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Morning Joe: Steelers Stand Tall in a League Crumbling With Injuries

As the NFL watched star-after-star leave Week 2 with season-ending injuries, the Pittsburgh Steelers held strong. How? Because they've known this was going to happen all summer.

PITTSBURGH -- When the NFL decided they would shorten their training camp and remove their preseason games, everyone kind of expected an increase in injuries.

Week 1 didn't bring many. A few here and there. Then, by the end of the 1 o'clock games in Week 2, it felt like half the superstars in the NFL were headed for IR.

The Pittsburgh Steelers somehow weren't one of those teams struggling to find backup talent. Maybe it's good preparation. Maybe it's karma from losing Ben Roethlisberger a year ago. Or, maybe their team is built for this.

"I expected there'd be some injuries just off of previous history when we had a lockout, and we weren't able to have those OTAs," defensive end Cameron Heyward said. "Bodies are adjusting."

Through two weeks, the Steelers have played 18 players on the defensive side of the football. While their quarterback is 38-years-old, the defensive side has more starting veterans that they may need to attend to during this unusual start.

Having that depth is essential, according to defensive tackle Tyson Alualu. Pittsburgh has utilized four defensive line backups so far this season, keeping players like Alualu, Heyward and Stephon Tuitt rested as they ease their way into playing time.

"Amongst the d-line, we've been talking about it since training camp. It's probably the best depth, overall, as a d-line, including the outside linebackers," Alualu said. "Bringing in the right guys. A lot of people that we had or people that we kept around, everybody can play."

The Steelers have even utilized their rookies. First-year players usually don't see a vast amount of playing time on a roster this deep, but so far, Alex Highsmith found the quarterback, Chase Claypool scored an (81-yard) touchdown and Kevin Dotson started a game.

"It speaks to the talents, it speaks to their preparedness," head coach Mike Tomlin said. "I think it speaks to the mentorship they have gotten along the way from their veteran teammates, but we are not patting ourselves on our back because of the contributions of those men up to this point. We are pleased that we have gotten some, but we expect much more from those guys. They are capable of much more, and we are just as excited about being apart of their continued growth process and the plays that come with it as we are to this point."

To Steelers' defensive coordinator, Keith Butler, the Steelers' readiness to stay healthy this season was planned for.

"What happened with us when we came back and had to go through all the stuff that we had to go through in terms of practice and stuff like that, Mike [Tomlin] did a good job of getting us in situations where we could hit and we could practice hitting and we could tackle," Butler said. "I think if you go into the National Football League and you haven't hit anybody, you put a strain on your tendons, on your muscles, on your ligaments, on everything."

The Steelers only had four weeks of padded practices to get into game shape for the regular season. Tomlin complimented his veterans in August for showing up conditioned and ready to play.

From there, they jumped right into preparing for games, including scrimmages, working with fan-less introductions, and of course, hitting.

"I call it 'hit shape,'" Butler continued. "There are two things you have to do to get in shape to play in the National Football League. One is cardiovascular. The other one is going to be 'hit shape.' It's as simple as that. Can you do it without hitting? I don't think you can. You have to hit. Our head coach did a good job of planning that out and giving us the chance to do it before we started the season so our guys could get used to applying pressure to those joints and ligaments and stuff."

The Steelers were ready. As the NFL crumbled last Sunday, Pittsburgh held firm. Now, they walk into Week 3 against the Houston Texans with no injuries to worry about.

And no matter how you look at it, or what you believe the reasoning is, this team was ready - and it's showed.

"I know a lot of guys that got hurt across the league. I'm praying for them," safety Minkah Fitzpatrick said. "It's the game of football. We were put in a tough situation. Even though we were playing football our entire life, we still need that time to acclimate our bodies. Especially our tendons and ligaments. Stuff that you have to condition your body to. So if your body isn't conditioned to it, you got out there, and a running back runs the ball 20 times a game and gets beat up, that's tough. You're definitely going to see injuries across the board."

Noah Strackbein is a Publisher with AllSteelers. Follow Noah on Twitter @NoahStrack, and AllSteelers @si_steelers.