There’s nothing quiet about the Pittsburgh Steelers, from their larger than life quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, to the passion in coach Mike Tomlin’s eyes. And offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert is no exception.
With two weeks remaining in the NFL’s regular season, Pittsburgh has two more chances to show America—and the standings—why it deserves to be in the playoffs. Unfortunately, it will have to so without Gilbert, who was placed on injured reserve three weeks ago. Still, Gilbert, despite only having two seasons under his belt, is still finding ways to contribute to the team as a veteran locker room and sideline presence.
Esquire.com writer and special to TDdailyLindsay McCormick caught up with Gilbert to talk about Pittsburgh’s playoff push, a rocky season for the Steelers and his role with the team now.
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Lindsay McCormick: Last weekend we watched blowout after blowout. And then, as football fans across America breathed a sign of relief, we were entertained by Steelers and the Cowboys.
Marcus Gilbert: The Bills got destroyed! Oh my goodness! As for us, I’d say we came out with the right attitude, but we didn’t make the big plays at the end of the game. And turning the ball over hurt us—that last play of the game.
LM: Does it get quiet on the sidelines during an intense ending like that?
MG: It’s not quiet at all and it sucks being injured because you want to go jump in the game and go to war and go to battle with your guys. But while you’re on the sidelines, [you do] anything you can do to help, like cheering for your team or helping out the guys who are in the game.
LM: What’s your specific role now?
MG: Helping the guys that fill in for me. Helping them read coverages and watching certain series with them so they can go in on the next series and be prepared.
LM: Steelers first round pick David DeCastro made his first start last week. Was he one of the guys you helped?
MG: Yeah. When he first got into town, Maurkice Pouncey and I were the first guys he contacted because the coaches told him to. We were guys who came in as rookies and immediately started. We tried to show him how to carry himself as a professional on and off the field and to get him up to speed with what we were doing.
LM: It’s been a difficult season for running back Rashard Mendenhall and in a contract year for him at that. Football is a business, but how many of the players truly take being demoted personally?
MG: We all understand it’s a business, but even more than that, it’s about what’s best for the team. Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman have been doing one heck of a job in there at running back, and Rashard has been recovering from a knee injury, so it’s been hard on him to come back and fill that role. I saw the Broncos game earlier, and I remember running back Knowshon Moreno from when we went up against him in college at University of Georgia, and that guy was a beast! All the guys on the Broncos spoke very highly about what a positive person he was in their locker room and once he finally got a chance, he shined. I can see the same thing playing out here.
LM: And then there’s wide receiver Mike Wallace, who was booed by fans and had a little difficulty adjusting to Todd Haley’s new offense. Does he get a long-term contract when the season ends?
MG: His entire body of work is phenomenal and you have to take that into consideration. Every year, he has done a great job, but this year he’s been a little off and on. I know Mike would love to stay here, but if an opportunity outside of the Steelers presents itself, I think he will sign a long-term contract.
LM: It’s no secret, everyone loves coach Mike Tomlin, but is what the fans see the true Mike Tomlin?
MG: What you see is what you get. He just brings so much energy and passion to the game of football. After talking to some of the guys around the league, it seems like he approaches everything differently than any other coach. He’s not afraid to dial up a big play or roll the dice. On game days he’s one of the players because he is so emotional.
LM: How does he bring that unique approach into the film room with players and into his preparation?
MG: He’ll put up a power point and point out all the team’s weaknesses, key players and weak links. And of course, those up-tempo practices. He’ll also pull anyone into his office. He’s not shy.
LM: Then again neither is Roethlisberger. How many players does it take to bring Big Ben down?
MG: He hears their footsteps and doesn’t even look at the defenders. He just avoids them. The offensive linemen have a saying for him: No clock.
MG: Well, we mess with Charlie because he’s been wearing the same sweats, same shoes and same locker room gear since he’s been with the Steelers. But he is a guy that we really appreciate having around because he knows everyone and everything about the league and will help anyone. He’s been great for our locker room.
LM: Bigger fan base: Steelers or Cowboys?
MG: By far, we represent unlike any other team. When we played in Arizona last year, more than half of the crowd was Steelers fans. It was like a home game for us. We are now “America’s Team.”
LM: With the Ravens locking up the AFC North, realistically, what are the Steelers chances at a wildcard?
MG: We have a great chance with this veteran group. We have a lot of guys on this team that have won multiple Super Bowls and a great coaching staff. They’ll win the last two games so they can say they did everything possible.
LM: The NFL held a moment of silence for the horrific tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday, and several players have reached out to the families. What does this say about the league and the game of football?
MG: I get to wake up in the morning, go into the city and play the game of football that I love. It’s unfortunate because some of these kids had dreams—just like I did as a kid—of reaching those goals. And because of a sad tragedy, they will never be able to live out those goals. One thing we can do for them, is go out and give it our all in their honor and to reach out to the families in any way we can.
Lindsay McCormick writes for Esquire.com and has covered the NFL, the NBA and college football for ESPN The Magazine to Comcast SportsNet. Follow her on Twitter @LindsayM_Sports.