Pittsburgh Steelers develop another pair of starters by using a little TLC

From defunct college progams to NFL nowheresville, two more Steelers find way to starting lineup.

PITTSBURGH -- Maurkice Pouncey didn't get to play any right tackle Thursday, but not because the experiment has been deemed a failure.

"No, I think they've seen enough," he said. "They liked it."

So, why not take more reps?

"It's just for an emergency," Pouncey said. "If one of the guys goes down, they wanted to know if I could handle it."

All the reps instead went to Chris Hubbard, who's preparing to make his first NFL start Sunday for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the New York Jets and one of the most rugged defensive lines in the NFL.

Hubbard is a third-year pro out of UAB who spent 2013 on the practice squad, 2014 on the bench and played in seven regular-season games and two playoff games last season as a reserve. He did get one snap last season at tackle, which is one more than Pouncey and practice-squad tackle Matt Feiler have combined in the NFL.

Hubbard said he'll be ready.

"Getting all the reps today and this week are going to help a lot, really a lot," he said. "It will make the game a lot easier."

The game could also be a bit easier for Hubbard since the Jets employ four big men across their front, instead of two big men and two quick edge rushers.

Hubbard, who's normally an interior player, will primarily be blocking Muhammad Wilkerson, a 315-pounder with 2.5 sacks this season.

However, Hubbard refused to agree the matchup was better suited to him.

"You can't discredit these guys at all, man," he said with a shake of the head. "You've got to go out there like you would any other Sunday. But this is my first Sunday, so it'll be awesome."

Is the new father getting his sleep?

"Oh, yeah," Hubbard said. "My wife understands and she's helping me out a lot. She's helping with the baby. It's working out. We've got everything planned. We have a schedule that fits for us and it's working out well."

GETTING HIS RESPECT

Hubbard isn't the only Steelers starter this week who's risen from the Steelers' practice squad after attending a college with a now-defunct football program.

Jordan Dangerfield is finally getting his respect as the starting strong safety for a second consecutive week.

"Just keeping faith in God," Dangerfield explained of how he stayed the course. "I just had to be patient and wait for my time."

Dangerfield's deep confidence caused him to miss out on his only D-1A scholarship offer coming out of Royal Palm Beach, Fla. He waited for something better than Florida International University, but nothing came along, and then FIU pulled its offer. So he went to Hofstra, which folded its program, and then he went to Towson.

But he still believed he could get here from there.

"Absolutely," Dangerfield said. "We had a guy at the time, (Jermon) Bushrod, a Pro Bowl lineman from Towson, so I said if he can do it, I can do it."

Undrafted, Dangerfield spent the 2013 training camp with the Buffalo Bills, was cut, and spent most of the last two seasons on the Steelers' practice squad. He made the 53-man roster this year and started last week in place of injured starter Robert Golden.

Dangerfield made five tackles in the game and drew unsolicited praise from Mike Tomlin at his Tuesday press conference.

Dangerfield was asked how players such as he and Hubbard, and so many others in the past, are able to rise to the Steelers starting lineup from the practice squad.

"They keep you around everything. We're in all the team meetings," Dangerfield said. "They keep you active. We don't just come in, run, lift, practice. They don't just use us as bodies at practice. They develop us on and off the field."

(For the complete interview transcript of Dangerfield, click here.)

TRICKLE DOWN FOOTBALL

Of course, the injury wave this week hasn't subsided. Justin Gilbert (knee) missed Thursday's practice along with the expected group of Marcus Gilbert (ankle), Ryan Harris (shin), Eli Rogers (toe), Ryan Shazier (knee) and Cody Wallace (knee), with limited practice time for Golden (hamstring) and Jarvis Jones (ankle).

Tomlin worried Tuesday that this wave would create a "trickle-down" problem for special teams, but special teams coordinator Danny Smith said that hasn't changed his job.

"Honestly, it's not a problem," said Smith. "We deal with the hand we play. There's a game at one o'clock on Sunday. We'll be there."




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