It is never too early to start talking about awards, especially since speculation for them starts before a single game is even played.
Aaron Rodgers has a hammerlock on the MVP award. Cam Newton is the front runner for Rookie of the Year, though Andy Dalton and DeMarco Murray may be among those closing the gap.
And here is one that I will throw out there: Max Starks for Comeback Player of the Year.
It is hard to imagine Starks not at least being in the discussion for that award at this point of the season.
Consider that he missed the final 11 games of 2010, including the postseason, with a neck injury. Consider that he watched the Steelers’ first game of this season at a sports bar in Arizona — a bloated contract and questions about weight having conspired against Starks in late July when the Steelers released him.
But it turns out the Steelers needed Starks as much as he needed them.
And after they threw the mammoth offensive tackle a lifeline in early October, he went from street free agent to starter in less than a week.
The Steelers are 5-1 since Starks reclaimed his old job at left tackle, and the eighth-year veteran has been a leader and a stabilizing force along the offensive line.
Ben Roethlisberger’s comfort with Starks protecting his blind side is obvious with the quarterback’s high level of play over the last six weeks. And Starks has been better than the Steelers could have expected when they signed him to a one-year contract.
He held Steelers-tormentor Terrell Suggs without a sack two weeks ago. He played a solid game in Cincinnati even though Roethlisberger got sacked five times.
One of those, by my count, was a result of Roethlisberger holding onto the ball too long. And the Bengals gave the Steelers trouble when they attacked the interior of the offensive line, not when they rushed Roethlisberger from the edge.
Starks’ teammates voted him the Steelers’ winner of the Ed Block Courage Award last month. The award honors a player that has shown courage in dealing with or overcoming adversity.
If Starks continues to play well, his perseverance could and maybe should earn him national recognition.
And his take on what has transpired over the last six weeks?
“I’m back home,” Starks said after the Steelers’ 24-17 win over the Bengals. “It’s just a blessing, God’s will overrides anyone else’s. All you can do is just follow a path, one step at a time and He leads you in the right direction and so I’m just blessed.”
So are the Steelers.
— Scott Brown