By Jeremy Hritz
Much of the talk this offseason about the Steelers offensive line has been focused on Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Mike Adams, and Marcus Gilbert and their potential for excellence. Lost in the discussion has been the steady and consistent Ramon Foster. While not as “shiny” a name as the other Steelers offensive lineman, Foster has been dependable since earning a spot on the team as a rookie free agent in 2009 and starting 42 of 57 games in his first four years. 30 of those 42 starts have come in the last two seasons. While the other aforementioned lineman have been stricken by injury, Foster has stayed healthy and has been the biggest source of stability on the unit. While he hasn’t yet proven to be a dominant player, he has been good, and with 42 starts to his credit entering his fifth season at age 27, Foster’s seasoning may boost his performance in 2013.
It’s surprising that Foster is even back in Pittsburgh this season, as it was widely speculated that he would not be resigned due to second year player Kelvin Beachum play at the end of 2012. However, this past March, Foster resigned with the Steelers for three years, a signing that may be prove to be a quiet windfall if Foster rewards them with Pro Bowl caliber play.
After four seasons, has Foster reached his ceiling? Or does he still have room for growth? And, at the conclusion of the 2013 season, could Foster claim the title as the Steelers best offensive lineman?
In college at the University of Tennessee, Foster was a three-year starter, primarily at right tackle, that was praised for his size (6’5, 328) but was criticized for his speed and ability to handle quicker defenders. The questions surrounding Foster resulted in going undrafted and luckily for the Steelers, they signed him as a free agent in April of 2009. For a player that wasn’t even selected, Foster went on to start four games in his rookie season when Chris Kemoeatu was lost to injury, which demonstrated his ability to adapt rapidly to the professional game.
However, since that time, Foster has never won a starting guard position outright, as injuries in 2010 and 2011 led to his starting role, and in 2012, if it wasn’t for DeCastro’s knee injury, Foster more than likely would have been a backup. Has Foster proven himself enough in his multiple starts over the last four seasons that he has truly earned a starting position? Or do the Steelers feel that Beachum is simply too young and inexperienced to take over the starting role?
If Foster’s resigning means anything, maybe it is that the Steelers are confident in what he brings to the offensive line as a model of consistency. And as indicated in his comments earlier this offseason, he is not taking his starting role for granted, remembering where he started from as an undrafted free-agent: “I tell the young guys, if it’s me or you, I’m going to step on your head to get the job done.”
Crushed heads aside, the confidence that the Steelers organization have expressed in Foster as a result of his resigning and his pre-camp starting role may initiate an improvement in his play, and even if not, he has proven something that the other o-lineman have not: he can stay healthy. And considering the injuries in Pittsburgh over the last few seasons, cannot be overstated.