Q&A: Max Starks weighs in

Max Starks has always battled the bulge, and now he's behind in his conditioning after rehabbing from minor knee surgery. But the big guy isn't too concerned as he prepares for his second season as a starter.

As a rookie third-round pick out of Florida in 2004, Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Max Starks showed promise as an extra lineman when the team went to its jumbo package.

And there are few players in the NFL who are the epitome of jumbo as the 6-8, 337-pound Starks is.

In his second season, Starks became the Steelers' starting right tackle. He settled into the position late in the year to become a key member of a Super Bowl champion squad.

This offseason, Starks has seen his practice time limited by a knee that required surgery to clear out some loose cartilage.

Starks has now returned to practice at the Steelers' voluntary coaching sessions and we caught up with him to ask about his surgery and a number of other issues:

SCS: How are things going now that you're back?

MS: Real fine. There's nothing different. It's just another day at work and you've got to get better every day.

SCS: How much did the knee bother you last year?

MS: The knee didn't really bother me until the last few games because I got hit multiple times in the back of the knee.

SCS: That's a product of the job?

MS: Yeah, naturally, and when you're throwing guys around, especially when you're in front of somebody that's behind you, you're pushing them backwards. The running back is trying to find holes and just runs into you every once in a while.

SCS: How was your learning curve from the first year to the second year to now?

MS: Two years. That's really ultimately the biggest thing, experience. You can't substitute for it. You can have all of the skill in the world, but you need experience. You have to see things happening at real-time speed to be able learn how to react and how to communicate with the other guys.

SCS: Did the time off hurt your conditioning at all. Were you able to do anything to stay in shape?

MS: I was on crutches and you can't run on crutches.

SCS: But did you swim or anything like that?

MS: Yeah, I did swimming and then once I was able to, I did bike work. But for the most part, I couldn't do much because even swimming stresses the knee. I was doing the breast stroke and had to switch to freestyle. Once I got my extension back, I was able to do more on the bike before I was able to start running and put all of that weight on it. That pounding was a big deal for me because of my recovery stages. It was a slow process. It was the first major surgery I've ever had in my career, so it's something that you learn from.

SCS: Were you nervous about it?

MS: There was no fear. A bunch of my teammates have had it done before. I asked them about it. It's something that's natural with offensive linemen. You're going to have a knee problem, guaranteed, being an offensive lineman. It's something I knew was going to eventually happen and was more of a clean-up than anything.

SCS: How close are you to your playing weight right now? Are you going to have to hit it hard even after these sessions are over?

MS: It's not about weight, it's about endurance and training. You have to get stronger. For us, our skill lies with how we use our hands. It's going to be a lot more endurance training and strength training in the upper body and lower body.

SCS: Was there a point last year where you really settled in, or were you settled in from the beginning?

MS: I was fine from the beginning because of getting in there my rookie year and at least knowing what to expect. And then I played in the Buffalo game in the second half. That gave me an expectation level of I knew what to expect.

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