Steelers coaches were encouraged, if not impressed, when right tackle Marcus Gilbert played through a nagging knee injury and started the first five games of the regular season.
They felt that way because it pointed up Gilbert’s determination to play despite not being 100 percent – something coaches feel that young players need to learn to survive in the National Football League.
But Gilbert’s latest injury was too severe to merit any consideration of playing with pain.
In Week 5 against the Titans, Gilbert sustained a nasty ankle injury in which the tendon that protects the muscle tore away from the bone. The Steelers sent him to a specialist in Charlotte, N.C., and the prognosis was better than first feared: Gilbert would miss at least a month, but he wouldn’t need surgery to repair the damage.
Gilbert has resumed practicing lightly this week with the hope he can return for next week’s Sunday night game against the Ravens. But the bad news about his injury:
It probably cost him his starting job.
Rookie Mike Adams, the team’s No. 2 draft choice, has started the past three games in Gilbert’s absence and it might be more than just coincidence the Steelers running game has come to life the past three games.
While everyone has noticed the aggression and improved play of left guard Willie Colon, the reality is that the Steelers are primarily a right-handed running team that runs most of its plays to Adams’ side.
Granted, Adams has struggled in pass protection – he gave up two more sacks in the victory against the Giants – but he has been very impressive in run blocking, using his long arms and leverage to move defensive lineman and linebackers off the line of scrimmage.
“He knows how to extend his arms and keep his feet moving,” left tackle Max Starks said. “If you can get into position with your hands and keep moving your feet, you’re always going to be successful.”
Gilbert has played very well at right tackle since he was a No. 2 choice last season. And he will be one of their linemen of the future, along with Adams.
But, for now, he might have to sit and watch a little longer.
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