers despite what appeared to be a serious injury. Legursky, meanwhile, will prepare as if he's going to be the center of attention. Should he run on the field at Cowboy Stadium with Roethlisberger and the other starters, it would add to his nice story of perseverance. "A long, hard ride," Legursky called it. An undrafted free agent out of Marshall and a practice-squad player in '08. A little-used reserve in '09. And now, perhaps, a Super Bowl starter after the '10 season.
You had better believe Legursky will pay extra attention in the Steelers' meeting room and on the practice field, as well as when the linemen gather at left guard Chris Kemoeatu's house Thursday night and work a little overtime at their regular weekly film study session.
Just in case.
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