By Joe Starkey, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, October 9, 2011
That is why he woke up every morning at 6:15 and hiked Pinnacle Peak (1,300-foot elevation) in Scottsdale, Ariz., during his unplanned vacation from the NFL. It's why he did all those tire flips and truck pushes and stretched his workouts into the late afternoon.
Although, come to think of it, maybe he was prolonging the workouts to avoid the regimen waiting for him at home.
"My wife had me doing all kinds of chores around the house," Starks said Friday after Steelers practice on the South Side. "Never knew I could be a handyman until this little extended offseason. So if anybody needs any plumbing tips or house adjustments, I'm your guy."
Actually, somebody needs a left tackle. The Steelers have seen their offensive line spring leaks left and right through a disappointing and sometimes disastrous first quarter of the season.
Enter the 29-year-old Starks, a two-time Super Bowl winner who arrived at training camp with a fairly fat body and a really fat contract. He and his $5.14 million salary were immediately cut.
In hindsight -- and as former Pitt football coach Walt Harris once so eloquently put it, hindsight is always "50/50" -- the Steelers would have been better off releasing veteran defensive end Aaron Smith and his $4.5 million salary. They had better depth on the defensive line.
Obviously, someone overrated Jonathan Scott at left tackle. More obviously, everyone was horrified at the prospect of Trai Essex trying to secure Ben Roethlisberger's blind side for so much as one more snap.
So today, Starks -- Mr. Fix-It -- will attempt a harrowing feat: He is expected to start at left tackle against the Tennessee Titans despite having practiced just three times in the past 338 days.
Does he realize that if he plays well against talented defensive end Jason Jones, he will officially eradicate the notion that training camp means something?
"You mean I'd have Allen Iverson syndrome -- 'Practice. What do you mean, practice?' " Starks said, laughing. "No, (Baltimore Ravens left tackle) Bryant McKinnie already proved you can be signed off the streets and start an NFL game within a couple of days."
Point taken, though McKinnie had a couple of weeks to get ready for the season opener and had the advantage of playing against a diminished James Harrison.
Starks was glad the Steelers went back to pads for a couple of days this week, as coach Mike Tomlin sought to sharpen their physical edge.
"I kind of got used to the hitting," Starks said. "The speed picked up from Wednesday to Thursday, and I got used to a game-like feel. Body-wise, I feel great. The agility is there. It's just a few little technique things I had to work on because I haven't had the repetitions.
"Now it's time to take the training wheels off."
In the end, maybe the Steelers will have found themselves a bargain in the 6-foot-8 Starks, who also drew interest from the Detroit Lions, among others. He was halfway through a four-year, $26.3 million deal when he was cut. He signed for the bargain-basement rate of $810,000.
That's a long ways from the $6.85 million Starks made on that odd transition-tag deal in 2008. He was a backup to Marvel Smith at the time. People wondered how the team could justify sinking so much money into a reserve tackle.
Remember how that story turned out? Smith went down early in the year. Starks stepped in and helped the Steelers win the Super Bowl.
It's safe to say general manager Kevin Colbert, Tomlin and everybody else associated with the team would love to see that story repeat itself. But they have a much simpler goal today.
They just want the leak fixed.
Photo: August 28, 2010 - Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America