The next steps will be difficult ones for rookie David DeCastro.
First, there will be surgery on his knee, then the grueling rehabilitation period followed by dreary workout routines to return his body back to the form it had been before that damaging second offense series by the Steelers Saturday night in Buffalo.
If he needs any comfort, he could find it in veterans Max Starks and Byron Leftwich. They've been there.
Starks departed the Steelers' playoff loss on Jan. 8 in Denver with an ACL injury that required surgery and all that rehab. Incredibly, eight months later, he will open the season as the team's starting left tackle, again in Denver.
"I told him if there's anything he needs or questions asked, I'm here," Starks said after DeCastro's injury dimmed the Steelers' 38-7 preseason victory. "It really stinks because he was doing really well."
DeCastro, the Steelers' 2012 first-round draft choice, has what Mike Tomlin called severe damage in his right knee. There are conflicting reports on just what that damage is, but instead of opening the season as the team's starting right guard, his rookie season could be over.
Leftwich has been there, too. He was scheduled to start the first four games of the '10 season while Ben Roethlisberger served a suspension, but a knee injury in the fourth preseason game ended that. He ultimately returned but played only a mop-up role in the final regular-season game.
Again last season, Leftwich was No. 2 until his left arm was broken in the third preseason game. The Steelers put him on injured reserve and he missed the '11 season.
Leftwich had a more satisfying third preseason game Saturday in Buffalo as he re-establishes himself as one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league. He completed 5 of 8 passes for 105 yards, one touchdown of 39 yards to Antonio Brown, a near-perfect 145.8 passer rating and led his offense to 24 points in the second half.
"I think he was excited," offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. "He hasn't played a bunch. He told me, 'I've only thrown three balls in the last two years.' He's right. We tried to get him some opportunities to make plays."
He did that. He pinpointed his first pass of the game to Brown over two defenders in the middle of the end zone. Almost as impressive was the one he slung to Brown along the sideline that carried 22 yards.
"It was good to get out there and get a lot of work, get some plays called, get some passes out, get some runs," Leftwich said. "It was good, especially not playing last week. I've been feeling good all camp so it was good just to get out there and go."
Leftwich loved throwing to them Saturday and says he and the others look forward to Mike Wallace joining them.
"We have some guys who can make some plays. Not that it's easy, but those guys do a good job getting open so well they make it easy for the quarterback.
"Mike gives anybody a boost. When you add a guy who does what Mike does, that's a boost, I don't care what team you have. If he comes back this week, we're going to welcome him. We love Mike. We understand the situation. We know he's going to come in ready to work."
The Steelers were No. 1 on defense in the NFL last season in fewest points allowed, fewest total yards and fewest passing yards. They also ranked worst in their history in fewest turnovers caused with a paltry 15 in 16 games.
Coordinator Dick LeBeau has drummed into his players the importance of re-establishing what long has been a trademark of the team's defenses, the takeaway.
Through three preseason games, they nearly have half what they had all last regular season with seven. They included two interceptions and a fumble recovery Saturday night that set up three offensive touchdowns, coming in the wake of Ike Taylor's interception return for a score the previous week.
"We got some press on the quarterback," explained linebacker Larry Foote. "Anytime you're on the road and start slow, turnovers can grab the momentum for us and we did that."
The Steelers blitzed more often against the Bills than they had in their first two games. They finished with two sacks, 11 quarterback hurries and five tackles for losses.
"The mentality of everybody is to run to the ball; you can cause fumbles," Foote said, explaining one way they are trying to improve their turnover ratio. "As long as we hustle to the ball, good things are going to happen."
Ramon Foster is back as the starting right guard because of DeCastro's injury. This will be the third consecutive season Foster will be the team's starting right guard through one means or the other.
In his second season in 2010, the undrafted Foster won the job at right guard at midseason and started eight games. Last season, he lost the job to Doug Legursky and then reclaimed it after Legursky was hurt and started 14 games.
Foster started at right tackle at the University of Tennessee and also started there in the second preseason game against the Colts.
"Every time people count him out he keeps fighting, stays persistent and perseveres," said guard Willie Colon, who credits Foster with helping to push Isaac Redman into the end zone for his 2-yard touchdown run in Buffalo. "I love him to death, I know he's going to do a great job at right guard. It's awful that we lost David and I think sky's the limit [for his potential]. Ramon has been through the wars. You know he's going to fight. It's kind of a no-brainer, honestly."
• Safety Robert Golden had a good training camp and he did not hurt himself with that 47-yard interception in the second half. An undrafted rookie from Arizona, Golden is making a hard pitch for that 53-man roster and the most vulnerable veteran to his attempt would seem to be Will Allen.
• Haley's offense looked pretty good once it got warmed up Saturday night. He was not completely satisfied, though. "I'd like to run the ball better than that," he said after the Steelers averaged 3.4 yards on 32 carries.
• Jonathan Dwyer looks as if he's developing into something special at running back. He did not show it so much running the ball in Buffalo, but he did catching them. He had three receptions for 48 yards including his big 33-yarder along the left sideline on third down from the 3 that kick-started the 98-yard drive.
"That was a big time play, now," Haley said. "He didn't get as many opportunities running as in other weeks, but that was a big-time play when we needed it. Because that's the game, really. If that was a real game and you convert coming out of there and going 98 yards and they're burning their timeouts? That was a big play when you needed it most. Anytime you have a guy who does that, that's a real good sign."
• Only one field goal was tried in Buffalo and Tomlin let rookie Daniel Hrapmann again kick it. He again made it from 40 yards to give him 5 for 5 this summer. Shaun Suisham has made both of his field-goal tries. It appears coaches are giving Hrapmann every chance to unseat the veteran.
First Published August 27, 2012 4:00 AM