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Steelers notebook: Injury to RT Gilbert opens door for Adams to start

Tribune-Review
| Thursday, November 27, 2014 8:36 p.m

Coming off their best running game of the season, the Steelers’ offensive line might have a new face in the starting lineup when they host the Saints on Sunday.

Right tackle Marcus Gilbert missed practice Thursday, less than 24 hours after injuring his ankle in practice, making it more likely that Mike Adams will get only his third start on Sunday since getting benched early last year.

“You have to be ready when your name is called, and that’s the plan,” Adams said. “If you aren’t ready, then you are doing a disservice to the team and letting everybody down.”

Adams, the Steelers’ second-round pick in 2012, was benched after the fourth game last season when he allowed three sacks against the Vikings. Then he was unable to beat out either Gilbert or Kelvin Beachum for either tackle position during the offseason.

Now, under the direction of offensive line coach Mike Munchak, Adams has stabilized his play.

“He played his butt off in the Colts game when Gilbert went out,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “That’s not going to be a problem at all. He’s improved a lot. Heck, he had no choice with Munch here.”

Adams filled in for Gilbert midway through the Texans game and started the next week against the Colts. In those six quarters, Adams did not allow a sack.

“Whatever direction it goes, we will feel good about it,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said.

Martavis Bryant (illness), Brett Keisel (not injury-related) and Heath Miller (not injury-related) returned to practice on Thursday, but Troy Polamalu (not injury related) remained out. Cortez Allen (thumb), Steve McLendon (shoulder) and Ryan Shazier (ankle) were limited.

Tough Dri

Rookie running back Dri Archer (5-foot-8, 173 pounds) doesn’t have the size to run between the tackles. But Haley said that has been the area from which some of Archer’s best runs have come.

“We have been impressed as soon as he got on campus that he was a very good runner with very good vision,” Haley said. “Obviously, he’s not built like a workhorse, and I don’t think you want to dive him through the tackles 20 times a game, but he can do it.”

Archer has eight carries for 41 yards, with 14 yards on four carries coming between the guards. His workload could increase against the Saints after the release of LeGarrette Blount.

Good deep

Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau expects the Saints to air the ball out Sunday.

“I think they will take more than a couple,” LeBeau said. “The ball will be down there, and we will have to defend it.”

Saints quarterback Drew Brees has thrown 42 passes 20 yards down the field, 18 of which went 31 yards or longer. Six of Brees’ 22 touchdowns have come from 20 yards or longer.

AFC North strong

Every team in the AFC North has at least seven wins, making the division the first in NFL history to have all of its teams three games over .500 simultaneously.

“It’s the best division in football, I think,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “Each team is going out there and proving it every week. We love the competition, and it’s going to come down to two or three games of who is going to win the division.”

All four AFC North teams play out-of-division opponents this week. All could go to eight wins, thus ensuring the entire division wouldn’t finish with a losing record.

The last time that happened was 2008, when both the NFC East and NFC South did it.

Say it ain’t so, Troy

Polamalu will be back in the starting lineup for the first time since spraining his knee right before halftime against the Ravens. Brees hoped that Polamalu would take an extra week to rest.

“Are you sure he has to come back this week?” Brees said. “He doesn’t look any different from when I first saw him on film 10 years ago until now. He still flies around. He makes all kinds of plays both in the run game and the pass game. He’s as instinctive a player as you’ll ever see (and) one of the great safeties to ever play the game.”

Brees has played against Polamalu four times — twice while with the Chargers and twice with the Saints. Polamalu never has intercepted Brees, but he has sacked him once. Polamalu is 3-1 in games against Brees.

4-7 … but still in it

Saints coach Sean Payton realizes his team is in the race for the AFC South but also won’t look past that they are only 4-7.

“I think they are grown men, and they are smart enough to understand what is at stake,” Payton said. “But make no mistake about it: We have to play better football in a number of areas.

One of those areas is getting off the field on third down.

The Saints are the worst in the NFL, allowing a 48 percent conversion rate on third down. In two losses to the Browns and Bengals, the Saints allowed a 69 percent conversion rate.

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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