Rookie first-round pick Jarvis Jones will make his first NFL start Monday night against Cincinnati, but he won't be the only rookie playing extensively against the Bengals.
Rookie safety Shamarko Thomas will play nickel cornerback because starting cornerback Cortez Allen will miss the game with an ankle injury. Veteran William Gay will take Allen's place in the starting lineup.
Allen only played 29 snaps before exiting the opener against Tennessee with a sprained ankle. Gay stepped in and performed well. He played 48 snaps and received the second-highest grade of any Steelers defender in Week 1, according to Pro Football Focus. Only nose tackle Steve McLendon had a higher grade.
"It's nothing new," said Gay, who started 15 games for Arizona in 2012 and was a starter for the Steelers in 2009 and 2011. "At the end of the day you have to go out and do the job."
Thomas played 10 snaps against the Titans and was credited with one tackle.
"I was nervous at first," Thomas said. "When you're a rookie you just expect to play special teams and stuff, but when your name is called you have to be ready. I was ready. I had to make plays for my team."
Thomas, a fourth-round pick from Syracuse, entered the league with a reputation for being a hard-hitting safety, but he also played nickel corner for the Orange.
"I feel like that's why coach [drafted] me," Thomas said. "I played nickel and safety in college. I laid big hits, but I could also cover slot receivers. I feel like I can do that here, too."
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau thought Thomas acquitted himself well in his limited playing time against Tennessee.
"He probably was a little excited but I thought he did very well in there," LeBeau said. "He's a good football player. He is just learning and growing. I am glad we drafted him."
Wilson to make first start
Third-year linebacker Kion Wilson is in line to get his first NFL start in place of injured Larry Foote. Wilson took Foote's place last week and played nine snaps at the end of the game.
Wilson was an undrafted free agent out of South Florida in 2010 and played briefly with San Diego and Carolina in 2010 and 2011. But he was out of the NFL last season before the Steelers gave him a tryout in the spring.
"For me, it's a lifelong dream," Wilson said. "I have the opportunity. I'm really excited about it. I want to do my part to help the organization, help the team and achieve my personal goals."
LeBeau indicated rookie sixth-round pick Vince Williams also will see some time at linebacker against the Bengals.
"They are just young players learning what to do," LeBeau said. "I think they've all made great progress to this point. I am confident. I know they will play physical and play hard. We just have to coach them and get them in the right place."
The Steelers lost the first game in each of the past two seasons and rebounded to win their second game. They lost the opener to Denver in 2012 and beat the Jets in Week 2. They lost the 2011 opener at Baltimore and beat Seattle in the second game.
The Steelers have not lost their first two games of the season since 2002. They went 10-3-1 the rest of that season and made the playoffs.
Also ruled out for Monday are Heath Miller (knee) and Le'Veon Bell (foot). Reserve cornerback Curtis Brown (illness) is doubtful and nose tackle Steve McLendon (hamstring) and place-kicker Shaun Suisham (hamstring) are probable.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published September 15, 2013 4:00 AM