Steelers notebook: Anything goes to solve woes at OT

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Starting positions are won and lost in training camp. At least that's the way it's supposed to work.

But, as the Steelers prepare to play the Minnesota Vikings Sunday in London, they're staging another week of competition to see which players are best-suited to protect Ben Roethlisberger at the tackle positions.

Coach Mike Tomlin took the unusual step of rotating his tackles Sunday night in a 40-23 loss to the Chicago Bears. At different times, starting tackles Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams were removed from the game and reserve Kelvin Beachum replaced one of them.


Next game


• Matchup: Steelers (0-3) vs. Minnesota Vikings (0-3), Wembley Stadium, London.

• When: 1 p.m. Sunday.

• TV: KDKA.


Adams played 63 of the team's 66 offensive snaps. Gilbert played 53 and Beachum 16.

"As a competitor, those are things that motivate you, to get better so they don't feel like they need to do that," said Adams, a second-year player from Ohio State. "You never want to come out of a game. You just have to rise up."

Adams missed one series, but he struggled in pass protection, allowing two hits on Roethlisberger and four hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. Gilbert allowed one quarterback hurry and had a positive grade in pass protection.

Roethlisberger said the offensive line has to play with more confidence, something Gilbert said he realized on his own before his quarterback said it.

"We were thinking it so much we weren't playing at 100 percent full speed," Gilbert said. "We were worried about being assignment perfect. As an offensive lineman, you just have to go. You can't be so tentative. That was a big difference for me between Game 2 and Game 3. I was just going out there and playing football."

On the tackle rotation, Tomlin said Tuesday he will "continue to look at those combinations in an effort to find the very best winning formula for us."

That means more training camp-like competition in the days leading up to the game and perhaps more rotating in the game.

"It was definitely different," Adams said. "I only came out for one series, which was definitely weird. You just have to get through it. It's another week of competing and trying to prove yourself. I think it will be good for us."

Wanted: Nastier attitude

Guard Ramon Foster is the most-tenured player on the offensive line. He was a rookie in 2009 and a starter the following season when the Steelers played in the Super Bowl.

When he harkens back to his early days with the team and looks at the line now, he notices a big difference. The linemen then had a nastier attitude.

"You saw on film, it was bad guys," Foster said of his early days with the team. "We have to exhibit that more. We have the guys to do that. The guys who were drafted here and came here through free agency, they brought them here because they were that type of guy. We have to pull that out of guys, including myself, more often. Guys look at our film the next week, they have to understand what they're going against."

Playing to and sometimes through the whistle can result in penalties. Foster said it's a line this group of linemen must approach more often.

"We had guys in the past who jumped on the pile late and got $15,000 fines," Foster said. "Now, with the change in football, it takes that away from us. But, in a certain sense, you have to keep that edge. We are the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line. We have to show that it's not going to come easy.

The other comeback

All eyes were on Heath Miller Sunday night in his first game since reconstructive knee surgery in January. But another tight end coming off a similar knee injury showed he can still be a productive member of the offense.

David Johnson, who had reconstructive knee surgery last summer after tearing his ACL in a preseason game, posted a career-high 51 yards receiving against the Bears.

"I'm starting to feel good and get more comfortable," Johnson said. "I'm not thinking about the knee as much. I'm just getting out there and playing. It's starting to feel like all this hard work is starting to pay off."

Until Miller gets back into top playing form, it appears Johnson will be used a lot in the running game. Johnson blocked for running plays on 14 of his 26 snaps and was out in routes seven times, although one of them resulted in a 32-yard gain.

Of Miller's 39 snaps, he was out in pass patterns 24 times and was used to block 15 times, 12 of which were running plays.

Johnson was activated Aug. 21 and has a few weeks head start on Miller. He said the most difficult aspect of returning to football shape was getting used to in-line blocking.

"You have to get used to trusting your leg and sticking it in the ground and pushing off, going against these heavy guys out here you can't favor one side," Johnson said. "You just have to play. That's real important getting used to being in-line, being physical and being stout."

Allen tests ankle

Cornerback Cortez Allen, who missed the past two games with an ankle injury, was a full participant and barring any setbacks will play against the Vikings.

"It's still getting there," Allen said. "It was a good test for me to see what I could handle, how much I could take on it. It felt good. I'll keep going day by day and go from there."

The only player that did not practice on Wednesday was defensive end Brett Keisel, who is dealing with a hamstring injury.

Steelers

Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.


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