Injuries derailed 2012 season, and possibility of 2013 suffering similar fate exists

Jared Wickerham

We can drone on about different combinations of starting offensive linemen, the bigger picture perspective here is the Steelers have lost 12 of their last 19 games since Ben Roethlisberger's injury in Week 10 of the 2012 season. Injuries along the offensive line are threatening to derail this season like it did last year.

The Steelers were flying high, looking at a 5-3 mark heading into a primetime game against the cellar-dwelling Kansas City Chiefs in Week 10 of the 2012 season at Heinz Field.

The team was out of the proverbial woods. Feet cleaned off from the muck of a slow start, they had rattled off three straight wins, and all indications suggested it would be a fourth. That would put them at 6-3, heading into a divisional showdown against the Ravens in Week 11.

Ben Roethlisberger was injured early in the third quarter of the game against the Chiefs. They barely survived, eeking out an overtime victory. The Steelers would proceed to lost five of their next seven games, finishing 8-8 on the year, eliminated from the playoffs in Week 16.

The 2013 Steelers face a similar problem. Coming off a somewhat warm streak of three straight wins, whatever adhesive that's been holding its offensive line together and intact was beginning to create some legitimate thoughts their pass protection issues were over.

In the span of two series against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13, the Steelers lost center Fernando Velasco for the season, and might see the loss of left tackle Kelvin Beachum for a game.

That forces Cody Wallace into the starting lineup - 29-years-old, no NFL starts, according to Tribune-Review reporter Mark Kaboly. It also forces their sixth different combination of starting offensive linemen in 13 games this season.

Guy Whimper, the veteran utility linemen who will likely start at left tackle if Beachum is unable to play, will be pressed into service. He has struggled hugely as a guard this season, filling in for both LG Ramon Foster and RG David DeCastro, but his play against Baltimore in Week 7, filling in for an injured Marcus Gilbert, suggests there may be some optimism.

It's a back-handed stab at hope, though. Only because of Whimper's failures in replacing two fallen starters are we overlooking the solid job he did in replacing another fallen starter.

All five of the Steelers' starting offensive linemen have missed at least one game this year. Call it six, really, Velasco replaced Maurkice Pouncey after Week 1. Now Velasco is out, and Wallace will replace him.

Kaboly even quotes the offensive linemen themselves, noting how perplexed even they are at the situation.

"It is adversity and it happens during the season," Whimper said. "Now, maybe not to this magnitude, but we just have to face it."

While there really isn't any other option, it's still hard to look at either of the past two seasons and not feel a sense of loss. So many empty snaps taken by the guys backing up the starters. Adversity is no doubt a part of the game, but so is the league rule capping a maximum roster size at 53 players. Teams have to really work in excellence to have a starter and a starting-caliber back-up at most positions.

Wallace's start, and Whimper's likely first start at left tackle, will go a long way in showing how close the Steelers are from that mythical goal.

Or how far from it.

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