- Associated Press - Friday, October 7, 2011

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Counting the preseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers will have used nine different combinations of starting offensive linemen in nine games this season.

They’re also facing the possibility of being without their two most prominent running backs for their next game on Sunday.

Pittsburgh’s All Pro outside linebacker and five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle certainly won’t play.

The Steelers‘ former Pro Bowl defensive end, starting left guard and up-and-coming second-year linebacker? Out, out and out.

Oh, and then there’s star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. At least he will play _ albeit while hobbled on a sprained left foot that had him walking in a boot earlier in the week.

Things have become so bad that a player who was signed Tuesday, Max Starks, will apparently start at left tackle against the Tennessee Titans (3-1) on Sunday.

Other than that, all is well on the injury front for a team that went to the Super Bowl last season but is reeling at 2-2.

“This is professional football; you know injuries will happen,” said Lawrence Timmons, who was moved from inside linebacker to the outside because of the broken orbital bone of All Pro James Harrison. “Coach Tomlin always tells us, ‘The standard is the standard,’ and if you look at our team the past few years, even when we went to the Super Bowl, that’s been the case. No reason it can’t be the case this year, too.”

Yes, Pittsburgh did have its share of injuries during the Super Bowl-winning seasons of 2005 and 2008, and again last season when it lost to Green Bay in the Super Bowl. But nothing like this.

Start with Starks, the former starter who was released by the team when the lockout ended after spending the offseason rehabbing from a neck injury that knocked him out of the final nine regular-season games and the playoffs last season. He was re-signed on Tuesday _ and all indications are he will start Sunday.

“A game vs. practice, of course it’s a little different, a little more energy,” Starks said. “So, we’re going to monitor (the snaps) as the game goes on. We may do some things just to make sure I’m fully acclimated and not being thrown completely into the fire.”

This marks the second consecutive game the Steelers will start a left tackle who formerly played for them but was out of football with no other team signing them throughout the entire time the Steelers were in Latrobe, Pa., for training camp.

Trai Essex, signed in late August, started last week when the Steelers could not establish a consistent running game and allowed Roethlisberger to be sacked five times in a 17-10 loss at Houston.

Roethlisberger was injured late in that game, but he practiced fully Thursday and Friday and will start Sunday.

Backups Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon might want to be ready. A limping quarterback behind an offensive line that has undergone yet another makeover due to a combination of injury and ineffectiveness is a seeming recipe for trouble.

Usual right guard Doug Legursky did not play against Houston due to a shoulder injury would _ but he will start at left guard in place of Chris Kemoeatu (knee), whom offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said wasn’t healthy enough to be effective last week but the Steelers had little choice but to play him.

Ramon Foster filled in for Legursky at right guard against the Texans, and he earned the start at right guard this week after being effective enough.

At Arians this week said he was. But maybe the Steelers just have no better options.

“I actually thought it was just an OK game,” Foster said. “I must have done something to impress someone for them to give me another shot. I’m just happy for the opportunity and taking advantage of it.”

In limbo is Jonathan Scott, the former starting left tackle who did not play last week due to an ankle injury but who is not listed on this week’s injury report.

Even when Pittsburgh has some positive injury news, it’s one step forward, two steps back.

The Steelers welcome back one of their starting defensive linemen this week after Brett Keisel recovered more quickly than expected from a torn PCL in his right knee.

But just as Keisel returns, starting defensive linemen nose tackle Casey Hampton (shoulder) and end Aaron Smith (foot) are ruled out. The duo, which has combined for six Pro Bowl selections, will be replaced by Steve McLendon and Ziggy Hood, respectively.

A year after 1,273 rushing yards, Rashard Mendenhall has been limited to 173 through three games. He is listed as questionable for Sunday, and though he is expected to play, it almost certainly will be with a reduced workload.

With third-down back Mewelde Moore (ankle) out, Isaac Redman figures to play a prominent role either way, and former Georgia Tech star Jonathan Dwyer is expected to dress for a game for the second time in his career.

“They’ve been preparing me all week for the opportunity to get some playing time,” Dwyer said. “I’m prepared for whatever opportunity given to me.”

Harrison’s backup, second-year Jason Worlds, is out with a quadriceps injury, and rookie dime cornerback Cortez Allen (ankle) is questionable.

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