With the third preseason game in the books it is now time to break down the performance of the offensive line and blocking by the offense as I do every week. As a whole the offensive line looked good and here is a breakdown by player.
Marcus Gilbert – Gilbert made is first start of the preseason with Jonathan Scott out with a knee injury and he did not disappoint as he scored well against the likes of John Abraham, Jonathan Babineaux and Ray Edwards. Gilbert was not flawless though as he did allow an early pressure that lead to a sack of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Gilbert was worried about beating Abraham to the edge and he let him get his hands inside his body. Abraham forced his way inside after having control of Gilbert. The other noticeable beat of Gilbert was the first play after the two-minute warning as Abraham beat Gilbert around the corner to force Roethlisberger up into the pocket. Gilbert switched over to right tackle in the second half and looked fine there for 9 plays. The improvement he will need to make going forward is to have his hands work in unison with his feet in pass protection. It was exciting to see the second-round pick be up for the test.
Tony Hills – Hills was my next highly watched player on the line as he was making his second straight start at right guard. He is much more mobile than Ramon Foster, Trai Essex or Doug Legursky were last season and he is usually able to hold his blocks much longer when asked to block at the second level. He was a little late switching off on a twist by Babineaux early in the second quarter, but he did recovery. His original man was Vance Walker and Hills did not do a good enough job of handling him when he switched him off to Legursky in my opinion. Legursky also decided to leave Walker to help Gilbert out wide, so there may have been some miscommunication there. The sack by Walker would not have mattered though as Willie Colon was flagged on the play for holding. On the very next play Hills failed to pick up Walker as he attacked Hills. Hills played him too far inside and Walker easily got around him. Hills also still tends to get too upright when pulling left and although he will hit his man, his pad level is too high and he does not clear the hole. This will be something that troubles Hills every week because of his size. Overall though it was not a bad performance by him on the night and he should be the opening day right guard with what he has shown over the last few games.
Willie Colon – Colon looked great once again outside of the penalty I mentioned above and a few running plays. He often likes to rely too heavily on that swat at times where he attempts to push the pass rusher wide. Nothing overly much to be concerned about and he looks 100% to start the season at right tackle.
Maurice Pouncey – Pouncey was dinged early by friendly fire and that ankle will likely be a week to week thing with him. He looked pretty much on his screws and I have no worries about him except for his mobility being limited should that ankle cause him a bigger problem. The Steelers will likely use him more in pass protection this year to give help to the left tackle spot as he is fully capable of getting to the outside edge due to his athleticism.
Chris Kemoeatu – Saturday night was the first game for Kemoeatu this preseason and he looks like he has knocked off the rust pretty good. He worked well with the rookie Gilbert in addition. As long as he does not allow hands inside of him or face Kyle Williams from the Bills every week, he should be fine. It was good to see him back in action and he is night and day better that either Foster or Keith Williams at the position.
Trai Essex – Essex saw his first action Saturday night since being re-signed after the game against the Eagles and he looked as if he is still trying to round into shape despite the weight loss. His strength may not be where it needs to be yet and I found most of his errors came in the running game. His pass protection looked fine against the level of competition he was facing, but he could really use more work against the Panthers on Thursday. It looks like he will start the season as the back-up left tackle and ultimate swing lineman, but Gilbert is indeed right on his heels.
Ramon Foster – Foster had his best game of the preseason against the Falcons, but that is not saying too much as I thought the first two games were pretty underwhelming for him. Foster does not have the mobility a guard should have and is not fast off the snap. He will start the season likely on the inactive list.
Chris Scott – The preseason struggles continued for Scott against the Falcons. He looks confused at times as to what his assignment is and gets beat far too often. He also does not hold his blocks well either when needed. I fully expect him to be released next week and will be even more surprised if he makes the practice squad right now. He plays like rookie and has not shown the development or lived up to early camp raves we had been hearing about him.
Skill Positions – For the most part the skill position blocking was good, but it did seem like Hines Ward was saving that chore for the regular season. Heath Miller continued to show why he is one of the best all around tight ends in the league and Wesyle Saunders is showing some improvement with his recognition and blocking now. He had a nice run block late in the game as well. Tyler Grisham goes 100 % on every play and is willing to do the dirty work of blocking. Unfortunately I do not think it will be enough to secure a roster spot thanks to the depth of the Steelers wide receiver position. John Gilmore was not awful, but the Steelers could still use an upgrade at the position if a more desirable tight end becomes available on the last cutdown day.