Altogether now: "The standard is the standard."
That's become Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's battle cry to un-excuse those who would normally be excused – or pardoned for subpar play – because they're a backup.
The battle cry rang out again Wednesday in the Steelers' locker room after the team learned that Starks, the all-important left tackle, will miss the rest of the season with a herniated disc in his neck.
It's not career-threatening, but he's been placed on injured reserve and replaced in the starting lineup by Jonathan Scott, who was recommended to the Steelers in the off-season by incoming line coach Sean Kugler.
Scott couldn't make a team that would go 0-16, but he signed with the Buffalo Bills and eventually started eight games – six at LT; two at RT-- in 2009 because of injuries. Kugler was hired this season by the Steelers and Tomlin heeded his recommendation to bring Scott along. Scott started the Tennessee game in relief of Starks and has since filled in at both tackle spots and even played some left guard Monday night in Cincinnati.
And he's played well. According to writer J.J. Cooper, who grades the Steelers' offensive linemen in a weekly column for AOL, Scott has taken 81 snaps at left tackle, allowed 3 quarterback pressures, and was graded effective on 88 percent of his snaps. In 65 snaps at right tackle, Scott has allowed half a sack, 4 pressures and was called for holding, and Cooper graded him effective on 82 percent of his snaps.
"This is a guy who's experienced the ups and the downs of the National Football League," said Tomlin. "He's been in several cities in tough circumstances, and I think those guys are hardened mentally through experiences and are generally better for it, if they're smart. And no question he's a sharp young man."
At least Tomlin didn't say "The standard is the standard."
"The standard is the standard," said right guard Trai Essex.
Yes, it's become a cliché, but Monday night it rang true. On the Steelers' eye-opening, 7-play, run-only series that ended with a missed field goal, Scott teamed with the replacement at left guard, Doug Legursky, to open two gaping holes through which Rashard Mendenhall gained a combined 26 yards.
When it counted, the Steelers reserves upheld the standard.
"It's Koogs and Goody," Essex said of offensive line coaches Kugler and Harold Goodwin. "They make sure everybody knows what to do. Koogs had to shuffle the line pretty good in Buffalo so he understands that an injury can happen at any given time and people have to be ready. All offseason and all training camp, he made sure everybody played multiple positions. He stressed versatility for guys to make the roster, so I think that had a lot to do with it."
As for the left guard position, Ramon Foster and perhaps Legursky would replace Chris Kemoeatu, who injured both his knee and ankle on the same play Monday night. Kemoeatu missed Wednesday's practice but Tomlin hasn't counted him out of Sunday night's game against New England.
Regardless, both backups have also proven to be serviceable in reserve this season for a line that's shown improvement over last season.
"I think that it has," said Tomlin. "But we're talking about an 8-game body of work compared to a 16-game body of work, so I'm always somewhat hesitant when making those comparisons. Hopefully our best days lie ahead."