Steelers feature many new starters
January 09, 2011
Herald Standard

PITTSBURGH - The Steelers have won two rings in the last five years, so naturally they're considered a savvy group of hardened veterans.

[HIGH-LIGHT]But on Saturday in their playoff opener, the Steelers will start only eight starters from both Super Bowls, and 14 starters from the last Super Bowl. That's out of 24 starters.[/HIGH-LIGHT]

"There are definitely a bunch of guys in here that haven't been to the top of the mountain," said defensive end Brett Keisel. "I'm not sensing nervousness. I think everybody's excited to be in this position. But we hope to put these guys under our wing and show them how to prepare and get ready for this run."

They did that last week. Before what amounted to a first-round playoff game in Cleveland, the Steelers enjoyed "the best week of practice we had all year," said Keisel. "The sense of urgency was there."

It resulted in a Bye Week, which, under coach Mike Tomlin, meant Rookie Week on the practice field. Players such as Emmanuel Sanders took advantage.

Stepping in for Hines Ward at practice, Sanders was the playmaker for Ben Roethlisberger that the Steelers envisioned on draft day. Sanders' confidence this past week was obvious.

"Yeah, it's starting to come on," he said. "We got the opportunity to learn the minute details of the offense and it definitely helped. I learned things about the offense I didn't know because they're working me in the slot and outside receiver. I'm getting way more comfortable.

"Not only that, but ever since Week 10 I've been the No. 3 receiver and getting more reps at practice, so me and Ben's chemistry is starting to click, too. It's all coming on."

Sanders, Antonio Brown and Maurkice Pouncey are three rookies who'll play critical roles on offense Saturday. Other key starters such as WR Mike Wallace, RB Rashard Mendenhall and DE Ziggy Hood will be in their first playoff games.

"I'm kind of blind because I've never been to the playoffs," said Wallace. "I'm following the lead here. But, still, I know how to play football and I'm going to play it to the best of my ability every play."

"When you come into this locker room, you know this is a team of winners," said Hood. "So you have to put yourself in that right state of mind so you can go out there and win a world championship."

Hood was asked if the veterans flash their rings to the youngsters.

"No," he said. "Everyone says that no ring is as important as the next one."

"It feels good to be on a veteran team," added Sanders. "I can just see the attitudes of the guys change in how they approach practice, how they approach film study, how they approach everything, because they know what's at stake and they're trying to instill that in us and they're doing a real good job. We know what's at stake."

The steady rocks - hardened starters through two successful playoff runs - are Roethlisberger, Ward, Heath Miller, Casey Hampton, James Farrior, James Harrison, Ike Taylor, and Troy Polamalu. Of the 53 on their active roster, 33 have played in a playoff game.

What's the best advice a veteran can give?

"Go out there and just do your job," said nine-year veteran NT Chris Hoke. "Don't worry about trying to make plays, or trying to do something monstrous. Go out there and carry out your responsibility. We've got enough playmakers on this team. Everyone else has to do their job."