AFC North: David DeCastro

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- In stark contrast to Ray Rice's awkward news conference in May, the Baltimore Ravens running back showed Thursday that he finally understood the weight of his actions from the alleged altercation with his then-fiancée in February.

He delivered the correct message, one the NFL failed to do last week with the two-game suspension, by not only apologizing to his wife, Janay Palmer, but also expressing a desire to become an advocate for domestic-violence causes.

Rice was compelling in his contrition, calling it the biggest mistake of his life. He stood in front of the microphone alone, without his wife standing by his side, and took full responsibility for the incident. Perhaps more importantly, Rice actually said the words "domestic violence," which weren't heard in his statement two months ago.

"My actions were inexcusable," Rice said. "That's something I have to live with the rest of my life."

Before anyone pats Rice on the back, this is what he should have said the first time when he broke his silence in May. Instead, Rice nervously fumbled through notes on his phone and apologized to team officials and his sponsors. That debacle of a news conference came across as damage control to his image.

His 17-minute news conference Thursday hit the right tones. He apologized to all women affected by domestic violence. He accepted the blame for losing the respect of fans. Rice came across as genuinely sorry.

"I let my wife down, I let my daughter down, I let my wife's parents down, I let the whole Baltimore community down," Rice said.

Rice's biggest misstep was not talking about what happened in the elevator. He was asked twice about it and declined to answer both times. His stance against domestic violence would have resonated stronger if he had explained his transgressions.

"I'll be honest: Like I said, I own my actions," Rice said. "I just don't want to keep reliving the incident. It doesn't bring any good to me. I'm just trying to move forward from it. I don't condone it. I take full responsibility for my actions. What happened that night is something that I'm going to pay for the rest of my life."

The only way Rice can move forward from this incident and show he's truly sincere is through his actions. It's not by his words. It's not by a hefty donation, which is merely a gesture. It's by proving this will remain a "one-time incident" and by supporting domestic-violence causes.

Thursday represented a small step forward for Rice. But it was an important one.
PITTSBURGH -- Mike Munchak will take expansively about a lot of things, from what the return of Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey means to the Steelers’ offensive line to the competition at tackle that will take place at training camp.

Just don’t ask the Pro Football Hall of Fame guard and highly respected offensive line coach if he is the most significant free agent signing for the Steelers since the end of the 2013 season.

[+] EnlargeMike Munchak
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsAs far as the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive linemen are concerned, Tennessee's loss of Mike Munchak is their gain.
“I don’t know,” said Munchak, who joined coach Mike Tomlin’s staff in January in what was widely viewed as a coup for the Steelers. “I just think it’s exciting for all of us. We have a fresh start for me, a fresh start for the linemen, a new way of looking at things (and) fresh eyes on what they’ve been doing and they’ve been successful. These guys are very prideful. They’re very excited about the opportunities.

“I think they’re seeing the skill around them, the plays that we can make down the field and they’re excited knowing that our big play is giving Ben (Roethlisberger) an extra second to throw a football or opening a hole. So I think together it’s going to be fun. It’s been fun for me so far me and I’m hoping that they’re enjoying it, too.”

No one is more qualified than Munchak to help an offensive line that is young and has shown promise get to the next level. He will be entering his 33rd season in the NFL as a player or a coach, and he has excelled as both an offensive lineman and an offensive line coach.

Munchak spent the previous three seasons as the Tennessee Titans’ head coach. When the Titans organization removed him from that position the Steelers moved quickly to bring the Scranton native and former Penn State All-American back to Pennsylvania.

His new players have raved about Munchak and they seemed to hang on his every word during offseason practices. Here are three observations Munchak made near the end of offseason practices:

  • On Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro: “They’re smart football players and they adjust to things quickly. They have great vision, and that’s the things I’m learning now is what they are good at. What can they see when their hand is on the ground (and) under stress? Those type of things. I inherited a really good young group that wants to be the best, and that’s very fun to be part of.”
  • On the competition at tackle: “I think the best thing an offensive coach can have is competition, and I think we have that. We have Kelvin Beachum and Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert. I think you got some guys that can really do some good things, and again I’m asking them to do different things than they’ve done in the past. They’ve had three line coaches in three years so everything is not going to change overnight and what we want to do.”
  • On the Steelers’ depth at tackle: “Mike has been playing both sides. He’s been the one pushing on both sides, so we’ll see. Guy Whimper has been, obviously, the fourth guy. We’ve got four veteran tackles. We’re going to have some good football players and some tough decisions.”
PITTSBURGH -- This is the next in a series that takes a post-free agency, post-draft look at the all of the positions with the exception of quarterback.

Our fourth look is at an offensive line that returns every starter and should get Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey back from a torn ACL.


[+] EnlargeMike Munchak
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesAdding Hall of Famer Mike Munchak to the coaching staff could take Pittsburgh's offensive line to the next level.
Who is new: Wesley Johnson. The second of the Steelers' two fifth-round picks, Johnson started 51 career games at Vanderbilt, and the 6-foot-5, 297-pounder is athletic and versatile. Johnson started at least two games at every position along the offensive line except for right guard. The Steelers should know plenty about Johnson considering coach Mike Tomlin is good friends with James Franklin, who coached Johnson at Vanderbilt.

Who is gone: Fernando Velasco. One of the unsung players of last season started 11 games at center before rupturing his Achilles tendon. Velasco remains unsigned as he works his way back from that injury.

Returning starters: Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert. Beachum goes into offseason practice as the starter at left tackle after stabilizing the position last season and playing well in 11 starts there. He could face competition from Mike Adams, whom Beachum replaced at left tackle after the fourth game of 2013. Adams could also challenge Marcus Gilbert at right tackle. The Steelers are set at guard with Foster and DeCastro, who is already a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Pouncey returns at center, barring a setback, after tearing his right ACL in the 2013 season opener. Pouncey is the only center in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons.

Most significant addition: Mike Munchak. The former Titans head coach joined Tomlin’s staff and he could be coach who brings everything together for a promising offensive line. Munchak is a Pro Football Hall of Fame guard, and he coached the offensive line for more than a decade before becoming the head coach in Tennessee. His credentials as an offensive line coach are impeccable, and Munchak is not lacking for talent to mold.

Most significant loss: Velasco. He probably would have signed elsewhere as a free agent after playing well at center last season. With Velasco hurt the Steelers opted to re-sign Cody Wallace to provide depth along the interior of the line. They could re-sign Velasco once he is close to full strength and bring him to training camp to compete with Wallace.

On outside looking in: Johnson. Assuming the Steelers keep eight offensive linemen when they finalize their 53-man roster, Johnson will probably have to beat out veteran Guy Whimper to make the team.

Hidden number: Nine different offensive linemen started at least one game last season as injuries again scrambled the offensive line.

Outlook: The Steelers have yet to field an offensive line that consistently controls the line of scrimmage under Tomlin. That could change this year, especially if the Steelers can stay relatively healthy up front. The Steelers invested heavily in their line from 2010-12 spending two first-round picks and a pair of second-round selections on offensive linemen. Now they have a position coach who can get the most out of a young but experienced group that also has good depth. “I’m excited to work with them,” Munchak said. “I think we can have a special group here.”
PITTSBURGH -- Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played every snap and was the only Steelers offensive player to log more than 1,000 snaps in 2013.

Roethlisberger was under center for all 1,021 of the Steelers' snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Info, with wide receiver Antonio Brown (923), right tackle Marcus Gilbert (922), right guard David DeCastro (922) and tight end Heath Miller (874) rounding out the top five in playing time among offensive players.

Here is a look at other snap counts on that side of the ball:
  • Le'Veon Bell logged 656 snaps despite missing the first three games of the season because of a foot injury. Bell played the most of the five running backs selected in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft, edging out Green Bay's Eddie Lacy by four snaps. Cincinnati's Giovani Bernard played 589 snaps with Denver's Montee Ball and Seattle's Christine Michael logging 302 and 26 snaps respectively. Michael has the hardest path to the field as he is playing behind Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin in Seattle.
  • Four offensive linemen played at least 800 snaps with left guard Ramon Foster (819) and left tackle Kelvin Beachum (807) joining Gilbert and DeCastro in that group. Fernando Velasco played 723 snaps despite not signing with the Steelers until after the first game of the season and missing the final four games because of a ruptured Achilles tendon. Eight offensive lineman played at least 250 snaps.
  • Rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton logged just 153 snaps -- the fewest among the players in his draft class -- and not just because a broken pinkie caused him to miss four games and stunted his professional growth. The Steelers did not use many four-wide receiver sets, making it hard for the Wheaton to get on the field. Consider that No. 3 wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery played 617 snaps while Emmanuel Sanders, who started opposite Brown, logged 771 snaps. Look for Wheaton's snaps to at least triple in 2014 if Sanders signs elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent.
  • One reason why Miller is so respected in the Steelers' locker room is because of his work ethic, and the snaps he played in 2013 reflected how much he put into returning to the field less than a year after reconstructive knee surgery. The ninth-year veteran finished 10th on the team with 874 snaps despite missing the first two games and playing limited snaps in his first game back from torn knee ligaments. Miller proved to be remarkably durable as he played every snap in seven of 14 games. One key for the Steelers in 2014 will be having Miller and Matt Spaeth healthy at the same time for the majority of the season. Spaeth missed the first 12 games because of a foot injury but he averaged just under 39 snaps in the Steelers' final three games.

I will break down the Steelers' defensive snaps in my next post.

All-AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
» NFC Teams: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

The Steelers placed six players on’s All-AFC North team, including unanimous selections in wide receiver Antonio Brown and outside linebacker Jason Worilds. First, some background on how the team was selected. All four ESPN NFL Nation reporters who cover the respective teams in the AFC North on a daily basis voted on the squad, and we voted based on players’ specific positions in the case of the offensive line. That is why David DeCastro and Marshal Yanda are not the guards on the team. Both play right guard, and DeCastro got the nod over Yanda even though the latter has been voted to the Pro Bowl.

Wide receiver and inside linebacker were clearly the strength of the division. Brown, A.J. Green and Josh Gordon were all unanimous picks at wide receiver. All three are headed to the Pro Bowl and deservedly so. Lawrence Timmons had a Pro Bowl-caliber season, but he didn’t make the All-AFC North team because of the depth at inside linebacker. I voted for Timmons but can’t quibble with the selections of Daryl Smith and Vontaze Burfict. Each had outstanding seasons. Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham makes the team in most other divisions but had no chance against Justin Tucker. Cameron Heyward stated his case at defensive end with a breakout season. But he didn’t become a starter until the fifth game of the season, and Bengals defensive ends Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap were the picks at the position.

Rookie Le’Veon Bell justified his pick at running back with a strong finish that included 214 of his 860 rushing yards in the Steelers’ final two games. He is one of the main reasons why the Steelers are so excited about their offense heading into the offseason. Ben Roethlisberger was the obvious choice at quarterback. The 10-year veteran played every snap and had one of the best statistical seasons of his career. Roethlisberger is almost a lock to be added to the Pro Bowl squad, assuming a couple of the quarterbacks voted to the team bow out because their team has made the Super Bowl or are nursing an injury.

Pro Bowl selections: Pittsburgh Steelers

December, 27, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- Wide receiver and team MVP Antonio Brown and strong safety Troy Polamalu were the two Pittsburgh Steelers selected to the Pro Bowl.

The team was selected after a vote by players, coaches and fans and, as usual, it stirred immediate debate. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and right guard David DeCastro were among the Steelers' most notable omissions. The Browns placed five players on the team -- most in the AFC North -- even though they only have four victories.

Brown makes the Pro Bowl for the second time and first as a wide receiver. His selection was a no-brainer as Brown has already set a Steelers record for receiving yards in a season (1,412) and has an outside chance of breaking Hines Ward's franchise record for receptions in a season.

Brown needs 12 catches Sunday against the Browns to surpass the 112 receptions Ward had in 2002. He is third in the NFL in both catches and receiving yards.

Polamalu made the Pro Bowl for an eighth time, and he has played every game this season after missing nine last season because of a calf injury. Polamalu is tied for the Steelers lead in interceptions (two) and passes defensed (12).

Polamalu is tied for second in the AFC with five forced fumbles and he is third on the Steelers with 81 tackles.

Roethlisberger was not one of six quarterbacks voted to the Pro Bowl -- the teams were selected regardless of conference for the first time -- even though he is having one of the best seasons of his career.

Roethlisberger, who became the Steelers’ all-time leader in touchdown passes earlier this season, has already set a franchise record for completions (356) in a season. He needs 247 passing yards on Sunday to break the record he set in 2009 for passing yards in a season (4.328).

Russell Wilson and Cam Newton were among the quarterbacks who made the Pro Bowl ahead of Roethlisberger, and it’s hard to argue with either pick given the success of their respective teams.

Roethlisberger will almost surely get added to the team as players bow out due to injuries or the fact that their team is playing in the Super Bowl, which is a week after the Pro Bowl.

DeCastro is also a strong candidate to get added to the Pro Bowl at a later date. The second-year man has established himself as one of the top guard in the NFL in his first full season as a starter.

The Pro Bowl will be played Jan. 26 in Honolulu.

A draft will be held Jan. 22 as captains Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders will pick their respective teams among those who made the Pro Bowl.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

Emmanuel Sanders a game-time decision

December, 27, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders practiced Friday and will be a game-time decision Sunday in what could be his final contest with the Steelers.

Sanders (knee) and outside linebacker Jason Worilds (abdomen) are listed as questionable for the 1 p.m. ET game against the visiting Browns. Linebacker Terence Garvin (knee) is the only Steelers player who has been ruled out for the regular-season finale at Heinz Field.

Worilds practiced on a limited basis Friday while Sanders was listed as a full participant in drills.

“Right now I’m 50-50,” said Sanders, who sprained his knee last Sunday while making a cut on the muddy turf at Lambeau Field. “I practiced today and the pain was bearable.”

Sanders said he will play Sunday if he can’t make the injury any worse.

“I’ve always played through injuries no matter what,” said Sanders, who has played in every game this season and caught 65 passes for 714 yards and six touchdowns. “I’m not going to hold anything back, and that’s always been my mentality.

Sanders will be an unrestricted free agent after the season and he is among a handful of Steelers players who face an uncertain future.

In addition to Sanders, right guard David DeCastro (back) practiced on Friday after missing drills the previous day. DeCastro said his back won’t limit him against the Browns, who will be without starting nose tackle Phil Taylor (concussion).

"Back's fine," DeCastro said. “I’m good to go."

DeCastro, defensive end Brett Keisel (foot), outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (illness), wide receiver Markus Wheaton (finger), safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller are all listed as probable for Sunday.

Sanders, Worilds out again for Steelers

December, 26, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- Outside linebacker Jason Worilds and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders have yet to practice this week, making Friday critical for each player regarding his availability for the Pittsburgh Steelers' regular-season finale.

Worilds is trying to come back from an abdomen injury and a stinger, while Sanders will try to play through a sprained knee Sunday when the Steelers host the Browns.

Sanders said earlier this week that his knee has to get strong enough for him to have confidence cutting on it.

“We’ve still got time and he’s working hard to give himself a chance to come out and play,” Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “He’s a competitive guy that wants to be part of this and part of having a chance to win Sunday.”

In addition to Worilds and Sanders, right guard David DeCastro (back) and linebacker Terence Garvin (knee) did not practice on Thursday. Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (illness), defensive end Brett Keisel (foot) and wide receiver Markus Wheaton (finger) were full participants in practice.

The Steelers appear to be bringing Worilds along slowly after he missed most of the second half of their win at Green Bay last Sunday. His injuries and the absence of Jones – he had been scratched after getting sick the night before the game – led the Steelers to start Chris Carter at outside linebacker and play Stevenson Sylvester extensively at left outside linebacker.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said he hopes Worilds’ playing time on Sunday isn’t limited.

“But Chris will get some snaps and so will Sly,” LeBeau said. “”They’ll all four play.”

DeCastro overcomes two major injuries

December, 19, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- A little less than two seasons into his NFL career, David DeCastro has already had to overcome two major knee injuries.

The first one happened during a preseason game in 2012 when DeCastro’s right knee got bent at a grotesque angle while pass blocking. The play left him with a torn medial collateral ligament and dislocated knee cap and cost DeCastro all but four games of his rookie season.

The second one happened in the Steelers’ Sept. 9 season opener, and it wasn’t even an injury to his own knee that left DeCastro with nearly as much psychological baggage as if the 6-foot-5, 316-pounder had gotten hurt again.

[+] EnlargeDavid DeCastro
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsRight guard David DeCastro could be on his way to his first Pro Bowl.
It came when he whiffed on a cut block and ended Maurkice Pouncey's season less than 10 plays into it. DeCastro’s inadvertent hit on Pouncey’s right knee left the Pro Bowl center with a torn ACL. The injury cast a pall over Heinz Field, and DeCastro struggled to overcome it in a 17-9 loss to the Titans.

“I was out of it to be honest,” DeCastro said. “As much as I wanted to sit there and feel bad and feel sorry for myself I couldn’t. I had to move on and help this team win.”

DeCastro has succeeded in moving on, and he could be headed to his first Pro Bowl for his play at right guard.

The Steelers’ 2012 first-round draft pick has been key in holding a line ravaged by injuries together. He has also emerged as a cornerstone of a unit that doesn’t have a projected starter next season who is older than 27.

“This year he’s playing his tail off,” right tackle Marcus Gilbert said. “He knows it and he’s getting better and enjoying his time playing football.”

Sometimes it has been hard to tell how much DeCastro enjoyed much of anything.

Coach Mike Tomlin jokingly called him “Mr. Personality” in the months after the Steelers drafted DeCastro because he said so little. His words became less frequent as his focus grew even more singular after DeCastro got hurt in the preseason game at Buffalo.

“When he’s dealing with something like that he’s a straightforward, no B.S. type of dude,” Gilbert said. “He’s opening up a lot more. We’re glad to see that other side of him.”

DeCastro is clearly more comfortable with himself, whether it is on the field or fielding questions from reporters in the Steelers’ locker room.

He said the game started to slow down for him during the preseason, and he has generally been on the rise since then. The infamous cut block set him back but DeCastro said encouraging phone calls from his teammates, including the player who got leveled by friendly fire, helped him get over it quickly.

“Pouncey’s been nothing but nice,” DeCastro said. “I mean he’ll joke about it so he’s been great about it.”

Pouncey’s expected return for the start of next season is one of the reasons why DeCastro is so excited for the prospects of the offensive line moving forward -- assuming it can avoid mass injuries in 2014.

"We’ve just gotten better and better as the season has gone on. You can see that on tape,” DeCasto said. “I think we’re jelling for the most part.”

Offensive line could become a strength

December, 17, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers' offensive line has been beaten up in more ways than one ever since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007.

Could the oft-maligned unit become a reason why the Steelers win next season? Don't scoff.

David DeCastro has emerged as a Pro Bowl-caliber guard this season. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey is expected to return in 2014 from a torn ACL. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum has played well enough that the Steelers may not have to target the position with their first pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

[+] EnlargePittsburgh's offensive line
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarThe Steelers have a strong offensive line to build upon if they can ever stay healthy.
“The biggest problem with the offensive line,” former NFL scout and ESPN analyst Matt Williamson said, “is they can't ever start the same five guys.”

Injuries have long been the X factor along the offensive line and any optimistic forecast for its future has to come with the caveat that the Steelers, for whatever reason, cannot stay healthy up front.

Assume for the sake of argument that the line isn't as wracked by injuries next season as it has been in recent years. DeCastro, Pouncey and left guard Ramon Foster would give them a strong interior around which to build.

That is especially true in the case of DeCastro, whom Williamson said has already established himself as one of the top five or six guards in the NFL.

“He doesn't have a major weakness,” Williamson said. “He can run the power stuff. He can pass block. There's a lot to like about him.”

Williamson echoed similar sentiments about Beachum, who took over at left tackle after the fourth game of the season and has earned glowing praise from offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

The 6-3, 306-pound Beachum is not a prototypical left tackle, and teams generally find protectors for their quarterback's blind side near the beginning of the draft not the end of it.

But Beachum, a late seventh-round pick in 2012, is proving to be the exception to several rules.

“I'm starting to come around on him,” Williamson said. “He might he good enough and he seems to be getting better.”

The 2014 draft is supposed to be deep at offensive tackle, and if the Steelers use their first pick on a potential franchise left tackle, Beachum would still have a key role on the team -- whether he serves as a super sub who can play all five positions or bolsters the line at another position.

The play of DeCastro and Beachum this season is the biggest reason for optimism for the offensive line, and Mike Adams still has time to develop into a long-term starter up front, whether it is at left or right tackle.

Injuries can scramble the offensive line throughout the season as the Steelers well know. But the investment they have made in their line in recent drafts could really start to pay off next season.

If the group can stay relatively healthy.

Beachum to start at left tackle if healthy

December, 13, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers' left tackle of the future may already be on their roster, and it may not be Mike Adams, the 2012 second-round draft pick who opened the season there.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley talked glowingly of Kelvin Beachum and said he has "earned" the right to play left tackle if he is healthy.

Beachum, who missed last Sunday's game because of a sprained knee, has practiced both days this week and is on track to return against the Bengals.

"He played at a pretty high level for us while he was in there against good competition," Haley said.

Beachum took over for the struggling Adams after the fourth game of the season and stabilized the left tackle position. The 6-foot-3, 306-pounder is not a prototypical left tackle, and he was a late seventh-round pick in the same draft that the Steelers selected guard David DeCastro in the first round and then Adams.

Haley said that combination is something that has fueled Beachum's rise from a key reserve who can play any position to the protector of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's blind side.

"I've seen guys like Curtis Martin carry a chip on their shoulder all the way to the Hall of Fame, getting drafted where they got drafted, whatever you can use to motivate yourself. He's that type of kid," Haley said of Beachum. "He is mentally tough. He carries a chip on his shoulder. He's been told he's not good enough to do a lot of different things. And yet he tries to prove everybody wrong, and he has to this point. I just love having him on our side. He's a great guy to work with."

LT Beachum stays on track for Steelers

December, 12, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- Left tackle Kelvin Beachum practiced for a second consecutive day and remained on track to return Sunday night against the visiting Cincinnati Bengals.

Beachum (knee), right guard David DeCastro (foot) and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (shoulder) were among the players nursing injuries who were not limited in practice on Thursday.

One player to monitor is strong safety Troy Polamalu (shoulder), who didn’t practice for a second consecutive day. The Steelers are probably just being cautious with Polamalu, though the problem could be something that cropped up this week.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin did not mention Polamalu on Tuesday when he provided an injury update at his weekly news conference.

Tomlin said on Tuesday that Brett Keisel (foot) would try to work his way back. But the veteran defensive end has yet to practice this week, making Friday a critical day as far as his status for the Bengals game.

In addition to Keisel, nose tackle Steve McLendon (ankle) did not practice for the second consecutive day.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (foot) was limited on Thursday after practicing fully on Wednesday.

Beachum on track to return for Steelers

December, 11, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- Left tackle Kelvin Beachum was a full participant in the Steelers’ first practice of the week, and he is on track to play Sunday against the visiting Bengals.

Beachum had started eight consecutive games at left tackle before spraining his knee in a 22-20 loss to the Ravens on Thanksgiving. Coach Mike Tomlin did not commit to starting Beachum against the Bengals Tuesday at his weekly news conference. How much and how well Beachum practices will determine who protects quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side against the Bengals, Tomlin said.

Mike Adams started at left tackle against the Dolphins and played one of his best games of the season.

Less certain of returning to action this week for the Steelers is defensive end Brett Keisel.

The veteran defensive end did not practice on Wednesday, and he has played in just one of the Steelers’ last four games because of plantar fasciitis.

Also not practicing for the Steelers because of injuries were defensive end Ziggy Hood (ankle), nose tackle Steve McLendon (ankle), right tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) and strong safety Troy Polamalu (shoulder).

Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (shoulder) and right guard David DeCastro (foot) were full participants in practice despite nursing injuries.

Woodley, Bell appear good to go

December, 6, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers will likely have their two best pass-rushers Sunday when they host the Dolphins as well as their leading rusher.

Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf) and running back Le'Veon Bell (concussion) are listed as probable for the 1 p.m. game at Heinz Field along with starting right guard David DeCastro (foot).

Woodley has missed the past three games, and his anticipated return will allow the Steelers to start him opposite Jason Worilds, who leads the team with six sacks. Woodley has said he will start at left outside linebacker even though Worilds has shined there in his absence.

Bell still has to pass league-mandated concussion tests before he is cleared to return to action.

Unless he suffers a setback Bell will run behind an offensive line that will have its sixth different starting combination this season.

Cody Wallace will make his first career start at center while Mike Adams is likely to start at left tackle with Kelvin Beachum (knee) doubtful to play against the Dolphins.

Adams, who started the first four games at left tackle before losing the job, has been dealing with an ankle injury but he is listed as probable for Sunday.

Nose tackle Steve McLendon (ankle) is questionable for Sunday. Defensive end Brett Keisel (foot) had been ruled out earlier this week for the game.