Steelers' Starks blocks out critics
Sunday, November 08, 2009
BY DALE GRDNIC
For The Patriot-News
[url="http://www.pennlive.com/nfl/patriotnews/index.ssf?/base/sports/12575661179370.xml&coll=1"]http://www.pennlive.com/nfl/patriotnews ... xml&coll=1[/url]
PITTSBURGH - Max Starks has been the most maligned player on the Steelers offensive line, which happens to be the most questioned unit on the team.
Until the Steelers won Super Bowl XL, and added a victory in last year's title game, fans and followers believed the O-line was the team's weak link. And Starks was the least dependable member.
The current Steelers' hierarchy even demoted him when head coach Mike Tomlin was hired.
Tomlin and new line coach Larry Zierlein started the younger Willie Colon at Starks' right tackle spot. Then, when Marvel Smith's back issues debilitated him, Starks moved to left tackle. And one year later Starks was a starting tackle on another NFL championship team.
"It's just been perseverance," Starks said. "That's all. People have allowed me to be here. Certain powers-that-be want me to be here. So I'm able to just go out and play the game that I love. But it's been quite a journey."
And 2009 has been quite a year for Starks. In February, he and the Steelers won a second Super Bowl in four seasons. Starks then became the highest-paid O-lineman in Steelers history in June with a four-year, $26.3 million contract, including a $10 million signing bonus.
He got married a week after that.
Despite his detractors, Starks' play hasn't fallen off. In fact, he's playing as well as any left tackle in the NFL right now with just 4.5 sacks allowed. But only 1.5 occurred when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger released the ball in less than five seconds. And that's going against pass-rushers who are among the league's best.
"Max does a great job," Roethlisberger said. "He's my left tackle, so he's very important to me, and I'm glad we have him. Sure, a lot of people have had doubts about our offensive line the past few years.
"But we've won two Super Bowls. I don't know how much better it could be, and I don't know who could play better than Max is playing right now. He has to be one of the best left tackles in the league."
If Starks is selected to the Pro Bowl, and there certainly is a chance as the Steelers (5-2) face the Denver Broncos (6-1) Monday night, he would be just the second Steelers offensive tackle to be chosen in the past 19 years. Smith was the other.
"He's done a good job," Colon said. "He's stepped up to the plate against a lot of good guys. Max has kind of had a knack for stepping up to the big challenges, and this is going to be a pretty big one this week."
Actually, Denver pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil isn't that big at all. He's listed at 5-foot-11 and 248 pounds, but he's strong and extremely quick. Fortunately for Starks, Dumervil is similar to Steelers pass-rushing star James Harrison.
"It's a good thing that I get to face James every day in practice," Starks said. "That prepares me for anything I'll face in the upcoming weeks, but especially this week because he and Dumervil are so similar in every way."