Kicker Shaun Suisham got injured in pregame warm-ups for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. It didn’t get much better from there in the team’s 16-7 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
“Obviously a disappointing opener,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “Enough misery to go around in all three phases.”
Tomlin was talking about the team’s on-field performance, but he could just as easily have been addressing the Steelers’ injury concerns.
For much of the game, they had more injuries than points. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey and linebacker Larry Foote each face what likely will be a season-ending surgery. Greater Johnstown graduate LaRod Stephens-Howling, who is the team’s third-down back and kickoff returner, left the game with a knee injury and was headed for an MRI after the game. Starting cornerback Cortez Allen had a right ankle sprain and Suisham hurt his hamstring before the opening kickoff.
“It’s frustrating,” defensive end Brett Keisel said of the injuries. “Any time you lose guys that are key contributors to your game, it’s frustrating. But that’s the business we’re in. It happens every year with every team.”
The Steelers already were playing without injured second-round pick Le’Veon Bell, who was listed as the
co-starter at running back, and tight ends Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth. Fullback Will Johnson was active but didn’t play after being limited most of the week by injury.
The biggest blow might have come less than four minutes into the Steelers season, and it came from friendly fire. Guard David DeCastro, the team’s first-round draft choice in 2012, tried to cut block on Titans defensive tackle Sammie Hill as part of the Steelers’ new zone-blocking scheme, but instead took out Pouncey’s right knee, injuring the medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments.
“I’ll have to see the film and watch,” DeCastro said when asked what happened on the play. “I went down to cut the defender and I must have cut Pouncey. We’ll see. I don’t know. I haven’t seen it yet.”
DeCastro was asked if he felt responsible for the injury.
“You do,” he said, “but again, it’s football. Injuries happen. Like I said, I’ve got to see the film and see exactly what happened.”
Backup Kelvin Beachum filled in for Pouncey for the remainder of the game and impressed teammate Troy Polamalu.
“Beachum’s got to step up and, from my assessment on the sidelines, being a defensive back, it seemed like he did all right in there,” the safety said. “But Maurkice is one of the best – if not the best – centers in the game. It’s definitely a big loss.”
The team’s other starting safety, captain Ryan Clark, said the injury was psychologically damaging to the team.
“The psychological part is the friendship part,” he said. “It hurts. I told Ray Jackson, our player-development guy, we’re not supposed to cry, but you feel like it. It wasn’t because I felt like we couldn’t win a football game without those guys. You know what they put in all offseason. You know how much this game means to them. You know how much today meant to them.
“To be gone that early, and for the significant amount of time that Pouncey’s going to be gone, it’s tough,” Clark said. “It’s tough to deal with as his friend. But as his teammate, as a leader on this team, I told the guys, ‘Look, we’ve got to make the plays.’ If another guy went down and Maurkice was out there or Shaun was healthy, they would tell us to go out and make plays and work.’ And we didn’t do that.”
The defense suffered a loss, too, as Foote ruptured his bicep.
“Losing him is going to be big,” Clark said. “Just because, who’s behind him? I just learned their names like this week. For us, we have to step up around him, the guys who have been here – the Keisels, LaMarr (Woodley), Lawrence (Timmons).”
Vince Williams, one of the Steelers’ inactives, was listed as Foote’s backup on the two-deep roster.
There will be plenty of changes on there for the Sept. 16 game at Cincinnati.
The fate of Stephens-Howling has yet to be determined. The former Trojan, who signed with the Steelers in the offseason after spending four years with the Arizona Cardinals, got a big opportunity after Isaac Redman fumbled twice in the first half, but was unable to take advantage of it, as he injured his right knee, the same one that forced him to miss much of the preseason.
Stephens-Howling declined The Tribune-Democrat’s request for a postgame interview, saying he needed to go get the MRI done on his knee.
Stephens-Howling had six carries for 19 yards – a 3.2-yard average – and two catches for 11 yards. He also had a 25-yard kickoff return. He was injured after making a catch for 7 yards in the third quarter.
Eric Knopsnyder covers the Pittsburgh Steelers for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/eric_knopsnyder.