On the Steelers: New help is at the center of attention

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The Steelers made three moves to fix their ailing roster, and will now turn their attention to repairing the damage the Tennessee Titans did to them Sunday at Heinz Field.

While misfortune struck three players hard, the Steelers were fortunate to land an experienced center, Fernando Velasco, to take the place of Maurkice Pouncey, whose season ended when two ligaments were torn on the first drive of the season. He will have surgery to repair the MCL and ACL.

They re-signed halfback Jonathan Dwyer, who was released Aug. 31, to take the place of LaRod Stephens-Howling, who left in the third quarter Sunday with a torn right ACL.

They signed kicker Shayne Graham, 35, as temporary protection as Shaun Suisham's hamstring heals.

They placed Pouncey, Stephens-Howling and linebacker Larry Foote (torn biceps) on injured reserve, ending their 2013 seasons.

Graham has been with 13 teams, including all three of the Steelers' AFC North Division opponents, most recently the Cleveland Browns, who signed him in April and cut him Aug. 31.

He kicked for the Houston Texans in 2012 and made a 55-yard field goal against New England in a January playoff game.

Velasco, who signed a one-year contract, started 16 games in 2012 coincidentally for the Tennessee Titans, 13 at center and three at left guard. But the Titans signed center Rob Turner in free agency and drafted center/guard Brian Schwenke of California in the fourth round this year. They released Velasco, who had signed a $2 million tender this year as a restricted free agent, Aug. 30.

Velasco joined the Titans as an undrafted rookie in 2008 from Georgia. He is 28. Pro Football Focus rated Velasco as the 11th-best center last season in the NFL.

Foote's replacement?

The Steelers must find a replacement for Foote at the buck inside linebacker because they did not add one to the roster. Stevenson Sylvester, who spent the previous three seasons with them, would have been considered but they had to add a kicker and did not want to release someone else to do so.

Sunday, Kion Wilson, a player defensive captain Ryan Clark said he just learned his name last week, moved up and it's possible he will start Monday night at Cincinnati.

The buck linebacker traditionally wears the only helmet permitted to have a radio receiver to hear the defensive calls from the coach. Wilson, if he starts, or mack linebacker Lawrence Timmons could wear the helmet and relay the calls on the field.

"I was making all the calls," Wilson said about his Sunday play. "In the beginning I was a little nervous, I didn't want to be wrong, I didn't want to mess up. But you quickly get over that and you know you have guys depending on you and you don't want to let them down."

Wilson, 26, came out of nowhere to make the roster after playing nowhere in 2012. He played briefly with the San Diego Chargers in 2010 as an undrafted rookie from South Florida. They released him and he played briefly with Carolina in 2011. They released him Aug. 31, 2012, and he was a nowhere man until the Steelers signed him Jan. 7 as a free agent.

He has been cut or signed to a roster, practice squad or injured reserve 10 times.

"It's been a journey, many ups and many downs," Wilson said. "I'm blessed to be in this position, I thank God every day."

Beachum back at TE

The signing of Velasco will allow Kelvin Beachum to go back to playing the big tight end spot. The Steelers looked as if they desperately needed him there Sunday.

The Titans sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times and the Steelers ran 15 times for 32 yards rushing, nine by starting halfback Isaac Redman on eight carries.

"We're just looking for a better performance next week," tackle Marcus Gilbert said. "We have to get the guys back in there healthy and we have to step up and perform better than we did this week."

Or, as Clark said: "If we continue to play like this, we're going to continue to see the same result. You can't win football games in the NFL the way we played, in any phase of the game."

Clark, a defensive captain, thought things might have been different had the Steelers, leading, 2-0, been able to score on their first drive, which reached the 5. Instead, with confusion over personnel use on the play, Roethlisberger and Redman did not have a clean handoff and the ball bounced into the end zone, where the Titans recovered for a touchback.

"If you get some type of points out of that drive, the game could be different," Clark said. "Maybe Tennessee throws the ball a little more, maybe Tennessee tries some different things and are unable to protect [quarterback Jake] Locker as well."

Points against goal

The Steelers played winning defense, except on one drive. As Brett Keisel, their other captain, noted, one of Dick LeBeau's long-standing goals is to hold an opponent to no more than 17 points. Tennessee scored 16.

Locker completed only 11 of 20 passes for 125 yards and his 74.0 passer rating was lower than Ben Roethlisberger's 76.7. Plus, Tennessee averaged only 2.7 yards rushing with 112 on 42 carries.

But that one drive, a 49-yarder that came after Roethlisberger's only interception, left the Steelers defenders concerned. Tennessee had 12 plays on that drive and ran the ball 11 times, including Jackie Battle's 3-yard touchdown run up the middle.

"We let them run it down our throats," Clark said. "They came out there and said, 'We're going to be bigger and better men than you are,' and they ran it down our throats, and they scored, and allowed Jake to just sit back, not have to make any plays, not have to take any chances and didn't allow us an opportunity to make any big plays."

There also was the matter of coming up with zero turnovers and just one sack, continuing a troubling trend that began in 2011.


For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published September 10, 2013 4:00 AM


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