Injuries thrust rookie Gilbert into starting role

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Maurkice Pouncey saw the crowd of reporters surrounding teammate and good friend Marcus Gilbert in the middle of the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room Wednesday and couldn’t resist an opportunity to put the rookie offensive tackle in his place.

“Who’s in there? Big Ben?” the Pro Bowl center said. “Looks like we’re going to have to deflate his head a little bit.”

Better Pouncey than the Seattle Seahawks.

Two weeks into his professional career, Gilbert finds himself the starting right tackle for the defending AFC champions after veteran Willie Colon was placed on injured reserve with a torn right triceps.

It’s not the way the second-round pick out of Florida wanted to get the job. Yet he understands the team’s decision to turn to him rather than pursue a free agent is a sign of the faith the coaching staff has in his ability.

“I guess they have a lot of trust in me for what I did in preseason,” Gilbert said, “and it carried over.”

Even after a rocky start to training camp.

Gilbert spent the lockout in Gainesville, Fla., working out with Pouncey. When the lockout abruptly ended, Gilbert wasn’t ready. He arrived at St. Vincent College in late July out of shape and needed a pep talk from Pouncey, who he played alongside at Florida in 2009.

Pouncey’s message was clear: It’s time to grow up.

“I told him it’s a lot different than college, you’re not getting pampered all the time,” Pouncey said. “You’ve got to go in here and be accountable for everything you do.”

It meant learning a whole new language and blocking scheme. It meant treating football as a job he could lose at any time. It meant paying attention in meetings and making better choices at the training table.

Gilbert has done enough to earn a shot. He knows it’s up to him whether he keeps it or not.

“You have to step in there and show you can do it,” Gilbert said. “That you’re capable of handling the situation.”

If he needs inspiration, he need only look at Pouncey, who beat out veteran Justin Hartwig for the starting center spot as a rookie last year and ended up in the Pro Bowl.

“As soon as (Pouncey) got his number called,” Gilbert said, “he took advantage of it.”

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