What has Steelers Nation been demanding for the better part of a decade? A tall receiver? Well, we endured the Limas Sweed experiment. I think the Black and Gold faithful have moved on and like the ‘Young Money’ wide receiving crew – Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Emmanuel Sanders have an opportunity to be the WR nucleus for years to come. No, I think we’re set at receiver. What the fanbase has been clamoring for is more beef up front on the offensive line. This year, the draft gave the Steelers a rare opportunity to take their ground beef grade to something resembling sirloin or porterhouse.
Let’s take a look at last year’s starting offensive line:
- Left Tackle – Max Starks
- Assets: veteran savvy, can be left on an island without needing the running back or tight end to chip constantly, long arms
- Weaknesses: age, can’t block for an extended period of time, which is a requirement when you’re trying to keep Ben Roethlisberger upright.
- Overall Grade: C+
- Left Guard – Chris Kemoeatu
- Assets: pulls well, decent footwork, mauler
- Weaknesses: blown assignments, often takes unnecessary penalties (usually of the 15-yard ilk, as opposed to the garden variety 10-yard holds that are also part of his repertoire).
- Overall Grade: D
- Center – Maurkice Pouncey
- Assets: athleticism, often takes care of linemen and moves on to the next level (linebackers)
- Weaknesses: injury-prone, can’t quite take care of the elite nose tackles one-on-one (i.e., Haloti Ngata)
- Overall Grade: A
- Right Guard – Ramon Foster
- Assets: strength, size
- Weaknesses: slow footwork, simply not starter quality
- Overall Grade: C
- Right Tackle – Marcus Gilbert
- Assets: good with his hands, adequate footwork
- Weaknesses: susceptible to being overpowered, rookie inexperience
- Overall Grade: B-
As you can see, there were some major holes on the offensive line. It had a rippling effect on the offense.
The average yards per rush was at 4.1 in 2010 and 4.4 in 2011. That’s an acceptable rate, but a far cry from the expectations of the blue collar fanbase.
Big Ben extends plays and takes hits for doing so. He gets sacked and is a huge injury risk due to the combination of his penchance for hanging in the pocket while the turnstiles on the O-line are unable to prevent pass rushers from reaching the QB.
The deep passing game is forced to take a “back seat” because routes take too long to develop…routes that take too long for a patchwork offensive line to protect their franchise QB.
So…come 2012, why will the offensive line be better suited for “Steeler football?”
#1 Willie Colon makes his return. He tore his triceps muscle before he could have an impact on the 2011 season. When injuries haven’t forced Colon to the sidelines, he has been a very dependable right tackle for the Black and Gold. His run blocking has been excellent, while pass blocking has been underrated. At 6’3″ and 315 pounds, he is well-sized and perhaps an even better fit at guard. Not coincidentally, the Steelers made some draft selections that will allow Colon’s transition to guard.
#2 Despite all the pre-draft talk that the Steelers needed to talk either Dontari Poe (nose tackle from Memphis) or Dontae Hightower (inside linebacker from Alabama), the previous 23 picks were taken…and no guards went off the board. I think that the Steelers war room had to be salivating that the guy widely regarded as the top guard in the country was STILL ON THE BOARD! The pick was handed to Roger Goodell in lightning speed. David DeCastro, guard from Stanford University, was now a Steeler. He has size (6’5″, 316 pounds), strength (34 reps at the combine bench press), tremendous lateral movement for a man his size, and what looks to be “controlled nastiness.” All first round picks draw a comparison to NFL veterans. The one that may strike a chord in western Pennsylvania for rookie DeCastro is Alan Faneca. The coaching staff has already prepared for DeCastro to potentially be the starter at right guard this fall.
#3 The Steelers attempt to avoid players who have troubling character issues. As the end of the second round approached, Pittsburgh had the aforementioned needs (ILB, NT), plus the desire to challenge the existing cornerbacks for the #2 CB position. But, at pick #56, there was a first round talent still sitting there – an individual who had been suspended for five games for receiving illegal benefits, an individual who lacked the foresight and tested positive for marijuana AT THE NFL COMBINE in February! Was this young man worth the risk? The character flaws have silver lining. After Mike Adams tested positive for marijuana use, he requested to meet with the Steelers brass – owner Art Rooney II, general manager Kevin Colbert, and head coach Mike Tomlin. They agreed, but informed Adams that they had no interest in drafting a young man with such issues. Pittsburgh’s braintrust identified certain unspecified criteria that Adams needed to meet to even be visible on the magical draft board. Lo and behold at pick #56, Mike Adams, left tackle from Ohio State, was drafted by his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers. Apparently, he met these criteria – and Colbert confirmed as much, following the draft. Adams is a 6’7″, 323 pound prototypical left tackle – just a mountain of a man with decent speed and footwork to contend with pass rushing defensive ends and linebackers. He will need to improve his strength and use his hands better to maximize his potential. If he keeps his nose clean, he could be the starting left tackle for many seasons to come.
So….we’re seeing the starting offensive line go from Starks-Kemoeatu-Pouncey-Foster-Gilbert to Adams-Colon-Pouncey-DeCastro-Gilbert. Three guys who I grade at a “C” or lower are being replaced by two rookies that could be visiting Aloha Stadium in their future (if the Pro Bowl still exists by that point in time) and a veteran who will be well-suited by the change from exterior to interior lineman.
Steeler fans should be excited by the infusion of youth on the offensive line. This will give new offensive coordinator, Todd Haley the ability to open the playbook and accentuate the playmaking abilities of the plethora of weapons on offense.
Next week’s article will discuss the Steelers running game predicament.
About the Author
Written by Rob Stroup
I grew up in western Pennsylvania, so I have followed the Pittsburgh sports teams (Steelers, Penguins, Pirates) since the womb. It has become a tradition to make the yearly trek to a Steelers and Penguins game each year despite the distance. I hope to make writing a profession because I thoroughly enjoy attempting to paint a picture with words.