Steelers lineman Adams braces for debut as starter

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Ask a couple of Steelers right tackle alumni -- Max Starks and Willie Colon -- about their first start at that position. It's seared into their memories.

"Tennessee, 2005. Home opener against Kyle Vanden Bosch when he had red contacts in his eyes -- I'd never seen a grown man with red contacts in his eyes," Starks said of the intimidating and ghoulish appearance of Vanden Bosch, a Pro Bowl sack specialist.

Colon's memory is as vivid. "Baltimore on Christmas Eve [2006] -- that was a lot for me ... Their defense was ranked pretty high. Ray Lewis was up for another MVP year. It was a dogfight all the way through."

Someday, Mike Adams will have similar recollections about Sunday night in Cincinnati -- when this rookie second-round pick from Ohio State makes his first regular-season start in place of injured right tackle Marcus Gilbert. But he already has endured a series of trials before and in his brief tenure with the Steelers, some on the field, others off it -- and of his own creation.

In a preseason game against Philadelphia, he made reserve defensive end Philip Hunt look like Deacon Jones, allowing two sacks before later leaving the game with a knee injury.

Pressed into service unexpectedly in the season opener at Denver when Gilbert went gimpy with a knee injury, the Broncos' Von Miller -- arguably the premier young pass-rusher in the league -- welcomed Adams to the NFL by blowing past him on the Steelers' final possession and logging two drive-killing sacks.

Last week in Tennessee, Adams stepped in again after Gilbert's ankle injury in the second quarter. He gave up a sack early, but kept quarterback Ben Roethlisberger clean for the remainder of the game.

Sunday, he will face rangy and athletic end Carlos Dunlap and a Bengals defense that is second in the NFL with 20 sacks.

Adams consistently shown a penchant for being a powerful run blocker, an area of the offense the Steelers desperately need production from -- they're ranked 31st -- if they intend to re-establish themselves in the AFC North Division race.

"Anyone that tells you they aren't nervous before they start any game is lying, but I'm definitely excited," Adams said.

He should be. Getting here hardly was a given for this Farrell, Pa., native, who said he is a lifelong Steelers fan.

The Steelers took a flyer in drafting Adams, who is 6 feet 7 and 323 pounds. He had been suspended at Ohio State as part of a scandal that cost coach Jim Tressel his job. He tested positive for marijuana at the NFL scouting combine, after first lying to league executives about it. He was regarded as a first-round talent, but questions about his character lingered.

Adams and his agent, Eric Metz, sought out the Steelers, driving together to meet with general manager Kevin Colbert, coach Mike Tomlin and president Art Rooney II. Colbert bluntly told him that he wasn't on their draft board.

By agreeing to a set of stipulations that included counseling, Adams returned to the Steelers' good graces. He's mum about the past, but conceded he was worried that his past decisions jeopardized his chances of playing pro football.

"You just got to have faith that everything will work out. It's a waiting game at that point, and you've just got to see what happens and try not to freak out about it. I'm very happy with the way things worked out."

For all the lumps he has taken, his teammates and coaches are pleased with his progress.

"[He] has worked hard, and I think everybody out here has confidence in [him]," offensive coordinator Todd Haley said.

With Gilbert expected to miss several weeks with an ankle injury, Adams will get a chance to show whether he is NFL material.

Speaking from experience, Colon said, "It's not a matter if you're ready or not, its how you hold up to it and how you stand up to the pressure at hand. We're confident he's going to do a good job.

"He has no choice, really."



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