Max Starks talks about NFL & Camp experience

PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- Max Starks has been easy to pick out on the practice field ever since the Pittsburgh Steelers selected him in the third round during last year's NFL Draft.

At 6-foot-8 and some 340 pounds, there's no mistaking Max Starks' presence on the field, even among the Steelers Pro Bowl linemen.

And that's good for Starks, because he's being given a starting job at right offensive tackle this season, and how long he keeps it depends on the mark he makes during the games.

"He's a big fella who's still learning,'' offensive guard Kendall Simmons said. "He has a lot of tools, and I'm excited about him. I really am. We're going to try our best in training camp to get on the same page.

"That way, we can get all the bugs out of the way so we can learn from each other. We did a lot better as the coaching sessions went along (in the spring), but we just need to keep working hard.''

Simmons, a former No. 1 pick in 2002, was expected to solidify the right side the way Alan Faneca has done on the left side. But after developing diabetes in 2003 and suffering a season-ending knee injury in the preseason last summer, Simmons is back in camp.

And he hopes to team with Starks to help the Steelers running game to dominate the way it has in recent years.

"I know what's expected of me because it was the same thing I had when I came to college and was a backup my first year,'' Starks said. "Then, I had a great opportunity to start at right tackle as a sophomore at Florida.

"So, I knew the level of commitment and attention to detail that I had to take to be successful. And this is a very big opportunity for me now with the Steelers, so I just want to make sure that I don't pass it up.''

In order to be certain he wouldn't fail physically, Starks had to reduce his body fat but increased his size and strength. And he knew just where to go to accomplish his goal.

"I went to the same trainers that I trained with for the (NFL) Combine,'' Starks said. "That was out there at Athletes Performance (in Arizona), and I knew the caliber that they were. So, I entrusted everything to them.

"I told them my goals, and they put me on a workout regimen. And it's one of the best workouts that I've ever been on in my life. I worked really hard the past six weeks, and that got me ready for camp.''

"This year it's a total 180 from where I was at this time last year when I walked into this dorm,'' Starks added. "So, it's definitely more of a mental aspect for me to get everything down, to sharpen things up with the other guys, and that's what I'm going to try to do while I'm here.''

In the six weeks the Steelers had between mini-camp and the coaching sessions and training camp, Starks embarked on a physically demanding journey that sculpted his body and mind and honed both to allow him to handle every obstacle he should face this season.

"The Athletes Performance facility is just amazing,'' Starks said. "It's when you're out training with Army Rangers. Mia Hamm's walking around. And there were a bunch of hockey guys, so it's definitely a place that demands perfection. And I wanted to work hard toward attaining that goal.

"Curt Schilling also trains there. Nomar Garciaparra, Nikolai Khabibulin, Drake Berehowsky. NFL guys like Tim Rattay, Shaun King, Todd Mortensen, Levi Jones, Ross Verba, Mike Carney and Zach Tuiasosopo from our team. So, a lot of guys train there. It was a great experience.''

Starks got in about 10 plays per game last season, but he finished strong by playing at length in the regular-season finale at Buffalo.

"When you come in here as a rookie and get a chance to get your feet wet and to be in those key situations like short-yardage for first downs and on the goal line,'' Starks said. "Those were all critical, but it wasn't like I had to play an entire drive ... until the Buffalo game when I got in there.

"So, that experience was a chance for me to recognize the game speed and tempo and see what other defenses can do. Sure, most of our running plays are just line up and hit the guy in front of you, but sometimes I blocked a linebacker and sometimes I blocked a defensive lineman.

"I really didn't have to be in there for every play, even though I knew I was going in once we got into the red zone and on third-and-short,'' Starks added. "You're a rookie, so you don't know what to expect, but you don't have the same responsibilities you might have as a starter.''

One thing Starks had to do when he came into games last season was report to the officials that he was eligible as a receiver. However, he was only put into the games as an additional blocker. This season, Starks will be in the game from the outset and won't need to report.

"Hopefully, after that first preseason game, I'll have all those jitters out of me,'' Starks said. "But that's why we're here in training camp. Me and Kendall (Simmons), we have to work hard to get our timing down.

"It's four straight weeks where we're in meetings together and on the practice field, so I definitely believe we'll be able to get in sync pretty easily. We have to do it, because the other side of the line is very good.''

The Steelers had three Pro Bowl selections on the left side in tackle Marvel Smith (alternate), guard Alan Faneca (four straight starts) and center Jeff Hartings (first selection). So, Starks knows that the standard has already been set by Steelers lines in the past, and they key the team's offensive fortunes.

If Starks can continue to improve, he should maintain that level.

"I didn't have too bad a transition from college to the NFL because there were a lot less reps, and it was a lot cooler here than it was in Florida. So, those were the two biggest things, but the changes were evident pretty quick, too. Training camp can be pretty tough if you aren't ready for it.

"We have preseason games, and then you come right back with two-a-days, and that was a tough transition for me the third and fourth week of training camp. So, there were some different things I had to get used to, but playing college ball at Florida certainly got me ready for the pros.''

And now Starks is ready to stand out at the NFL level as well.

Max Starks photo Copyright Pittsburgh Steelers/Karl Roser.


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