Porter has begun a month-long rehab at St. Vincent College, along with running back Duce Staley. The two Steelers limped out of the cafeteria early Thursday morning and into awaiting golf carts, which took them to the first of their post-surgical rehab assignments.
Staley was surprised when he was asked whether Jerome Bettis would be an effective replacement for him at running back.
“For preseason?” Staley asked with raised eyebrows. “I guess. But I’ll be back for the opener. I’m certain of that.”
Staley refused to discuss the specifics of his injury, a lateral meniscal tear that was repaired Monday. Porter, on the other hand, discussed his injury in detail.
“It’s been bothering me since 2001,” Porter said. “I injured it that year and it’s locked up on me every now and then. I’ve learned to live with it.”
Porter said he injured the knee early that season, but played through it with the help of the doctors, who drained the knee several times. Porter missed only the meaningless regular-season finale and played in both playoff games that season.
Doctors suggested to Porter he could endure a similar process this season, but he felt it best to have the loose cartilage removed before the season starts. He’s also expected back for the opener.
“I have no doubts about that,” Porter said. “I’ll be back for Tennessee.”
Porter aggravated the injury at Tuesday’s practice during a one-on-one pass-rush drill. He was matched up against rookie free agent tackle Ulish Booker, and was chided by teammates after Booker held his own against the Steelers’ decorated pass rusher. Porter demanded the two players compete two more times and line coach Russ Grimm acquiesced.
On the third snap, Porter rushed past the hapless Booker and, to celebrate the ease of his victory, leaped high in the air and came down with both feet in a stomping fashion on the chalked zone that designates where the quarterback would be standing in a live drill.
Porter then left the area – as did the rest of the linemen – but did not join teammates in the ensuing team scrimmage. He received attention from trainers and his day was over.
That night, Porter’s knee swelled and he underwent an MRI examination Wednesday morning. He underwent surgery that afternoon.
Is there a lesson to be learned by the circumstances?
“That’s what’s made him a Pro Bowler; that’s what’s made him the player that he is,” said nose tackle Chris Hoke. “You can’t say there’s a lesson to be learned because when he comes back we all expect him to play the way he’s always played: with excitement, intensity and with the stuff he does.”
Coach Bill Cowher downplayed what happened on the practice field by saying Porter’s knee would’ve given way at some point regardless of the histrionics.
“The game of football is a little more violent than jumping up and stomping the ground,” Cowher said. “I told him not to beat himself up over that. It’s not something that was foolish. It was something that (Dr.) Jim (Bradley) went in there and looked at and it was going to happen at some point.”
Porter will be replaced by James Harrison, who started four games at outside linebacker last season. Cowher said the team is not looking to sign an outside linebacker, and that he’s interested in looking at young players such as Alonzo Jackson, Dedrick Roper, Andre Frazier and Arnold Harrison.
Cowher may replace Porter in body, but it will be difficult for anyone to replace his enthusiasm on the field.
“I’ve got my money on (Larry) Foote right now,” said linebacker James Farrior. “Foote and Joey are the two big talkers on the team, so we’ll let Foote go at it for a little while. Foote might’ve taken over for Joey a little bit last year with all the plays he was making. He was playing so well it just came natural to him, so I’m sure he’ll be a little bit more vocal now.”