Yesterday, Starks confirmed that he expects to be healthy by opening day, September 9, and could probably play earlier if he had to. "If it was the end of August I would probably be able to do it," said Starks, who's on the PUP list rehabbing a torn ACL suffered in last season's playoff loss in Denver.
Of course, Starks has experience with late activations. Last season he was signed on a Tuesday night after the fourth game of the season – a game in which Ben Roethlisberger was sacked five times – and he played the following Sunday and the 12 thereafter.
Yesterday Starks appeared fit and was optimistic about his recovery.
"I feel good," he said. "We've been running every day when we're out on the field, so everything's felt good. I haven't really had any setbacks or any type of swelling or anything. I feel like I'm getting along there. We're doing more agility stuff and more position-specific work, so we'll see when Dr. (Jim) Bradley gets up here what his assessment is and see if I can do something limited, at least do something individual. We'll see."
Kugler said he's been paying close attention to Starks's recovery, made all the more important by the injury to Michael Adams. When asked to share any information on Starks's recovery, all Kugler would say was, "He's working his ass off."
Starks heard the comment and patted his rump.
"Well, it hasn't gotten any smaller," he said with a laugh.
Led by buck linebacker Larry Foote, the defense dominated the offense in the second goal-line drill of the season.
The offense managed only one touchdown, and it was 178-pound rookie Chris Rainey who found his way through a crack at left guard to score against the second team.
Foote had tackled Rainey on the first carry and then blew up fullback Will Johnson to allow a gang tackle of Baron Batch on the second carry. Foote stuffed Johnson – running as a tailback – on the third carry, before Roethlisberger had to heave the ball out of bounds following a play-action fake that fooled nobody on the fourth play.
Rainey scored on the fifth play, while a Batch carry and another incomplete pass ended the scoring at 6-1 in favor of the defense.
"I thought it was just a great goal-line period by guys like Larry Foote as opposed to deficient work on the other side," said coach Mike Tomlin. "You've got to acknowledge when guys are playing lights out, and from where I stood it looked like Larry Foote controlled the whole drill."
Tomlin was asked if the lithe Rainey could run at the goal line when the games count.
"We don't have him in a box. We really don't," Tomlin said. "He has done just about everything we've asked him to do and we'll continue to find ways and see if he's capable of doing things. Obviously he doesn't fit the cookie cutter of a man that runs in that situation but he did a nice job today."
Running backs Isaac Redman (groin), Jonathan Dwyer (shoulder) and John Clay were unavailable. Clay was taken from the practice field in a cart after Tomlin said he injured "a hip or groin. … Obviously he went down in a lot of pain."
Lineman Doug Legursky also left practice with "a strain to his quad" and is considered day to day.
FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT
Cornerback Ike Taylor and receiver Antonio Brown have been arguing and pushing each other all camp and yesterday they got into a fight after Taylor jumped over Brown to make a diving interception in the end zone.
A second fight erupted following the post-practice huddle and the two had to be separated by general manager Kevin Colbert.
"Those guys are competing," Tomlin said. "Those things happen, but these guys understand what we're working for and when we step into stadiums we're together. When you fight your brother, sometimes it gets a little heated. The guys understand what that stuff's about and they'll leave it on the grass where it should be."