By Christopher DiMarino
There are a few battles this offseason that excite me. While many of the rookies are just beginning to arrive, many positional battles are already being created. One of the more intriguing stories will be Ramon Foster. He did a very good job last year considering many had him pegged as a depth player. Where does he fit in with the 2012 Steelers and beyond? Can he make a move to a different position or challenge his teammates for a starting position?
Foster has made it very far considering he went undrafted. He was signed as unrestricted free agent (UFA) after the 2009 draft passed him by. He was a three year starter at Tennessee who played left guard as well as right tackle during his days as a Volunteer. Foster made the roster in the 2009 season as a backup to Chris Kemoeatu in the left guard position and he clocked some minutes on the field in relief of Kemoeatu that year. During this past season, Foster played the same second fiddle originally, but eventually took over the starting right guard job early in the season due to injuries.
This has been a big offseason for Steeler offensive lineman. Kemoeatu was cut as a result of his injury issues and the price tag associated with him. Max Starks still hasn’t been picked up as he recovers from knee surgery and Trai Essex went "Biggest Loser" on us. The team weathered these changes by drafting David DeCastro to play right guard. They took this a step further when they drafted tackle Mike Adams with the intention of swinging right tackle Willie Colon to left guard. DeCastro and Colon would represent the odds on favorites to win the guard positions given that they represent big investments to the team. DeCastro is a first round pick and gift who dropped several spots in the draft after being considered a top ten player by some. Colon on the other hand was given a very lucrative contract just under a year ago.
The good news is that Foster earned a lot of respect from Sean Kugler for his performance last year. He can use this, combined with the fact that this will be his fourth year in the position for leverage when competing. DeCastro is very new and Colon will have to adjust to a new position. The bad news is that while many consider Foster a threat to start, Doug Legursky got the start at right guard originally last year. This happened while Foster was backing up Kemoeatu on the left. So would it be wise to say that Foster can compete at whichever position offers the biggest prospect for him to play? Maybe, but last year when a starting guard job was up for grabs he didn’t win it originally.
Can Foster compete at either guard position or will he line up on the left side mostly in camp? I found a pretty good article that explains the difference between all the offensive line positions. Basically, left guards are preferred for their size, strength and pass blocking ability. Pulling is also a big part of the Steeler offense, and while they aim to be more omni-directional, pulling is a needed skill for a left guard. Typically since the best rushers are put on the quarterback’s blind side (offensive left side), the best pass blockers are put on that side. While both tackles and guards need to do everything well, this is the typical method of determining what player is better suited for which side. It makes sense that Colon, a right tackle, moved to left guard instead of right.
So the bottom line is that Foster might get more work at left guard as he competes with Colon in camp. He will unlikely win that job, but I can guarantee that he is a very important player this season. He’s a considerable backup in case of injury, and Colon hasn\'t played but one game in the last two seasons. He brings competent skill at a fairly low price tag in addition. He has started at both guard spots and did not represent a big threat to the offense’s success in doing so. Being a former offensive lineman, I can guarantee you that the differences between right tackle and left guard are much more drastic than you think. At the same time, these guys have been playing all over the offensive line for a long time. They develop such close bonds with their linemates that a transition shouldn’t be a long or difficult one Colon. The one thing I can guarantee is that if Colon falters for any reason, Foster will be there to pick up the pieces and keep the Steelers going full steam ahead.