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Steelers' Starks can make 2009 even better

By: Mike Bires
Beaver County Times

Thursday November 5, 2009 12:16 AM

PITTSBURGH — It’s already been the greatest year in Max Starks’ life. But it could get even better.

In February, he experienced the thrill of winning the Super Bowl for the second time.

In June, he became the highest-paid offensive linemen in Steelers’ history when he landed a four-year, $26.3 million contract that included a $10 million signing bonus.

A week later, he got married.

Now, as the Steelers prepare for Monday night’s showdown in Denver, Starks is receiving acclaim as one of the NFL’s best offensive linemen. There’s a chance he may be only the second Steelers’ tackle to make the Pro Bowl in the last 19 years.

If that happens, it could cap off a most memorable year for Starks, who went to training camp in the summer of 2008 not knowing where his future would lead him.

“It’s been a great journey,” Starks said.

In his second year, Starks started all 20 games, four postseason games included, at right tackle as the Steelers won their fifth Super Bowl. But two years later when Mike Tomlin and offensive line coach Larry Zierlein arrived in Pittsburgh, Starks lost his starting job to Willie Colon.

Last year, Starks started out as a second-stringer again even though he was paid $6.9 million. But that turned out to be an invaluable insurance policy.

When Marvel Smith’s back went out, Starks moved in at left tackle and stayed there as the Steelers went on to win another Super Bowl.

“It’s just perseverance,” Starks said. “People have allowed me to be here. Certain powers-that-be want me to be here. So I’m able to just go out and play the game I love.”

This season, Starks is playing the best football of his career.

As a left tackle, he almost always faces an opponent’s best pass rusher, whether it’s a defensive end or outside linebacker.
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He’s accountable for 4½ of the 20 sacks the O-line has allowed. But in only one of the instances was Starks beaten off the ball. The other sacks when Starks’ man got to Ben Roethlisberger were coverage sacks.

When the Steelers played in Cincinnati earlier this year, Bengals D-end Antwan Odom came into the game with a league-high seven sacks. Odom had none against Starks.

Two Sundays ago against Minnesota, Vikings D-end Jared Allen came into the game with 7.5 sacks. Allen had none against Starks. Allen now leads the NFL with 10.5 after recording three last week in a win over Green Bay.

On Monday night, Starks faces Broncos outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who’s second in the league with 10 sacks.

Dumervil, who’s 5-foot-11 and 248 pounds, is built similar to Pittsburgh’s James Harrison (6-0, 242). He even wears jersey No. 92 like Harrison.

“James is a little bit stronger,” Starks said.

But with the Broncos playing at home on a Monday night, the home crowd figures to be loud and rowdy.

Starks said he is up for the challenge.

“I look forward to competing … it doesn’t matter who the guy is I’m playing against,” he said. “Anytime you’re in the NFL and you have a chance to play on Monday Night Football, that’s a blessing and a dream come true.”

Obviously, Stark’s ultimate dream this season is to play in yet another Super Bowl. But a spot in the Pro Bowl wouldn’t be bad either. The last Steelers tackle to play in the NFL all-star game was Smith in 2004. Before that, it was Tunch Ilkin in 1989.

“Max is an elite tackle in this league,” Steelers guard Trai Essex said.

At least he’s been among the elite this season.