Print and Go Back ESPN.com: AFC North [Print without images]

Sunday, September 8, 2013
Examining the Steelers' O-line options

By Scott Brown

PITTSBURGH -- Kevin Colbert did not look happy as he walked back to his private suite in the Heinz Field press box. The Steelers general manager presumably had just gotten an update on injured center Maurkice Pouncey or gone to check on the three-time Pro Bowler himself.

None of the signs that have emerged since right guard David DeCastro rolled onto Pouncey’s right leg have been good.

From quarterback Ben Roethlisberger kneeling beside Pouncey on the Heinz Field turf to the latter leaving the stadium for a hospital, everything points to the injury being as bad as it looked.

It would be disastrous for the Steelers if Pouncey suffered an injury severe enough to sideline him for the rest of the season.

Pouncey is not just one of the best centers in the NFL. He is also the leader of a young and inexperienced offensive line -- and the biggest reason for optimism that the line will be able to protect Roethlisberger and create space for the Steelers’ underwhelming running backs.

The Steelers don’t have a lot of options if Pouncey is out for an extended period or the rest of the season. They signed Cody Wallace last week, but he appears to be more of a stopgap at center than a potential starter. Kelvin Beachum, who took over at center after Pouncey left the game, is an option there.

But that may be the position that Beachum played the least, and moving the second-year man there would compromise the overall depth of the line because he can play all five positions.

One likely scenario for the Steelers if Pouncey sustained a serious knee injury would be to bring back John Malecki.

Malecki, the second-team center in training camp and the preseason, initially made the 53-man roster but was released after the Steelers signed Wallace. He lives in the Pittsburgh area and is probably waiting by the phone.

It is not a call the Steelers want to make given Pouncey’s importance to the team. But one constant during coach Mike Tomlin’s tenure is injuries along the offensive line.

And it looks like the Steelers have to deal with a serious one to the lineman they can least afford to lose.