Steelers re-sign tackle Max Starks

PITTSBURGH -- Max Starks was getting ready to head to training camp in late July when the Pittsburgh Steelers called and told him not to bother.

The veteran offensive lineman didn't take getting cut for salary-cap purposes personally. He knew he was expensive. He
was coming off a neck injury that cut short his 2010 season and he knew the Steelers made it to the Super Bowl without him.

"It's not a hard decision to make when you look at it from a professional standpoint," Starks said.

Neither was Starks' decision to come back.

The Steelers re-signed Starks to a one-year deal on Wednesday, hoping the seven-year veteran can provide depth and leadership to an injury-ravaged offensive line that has struggled to protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Pittsburgh (2-2) has yet to start the same line combination in consecutive weeks heading into Sunday's game against surprising Tennessee (3-1). Roethlisberger is limping around on a sprained left foot and the running game has been stuck in neutral.

The quarterback, who will wear a special shoe Sunday to protect his plant foot, had been urging Pittsburgh brass to give his good friend a call. After watching Roethlisberger get pounded for a fourth straight week in a loss to Houston, they listened.

"It took a little while but we got him back and I'm happy about it," Roethlisberger said.

So happy that he welcomed Starks to his familiar spot in an adjoining locker. Roethlisberger will gladly trade a little personal space for more time in the pocket.

He certainly could use it after spending a month under siege. Even with his uncanny ability to move around in the pocket, Roethlisberger has been sacked 14 times and harassed into five interceptions and four fumbles.

Starks' presence can only help, even if he doesn't make it onto the field for awhile. With a line starting a rookie (tackle Marcus Gilbert), a second-year center (Maurkice Pouncey) and a revolving door at the other three spots, Starks' familiarity with the offense and his easygoing demeanor is needed.

Coach Mike Tomlin told the 29-year-old Starks he was signed because "(the team) needed leadership and experience and to fill in when needed."

How soon that will be, Starks isn't sure. Wednesday was his first practice in 11 months. A herniated disk in his neck suffered against Cincinnati last year sent him onto injured reserve and put his career in jeopardy.

The Steelers forged ahead without him, the patchwork line helping the team to its third Super Bowl appearance in six seasons.

Starks believed he was on his way back when the lockout happened and he wondered if he'd get the chance to play again. There was a part of him that was OK if he didn't.

"I had seven great years here, I got to see three great Super Bowls here, I got to participate and win two of them," he said. "I was like, anybody else would be happy with that career and ready to retire and ready to go off into the sunset, but I think I've still got a couple more useful years left in my body."

The Steelers would settle for one at this point.

Starks believes he's in pretty good shape, adding his neck "feels great" and thinks he's pretty light on his feet after shedding the excess pounds that piled up during the lockout. The 6-foot-8 Starks says he's around his normal playing weight of 345 pounds, even if it's distributed a little differently than it was a year ago.

"It's same glob of clay, it's matter of how you mold it," Starks said. "It's a fun feeling."

And a rare one for a line that's already lost veteran Willie Colon for the season with a torn triceps and seen guards Doug Legursky and Chris Kemoeatu and tackle Jonathan Scott each miss at least one start with an injury.

"He's got fresh legs," Kemoeatu said. "It's nice to have a healthy guy like that step in during this time of need."

Starks talked to several teams and was actually in Detroit when the Steelers called. He understands his surgically repaired neck could be an issue. It might have been during camp, but not anymore. He calls the lockout and getting cut "a blessing in disguise."

Asked where he sees himself fitting in, Starks just shrugs his shoulders.

"Hopefully you'll see me out on the field, whether it's on the sidelines or as a swing guy or in the starting role," he said. "My job is to make sure I plug in and I'm ready to do whatever they need me to do."