PITTSBURGH - To hear offensive coordinator Bruce Arians tell it, the Pittsburgh Steelers' decision to insert Doug Legursky into the starting lineup wasn't so much about upgrading at left guard.
It was about adding another center.
Legursky will replace four-year incumbent Chris Kemoeatu at left guard Sunday night when Pittsburgh (7-3) visits the Kansas City Chiefs (4-6).
"Chris did not play poorly; we just have some good depth along the line for the first time in a long time," Arians said after a Thanksgiving Day practice. "It's not a benching as much as it is putting Doug back in."
Legursky has started at three different positions over the past 10 months. A natural center, he subbed there for an injured Maurkice Pouncey at the Super Bowl in February. Legursky began this season as the starting right guard then filled in for two games at left guard when Kemoeatu's knee prevented him from playing. Then, Legursky sustained a toe injury himself that kept him out for three weeks.
This time, despite Arians' polite words for Kemoeatu, Legursky earned his spot in the starting lineup on merit.
"It's like having two centers out there as far as the calls and everything, especially with the noise [in Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium]," Arians said. "He's a very athletic guy, and he's had a heck of a year going as far as giving up pressure."
An undrafted free agent out of Marshall in 2008, Legursky is undersized in the jumbo world of NFL offensive linemen at 6-feet-1 and 315 pounds. Legursky views himself as a "cerebral-type player," and he's made himself invaluable to a Steelers team that seems to have gotten over what was developing into an early-season crisis along the offensive line.
"He might be a little small, man, but he plays big, as big as everyone else," Pouncey said. "Don't let the height fool you.
"He communicates well on the football field and does a lot of good things for the offensive line. He's the guy right now. He's an excellent football player."
Despite solid if unspectacular play in making four starts at right guard and the Super Bowl appearance at center last season, Legursky in training camp was tossed into a jumbled mix of no fewer than five players who were looked at as possible starters at right guard this season.
The team gave long looks to the since-released Tony Hills and Chris Scott (Scott has since rejoined the team on the practice squad) and to a player it had cut and then re-signed in Trai Essex.
Yet come opening day, there was Legursky having emerged as the best option.
"Going into a season, I'm not thinking, 'I've got to get ready for left guard,' or 'I've got to get ready for right guard,' or 'I've got to get ready for center,'" Legursky said. "I'm ready for all three, and if I move one position over or two positions over, it's not a situation where I even hesitate."
Good thing, because Legursky was asked to move to the left side when Kemoeatu's balky knee kept him from playing, and to fill in for Pouncey, who's been knocked out of games twice this season due to minor injury.
"He's been extremely solid," Arians said. "He's a good football player - that's the only way I can describe him: He's just a football player."
Through it all, Legursky still considers himself a center. It's extremely unlikely, though, he'll ever unseat Pouncey - a first-round pick who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last season. But that doesn't mean he can't serve as a "second center" on an offensive line that has taken its share of criticism this season but has improved in recent weeks.
"Playing side-by-side with Pouncey, we can bounce some ideas off each other and talk about a lot of things," Legursky said. "It's nice having two brains out there, but as long as I let him control the calls he needs to control and I can just help him out, I feel like it really helps out our game."
Also Thursday, receiver Emmanuel Sanders practiced fully for the second consecutive day after missing the past three weeks due to arthroscopic knee surgery and the death of his mother. Arians said he will play Sunday.
That potentially could mean an even further-diminished role for Steelers all-time leading receiver Hines Ward, who has only one reception since Oct. 23 due to injury and an apparent plunge down the depth chart.
Arians said, "Hines can still get open," and, "He still has a prominent role."
"This is probably the healthiest he's ever been at Thanksgiving," Arians added. "He's still a great player in the red zone, third down. We've got something for everybody, we think, and not enough footballs for all of them."
Notes: QB Ben Roethlisberger (fractured right thumb) again practiced and will play Sunday, the same for S Troy Polamalu (ribs). OLB LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) was limited in practice and is expected to miss his third consecutive game.