The Steelers will be looking for a new offensive line coach before next season after Sean Kugler agreed to become the next head coach at the University of Texas El-Paso.
Kugler played there from 1984-88 before becoming an assistant coach at the school from 1993-2000.
In his third season with the Steelers, Kugler has overseen the development of All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey. But the line never really took off due to injuries. Kugler will start his 21st different line configuration in 45 regular-season games today against San Diego.
Kugler will coach the Steelers’ line through the end of the season.
AN OL IN TATTERS
With the news coming out of San Diego that coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith are done after the season, the Chargers’ tattered offensive line is receiving little attention.
Porous when healthy, the Chargers lost two starters last week – RT Jeromey Clary and LG Tyronne Greene – and possibly a third. LT Mike Harris is listed as questionable and said he expects to play with a high ankle sprain.
The Chargers also placed one of their reserves, David Molk, on injured reserve with hand and thumb injuries last week. He joins fellow linemen Jared Gaither, Johnnie Troutman and Brandyn Dombrowski on various season-ending reserve lists.
Kevin Haslam, who played only four career NFL snaps (none since 2010) before stepping in last week, will play right tackle for the Chargers.
Rex Hadnot will play left guard and Reggie Wells, who signed Wednesday, could play left tackle if Harris, an undrafted rookie, can’t play with his high ankle sprain.
“We’ve had similar situations, but I think we’ve had more guys in better positions to be successful,” said Steelers left tackle Max Starks. “We’ve had how many injuries over the last three years since coach Kugler’s been here? And to still be able to have a line, have that cohesion, and have that versatility among the players I think speaks to the players they bring in here.”
Is the Steelers’ defensive line licking its chops?
“Nah, we’re not looking at it that way,” said defensive end Brett Keisel. “We’re looking at it like a team coming in here that lost its last home game. We’ve got to play well up front, get after Philip Rivers, and give our guys a chance to make plays.”
Speaking of getting after Rivers, Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison has 3 sacks, 2 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles in 4 career games against the Chargers. He’s also riding a career-high three-game sack streak.
“I think some time ago James turned the corner in terms of complete rehab and football conditioning,” said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. “He’s been getting better every week, and I think he’s playing at a very high level right now.”
PART OF PLAN
Even though cornerback Ike Taylor will miss his first game since Oct. 10, 2004, the Steelers are ready at his position because they’ve been planning for it since spring drills.
“We don’t try to get four defensive backs ready to go; we try to get eight to 10,” said LeBeau. “We know before the season is over we absolutely will be playing 9-10 defensive backs in the games. Experience has proven that. These guys are taught by coach (Carnell) Lake from Day One as if they’re going to be starters and that they have to embrace their role for that day that they’re going to be. Never did it pay us more benefits than in Baltimore when Ike went down, literally, on the first snap.”
Taylor’s replacement in Baltimore, Cortez Allen, played in 59 of the 61 defensive snaps opposite Keenan Lewis. Replacing Allen as the nickel back was Curtis Brown, who played 15 snaps.
The Steelers will use DeMarcus Van Dyke as their fourth cornerback if needed. For insurance, the Steelers promoted cornerback Josh Victorian from the practice squad Saturday and released quarterback Brian Hoyer.
BY THE NUMBERS
Turner is 0-6 as a head coach against the Steelers. Mike Tomlin is 3-0 against the Chargers. … Rivers is starting his 108th consecutive game. Ben Roethlisberger hopes to start a new streak today. … Roethlisberger is 23-9 as a starter in December (.719). … Chargers wide receiver Danario Alexander was picked up off the street on Oct. 22, and in the past four games is averaging 101.5 receiving yards. Only A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall, Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson have gained more yardage during that stretch. … Chargers TE Antonio Gates needs 1 touchdown to tie Lance Alworth for the most in team history, and Gates needs 32 catches to pass Ozzie Newsome (662) for fourth all-time by a tight end in NFL history. … Steelers TE Heath Miller needs 7 catches to become the third Steeler with 400 catches. His 7 touchdowns this season tie his career high set in 2007. Miller has 3 TDs in 3 games against the Chargers.