Optimism High Over Injured Ankles

Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey expects to play Monday with his sprained ankle, and everyone expects Ben Roethlisberger to play with his.

PITTSBURGH -- Maurkice Pouncey says he'll play Monday night in San Francisco, and everyone thinks Ben Roethlisberger will do the same.

Pouncey, of course, said the same thing in the days, even hours, leading up to the Super Bowl, but did not play.

"They didn't let me play," Pouncey said with emphasis and a typically wide smile. "They held me out. God doggit, it's all their fault."

Pouncey on Thursday night suffered a high ankle sprain to the same left ankle that kept him out of last season's Super Bowl. The injury knocked him out of the Cleveland game with 1:58 left in the first half, but he said this injury doesn't compare to the high ankle sprain that knocked him out of the Super Bowl.

"Oh, it's nowhere near that," he said. "That there was season-ending. This here is not."

Pouncey subscribes to the theory that a second high-ankle sprain to the same ankle is easier to overcome.

"It's a lot better that I hurt it last year and now it can heal a lot quicker," he said.

So, he's going to play Monday night?

"It's fine. It's getting better. Yeah, I'll play."

If Pouncey can't play, the Steelers would again move left guard Doug Legursky to center, but this time they'd use Trai Essex at left guard instead of Chris Kemoeatu. Essex said he practiced as the first-team LG on Monday.

Pouncey also expects Ben Roethlisberger to again gut it out with his sprained left ankle. Both players have Grade 1 sprains, but Roethlisberger returned and finished Thursday's game.

Roethlisberger was injured when Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Scott Paxson dove at the back of Roethlisberger's knees and landed on his ankle in the first half.

He returned with the help of an already strong adrenaline flow that won't be available to him Monday night.

"It is tough," said Hines Ward, "because when you let it sit overnight, you wake up and the ankle's the hardest place to get rid of swelling. I'm dealing with the same issue and that happened six weeks ago in Arizona."

Ward said he's had a hard time cutting, but that Roethlisberger wouldn't have that problem, as long as he he's protected in the pocket.

"He'll be wearing a brace or something," Ward said. "I wouldn't count Ben out for anything."

Roethlisberger's in a walking boot and didn't practice Monday, but a long list of teammates agree with Ward and Pouncey.

"He's a gritty competitor," said James Farrior. "He wants to play, he wants to win, and he knows he gives this team the best chance to win."

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