<
>

Steelers look to 'football gods' to spare injury in 2016

Le'Veon Bell was just one of the Steelers' stars who missed a playoff game last season due to injury. Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Injuries plagued several NFL teams last year, but not many lost more star power than the Pittsburgh Steelers. They played the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos in the playoffs without premier players at three offensive positions -- running back (Le'Veon Bell, knee), wide receiver (Antonio Brown, concussion) and center (Maurkice Pouncey, fibula). And that's not counting Ben Roethlisberger's consistent string of injuries throughout 2015.

Winning 10 regular-season games and the AFC wild-card matchup with Cincinnati despite those losses gives reason for cautious confidence. The Steelers know they can work through problems to win games and are prepared for whatever comes. But they also know some good fortune would be nice.

Guard Ramon Foster isn't afraid to call for some help.

"If the football gods spare us this year, we feel we can make a run," Foster said this offseason. "Starts with Ben, ends with us."

The Steelers take steps to avoid injury, including tracking each player's usage in practices with a GPS device. But as coach Mike Tomlin likes to say, injuries are as much a part of the game as blocking and tackling.

At least training camp should excite players for the chance to get reps with a fully stocked lineup. Bell should eventually be available for extended camp work after rehabbing his knee injury all offseason, and tight end Ladarius Green, who missed all of offseason work with a knee injury of his own, anticipates a full recovery over the summer. Roethlisberger compared Green to a new Ferrari he can't take out of the impound lot.

A consistent offensive line has been an equalizer for Pittsburgh, which has committed more than $30 million annually to this steadily improving group. The Steelers finished among the league's top 10 in rushing and passing offense, and Roethlisberger's sack rate of 1.66 per game was a career low.

The line senses a window of premier play is available. Once guard David DeCastro signs a pricey extension this offseason, four of the Steelers' starting five up front will be signed long term (at least three years out).

Yes, the offense "starts with Ben," but the line takes pride in knowing it can help stave off injury.

"If Ben is getting hit and the running backs aren't running, we can't do anything," Foster said.