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Steelers rookie tackle Adams learning on the fly

Steelers rookie tackle Adams learning on the fly

PITTSBURGH (AP) Mike Adams was standing on the sideline, minding his own business when his NFL career got a kick-start.

A minute after Pittsburgh Steelers starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert went down with a hyperextended right knee early in the season opener against the Broncos, Adams found himself lining up across the line from Denver's all-everything linebacker, Von Miller.

Gulp.

``I didn't expect it, but you've got to be ready to play whenever,'' Adams said. ``It was a pretty cool experience.''

One that included some very public growing pains as Adams and the rest of the offensive line were roughed up late in a 31-19 loss. The film session was long and painful, with offensive line coach Sean Kugler giving the second-round draft pick out of Ohio State some very pointed criticism.

The talk was a watershed moment for a player not known as a workaholic during his time with the Buckeyes. Adams responded with a tenacity that proved to the guys lining up next to him he was serious about this whole NFL deal.

Good thing considering Adams will make his first start Sunday when Pittsburgh (2-3) travels to Cincinnati (3-3). Gilbert is out indefinitely with an ankle injury.

``Mike's day-to-day stuff has changed a whole lot,'' Pittsburgh guard Ramon Foster said. ``He's more in tune to what's going on. Not to sound bad, but him getting embarrassed like (in Denver) kind of woke him up a little bit. He got chewed out pretty good and he's come back pretty strong from it.''

The massive 6-foot-7, 323-pound Adams has long had the athletic ability to flourish. The only concerns were about his attitude. He acknowledged flunking a drug test just before the NFL combine last spring and was suspended a handful of games during his final season at Ohio State for his role in the scandal that eventually led to coach Jim Tressel's dismissal.

Adams pledged during minicamp that he'd put his troubled past firmly behind him and he's backed it up by becoming an eager student of the game. Following practice on Wednesday Adams joined starting left tackle Max Starks and rookie Kelvin Beachum for extra reps taking whacks at a heavy bag at one end of the practice field.

It's a ritual that Adams has joined in repeatedly since training camp, and with his huge wingspan he swatted the bag around like a toddler playing with a favorite toy. On Sunday, that bag will morph into Cincinnati defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who is part of a unit that is second in the NFL with 21 sacks.

No pressure or anything, though Adams pointed to Dunlap's 6-6 frame as something he can get a handle on better than the smaller, speedier Miller. Besides, just about anything Adams faces in a game will be easier than the time he's spent over the last month trying to block James Harrison or LaMarr Woodley in practice.

``When you're going against two of the best in the world, it's easy to learn fast,'' Adams said. ``They're great vets. They teach me things on the go.''

The Steelers pride themselves on the way they bring each other along, and Adams doesn't need to look too far for someone who knows exactly what he's going through. A year ago, Gilbert was a rookie tackle thrust into the starting lineup by injury. By the end of the season, he was starting on merit.

Adams said he and Gilbert are ``close'' and it's clear the team intends to have the two serve as bookend tackles at some point down the road.

At the moment, the Steelers need Adams to do his best Gilbert impression and just hang in there for a team that is banged up all over the place. Adams might not even be the only backup lineman playing for a team facing a critical juncture early in the season.

Doug Legursky practiced at center on Wednesday in place of Maurkice Pouncey, who is questionable with a right knee injury. Putting together a patchwork offensive line is nothing new in Pittsburgh, where the practice seems to be as much a part of the football season as the Terrible Towel.

``It always seems to happen to us, it does,'' Foster said. ``We've got to reverse this curse, whatever is going on. We've handled it before.''

The Steelers have to handle it again if they want to keep pace in a ridiculously crowded AFC, where nine teams have three losses six weeks into the seasons. The Bengals are one of them, though a win over Pittsburgh would give Cincinnati some breathing room in a suddenly vulnerable AFC North now that division leader Baltimore has lost linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Ladarius Webb for the season with injuries.

Adams' job will be to help keep pressure off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and open up holes for a running game that has operated in fits and starts. It's a job he's ready for, even if his opportunity to step under the lights came a little earlier than he expected.

``I think for Mike, this is the perfect process and perfect time for him to come in and start playing,'' Starks said.

NOTES: Safety Troy Polamalu will miss his fourth game of the season with a strained right calf, though Polamalu said Wednesday he remains optimistic he won't be sidelined for a significant amount of time ... Running backs Rashard Mendenhall (right Achilles) and Isaac Redman (ankle) did not practice on Wednesday though both are questionable ... Linebacker Lawrence Timmons did not practice on Wednesday with a foot issue.

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Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP

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Ravens experimenting with getting Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson on field at same time

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Ravens experimenting with getting Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson on field at same time

Since drafting Lamar Jackson, the Ravens have made it clear that Joe Flacco is their starter. That doesn't mean they're not experimenting with having them both on the field at the same time, however. 

During this week's minicamp, the team has been lining Jackson up at multiple positions. 

"Gosh, I sure like him out there helping us," coach John Harbaugh said of Jackson during Tuesday's minicamp, via ESPN.com.

"If you put two quarterbacks on the field at once, what options does it create for our offense? That's what we're trying to figure out."

While at Louisville, Jackson rushed for 4,132 yards and 50 touchdowns in three seasons. That's more rushing yards than No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley. That unique skill set could be the creative options the Ravens are looking for. 

While at the NFL Combine, however, Jackson refused to workout at any other position than QB. 

"I have a lot of fun seeing what they come up with and what they're going to come up with next," Jackson said. "We'll see where it goes. You have to use your good players."

The Ravens are already viewing Jackson as one of those 'good players.' 

"Once he gets out of the pocket, it's like watching a young Michael Vick," LB C.J. Mosley said after minicamp practice. "It's amazing to watch. When you're defending him, you just have to act like you're tagging off -- you don't want to be on the highlight reel."

Harbaugh has alluded to the fact that the rookie will be active on game days, just exactly how they get the most out of him is what's in play.

"There's a lot of considerations that go into that," Harbaugh said of using two QBs at the once. "Everybody has an opinion. I've read a few. You want to find a way to get the most out of all your guys."

While Flacco isn't the fasted QB in the league, he has shown glimpses of running ability in the past. Figuring out how to utilize Flacco when Jackson is under center is where things will get interesting.

Interesting - as long as it works - is what Ravens fans have been searching for over the last several seasons. 

"Joe has to be able to do other things if [Jackson is] throwing the ball," Harbaugh said. "It gets the creative juices flowing for our offensive coaches, and they've worked hard on that."

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Ravens D-coordinator Don Martindale puts personal stamp on unit

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Ravens D-coordinator Don Martindale puts personal stamp on unit

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- There are no dreary work days for Don Martindale, who has overwhelmingly embraced his new role as defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens.

After serving for five seasons as the team's linebackers coach, Martindale was promoted to coordinator in January after Dean Pees left the post.

Enthusiastic doesn't even begin to describe Martindale's attitude about being in charge of the defense.

"Ever since we've made this transition, it's been a joy to just come through those gates every day. I love it," Martindale said after Wednesday's mandatory minicamp practice.

This isn't the first time Martindale has been put in charge of molding a defense. In 2010, he watched over a unit in Denver that was the worst in the NFL in both yards and points allowed per game.

Given a second chance, the 55-year-old Martindale is putting together a defense that will rely heavily on the instinct of several of its most proven players, most notably safety Eric Weddle and linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley.

"He's just putting his personal fix on our defense and expanding it, giving the guys confidence to play fast," Weddle said. "The idea is to do what's best for the defense, not what's best the individual."

Martindale called Mosley "the quarterback" of a fluid unit that can make a snap-change from drop-back coverage to an all-out blitz. In that regard, Mosley believes this defense is superior to the one that in 2017 yielded 18.9 points per game, sixth-best in the NFL.

"The way we're able to use our core guys, put them in different spots and do some of the same things just from different positions, it's more creative, I would say, than where we were last year," Mosley said.

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh promoted Martindale rather than go outside the organization because he wanted to extend his vision of a defense that has evolved since his arrival in 2008.

"All we're doing is forwarding John's plan," Martindale said. "We're remodeling the package. It's still Ravens football, it's still Ravens defense, but we've streamlined it. It's the elegant simplicity. Guys are playing really fast."

Asked for his take on Martindale's defense, Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg replied, "They're fast and they're furious."

Sure, things might be different once the pads go on at training camp, but at this point, Martindale's boss likes what he sees.

"We're doing a lot of neat things on defense, things that are really good," Harbaugh said. "More than ever, we're putting it on our players to make decisions in real time."

Martindale has a new title, but old habits die hard.

"For the most part, it's been the same," Mosley said. "He always comes in and says, `I have to lead the linebacker room,' and sits down and gets to talking like he's back at linebacker coach."

Told of Mosley's disclosure, Martindale smiled and said, "I've been trying to stay out of there, but you can't help but go in. That's home. I have a good time in the secondary room as well."

And just about everywhere else.

"Where we're going with this thing is really exciting to me," Martindale said, "and I know it's exciting to the players."

In other training camp news, cornerback Jimmy Smith was a surprise participant at practice, going through a light regimen of individual drills just six months after tearing his left Achilles tendon.

"I don't know if Jimmy's like half Wolverine, but he's healed up in half the time of regular human beings," Weddle said, referring to the amazing recuperative powers of the Marvel super hero.

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