SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 19: Defensive back Carlos Rogers #22 of the San Francisco 49ers returns the ball after interception in the first quarter before being tackled by Max Starks #78 of the Pittsburgh Steelers at Candlestick Park on December 19, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
It also marks the third starting offensive line combination the Steelers have used this preseason, and in particular, the third starting left tackle.
While it was a matter of time until Starks returned to the starting lineup - barring injury, he'll start there all season - the instability along the line has produced less-than-stellar results. The Steelers have shown some flashes of a very potent running attack, particularly with LG Willie Colon and RG David DeCastro pulling on power runs, but pass protection has been a problem throughout all units and combinations they've put on the field.
The most recent starting combination - LT Starks, LG Colon, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG DeCastro and RT Marcus Gilbert - is most likely the group that will start at Denver in Week 1 and beyond. Veteran Ramon Foster has played both guard positions and right tackle so far in preseason games, and Gilbert has played both tackle spots.
Saturday's game at Buffalo will keep this unit on the field for the entire first half, maybe more, and it will go a long way toward developing that cohesion necessary for an offensive line to perform at a high level. This is particularly important considering neither Colon nor DeCastro played their respective positions for the Steelers in 2011. Gilbert is in his second year, and while he started 15 games last season including the playoffs, he didn't play with a rookie off his left hand in that time.
The potential abounds in this lineup, though. Pouncey is an All Pro player, Colon has excelled as a tackle and is better suited as a guard. DeCastro is one of the most highly offensive line prospects in the last 10 years, and has already shown flashes of being a dominant player. Starks has been a solid veteran in his eight years with the team, and Gilbert was impressive for a rookie in 2011.
The question is how quickly this group can come together. The sooner that happens, the more advanced the Steelers passing offense - which has been fairly simplistic to this point in the preseason - can be in Week 1.