Injuries can derail a season, and with two starters already expected to miss the opener, the Pittsburgh Steelers do not want to suffer any more setbacks.
Rookie guard David DeCastro suffered a major knee injury against the Buffalo Bills and will miss a significant portion of the season, and outside linebacker James Harrison has finally been removed from the Physically Unable to Perform list.
The loss of DeCastro was significant considering that he was going to play a major role in revamping the Steelers’ offensive line, but teammate Maurkice Pouncey expects him to be back at some point during the season. Pouncey told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
It's sad, man, to see that happen. But it's a good thing it ain't season-ending. He'll be able to fight back toward the end of the year. He doesn't look down about it. He's accepted what happened and ready to move forward with it.
While DeCastro’s return is a question mark, Harrison—who is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery—should rejoin the lineup very soon.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac reported that Harrison will not be available until at least Week 2 of the regular season, but if things go well in practice, he could suit up for the opener.
Besides DeCastro and Harrison, Ryan Clark will not play in the opener against the Denver Broncos because of a sickle cell trait that prevents him from playing in the high altitude of Denver. Prior to last year's playoff game in Denver, Clark told ESPN.com:
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I talked to my doctors and we actually had a plan in place for me to play. All things pointed to me going until (Mike Tomlin) told me I can’t. He said he wouldn’t have let his son play so I’m not playing either.
Already potentially down three starters, the Steelers do not want to have additional players—especially starters—suffer injuries prior to the opener.
The Steelers are still a veteran team, and they are more than prepared for the start of the season. One series in the fourth preseason game is not going to enhance their abilities heading into the regular season.
Even players such as Ike Taylor and Max Starks should see very limited—if any—action.
Not only does this strategy keep the key starters healthy for the regular season, but it provides one last opportunity for the young players on the roster to prove themselves.
The Steelers coaching staff would see what defensive end Cameron Heyward and cornerback Cortez Allen could do as starters. Adrian Robinson would get a chance to show that he can rush the passer against better talent.
Emmanuel Sanders would have the opportunity to demonstrate that he could be a featured receiver, while tight end Weslye Saunders would get some significant action prior to the serving his four-game suspension.
Last week was Pittsburgh’s test drive for the regular season, and the starters have nothing left to prove. Give the starters a break and provide the young guys one last chance to shine before the real games begin.
It would allow the coaches to evaluate what they have on the bench one last time but, more importantly, keep the stars healthy for the games that count.