Chris Hoke to have neck surgery

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Chris Hoke's injured neck will require surgery that could put the reliable veteran's career in jeopardy.

Hoke is scheduled to undergo surgery Wednesday and is expected to miss the rest of the season. The 35-year-old visited with doctors on Monday to take a second look at the stinger he sustained against Jacksonville on Oct. 16.

Though the team hasn't placed Hoke on season-ending injured reserve, several of his teammates said Tuesday they're preparing to finish the year without him.

"It's different, but the train rolls on," defensive end Brett Keisel said.

Hoke is the second longtime member of Pittsburgh's defensive front to suffer a career-threatening injury this season. Aaron Smith was placed on injured reserve Oct. 22 with neck issues of his own.

Defensive lineman Steve McClendon said he expected to see Hoke in meetings on Tuesday but was told by position coach John Mitchell that Hoke would be out indefinitely. McClendon called Hoke a "big brother."

"Hokie, he's a great guy, someone who did everything he could to help me," McClendon said. "That's why it's such a tough loss for me. I probably feel worse about it than he does. He keeps telling me to keep my head up."

Hoke made the team as an undrafted rookie free agent out of BYU in 2001 and spent the last decade as one of the most dependable backups in the league. While he spent most of his career spelling starter Casey Hampton, he played spectacularly in 2004 after Hampton missed the last 10 games with a knee injury. Hoke finished with career highs in tackles (27) and sacks (two) while helping Pittsburgh to a 15-1 record.

The Steelers went 19-1 in the regular season whenever Hoke was forced to start, a record he took great pride in.

"He'd be sure to tell you about it," Keisel said with a laugh.

Hoke's work ethic and affability made him one of the most popular players in the locker room and his "Hokey Pokey" jig during warmups provided comic relief. He welcomed taking young players like McClendon under his wing to teach them the finer arts of defensive line play.

"He's not one of the biggest, strongest or fastest guys, but his technique made him one of the best players on this line," defensive lineman Ziggy Hood said. "A lot of people didn't see it like that, but when I look at him I see a guy with a lot of skill."