By Matthew Marczi
As I wrote last month, the Pittsburgh Steelers have undergone a turnaround among their starters the likes of which have not been seen in this century. In 2013, the Steelers will have a new starting wide receiver, running back, left tackle, right tackle, left guard, cornerback, outside linebacker, and nose tackle.
Now, it is not as though they were not prepared to lose these players in one way or another, whether through free agency, release, or simply not re-signing them. Nor is it the case that they do not have worthy candidates to fulfill those roles. It is just uncommon for such upheaval on this veteran team to occur all at once.
Perhaps the safest bet among all eight positions is the new offensive guard. In fact, it is simply an old guard in a new position. Ramon Foster started most of the season at right guard last year; however, that is only because then-rookie David DeCastro was injured in the preseason.
With DeCastro—who was supposed to be at right guard last year, and thus is not considered a new starter both in terms of projections and for the purposes of this article—back and healthy, Foster is now moving the left guard, where he finished up the year once DeCastro returned.
Foster will be replacing Willie Colon, who ended his third straight season on injured reserve; he also, of course, replaced him last season due to the injury, starting the last three games at left guard.
Of Foster’s 42 starts, eight of them have come at left guard, including the final three games of last season, which featured the interior of the offensive line as it will appear in 2013: from left to right, Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, and DeCastro.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect about Foster’s 2012 season, other than his continued durability, was the inconsistency with which he was surrounded. In his 13 games at right guard, he played with three different right tackles.
For the first five games, he partnered with Marcus Gilbert with whom he built a rapport last season, as they started most of the 2011 season as a duo on the right side. However, he sustained an injury in game five, which promoted Mike Adams to the starting lineup. The Steelers had their greatest success running the ball with this tandem, but Adams too suffered an injury that ended his season.
For the last five games (two of which featured Foster at right guard), Kelvin Beachum manned the right tackle spot. Considering the variety of partners that he had to deal with (not to mention three games with Doug Legursky at center), it is a wonder that there were not that many communication errors that resulted in pressure on the quarterback.
While Foster made some nice strides in pass protection in 2012, he has always been solid in run blocking, and the fact that he will be paired with Gilbert on the left side should bode well, as he has more experience working alongside him than anybody else on the roster.
The unknown factor facing all of the team’s linemen, of course, is how they will adapt to the addition of the outside zone blocking scheme to the offensive repertoire. In truth, Foster may be in for the roughest transition, as he may be fairly described as the least athletic lineman in the group.
The good news is that he already began to make strides in that area last season, where he was used to pull more often, and did so more effectively than in the past. While it was clearly not his strength, his familiarity with getting out in space should ease his adjustment into the new scheme.
While Foster does not play with the nasty, tone-setting demeanor that Colon brought to the position, he most certainly brings durability and consistency, and he does not get penalized nearly as often. Considering the relative cap savings (Foster’s new three-year, $6 million deal accounts for only $1.4 million against this year’s cap), the Steelers made the right decision, financially and schematically, in moving on from Colon and giving Foster a chance to prepare as a starter in the offseason for a change.