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Steelers O-line loses LT Starks for the season

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Max Starks needs surgery to repair a disc injury in his neck and will miss the rest of the season. The team placed him on the injured reserve list Wednesday.

The injury, not believed to be career-threatening, leaves the Steelers (6-2) without both of their projected starting offensive tackles. Right tackle Willie Colon, unsigned past this season, is out for the season after injuring an Achilles' tendon in June.

Starks, 28, a starter on Pittsburgh's Super Bowl-winning teams during the 2005 and 2008 seasons, was injured during a 27-21 victory over Cincinnati on Monday night. Starks is expected to be replaced by Jonathan Scott, a former Bills starter who has been backing up Starks and right tackle Flozell Adams.

Starks has started three seasons at left tackle after starting two seasons at right tackle.

Starks' injury is a setback to an offensive line that, even without Colon, has done a better job of protecting the quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger, sacked an NFL-high 50 times last season and 249 times since his rookie season in 2004, has been dropped only seven times in his first four games.

Without Starks and Colon, the Steelers' offensive line depth is greatly depleted. Right guard Trai Essex also can play left tackle, the position he played for three seasons at Northwestern. Tony Hills, a former Texas tackle drafted on the fourth round, has played little and often is deactivated on game day.

The Steelers also activated rookie tackle Chris Scott from the physically-unable-to-perform list. He broke a foot while working out during the summer and missed training camp.

Teammate Ryan Clark posted a Twitter message about Starks' injury, saying, "Max will still be with us throughout the year just rather have him playing. His health is more important than anything."

The Steelers have drafted no offensive tackles before the fourth round since selecting Essex in 2005.

Pittsburgh already was without one of its top defensive linemen, Aaron Smith, who tore his left triceps tendon on Oct. 24 at Miami and could miss the rest of the season.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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