The start of the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers training camp is now less than three weeks away so we will continue to look at the training camp battles that will take place with a look at the battle for a backup interior offensive line spot on the 53 man roster. You can comment on this battle below and make sure to vote in the attached poll.
Training Camp Battle Setup: We already know six offensive linemen that will make the Steelers 53 man roster, but with Doug Legursky and Willie Colon no longer in Pittsburgh, a battle for a backup interior spot will take place during training camp. The combatants for that backup spot figure to be John Malecki, Nik Embernate and Justin Cheadle.
John Malecki – Malecki finally saw his first NFL game action in the 2012 season finale against the Cleveland Browns as he played 31 snaps at right guard after both David DeCastro and Kelvin Beachum left the game with injuries. While the pass protection part of Malecki\’s game was fine, he did struggle a little in the run blocking department.
Malecki spent the entire season on the Steelers practice squad, so he should be well versed in the offense as he heads into a make-or-break training camp. Malecki is no longer eligible for the practice squad, so if he doesn\’t make the final 53 man roster his career very well might be over.
One thing that Malecki has going for him is that he has learned the center position since coming into the league as an undrafted free agent in 2010. He can also play both guard positions and figures to get plenty of snaps during the preseason at all three interior line spots in order to show his position flexibility. With Legursky no longer in Pittsburgh, and Beachum just now learning the center position himself, Malecki has a very good shot at becoming the seventh or eighth offensive lineman on the 53 man roster.
Nik Embernate – Embernate was a high-priority undrafted free agent signed by the Steelers this year. He was a three-year starter for San Diego State at right guard and even played some right tackle in the Poinsettia Bowl against BYU due to injuries.
Embernate is as nasty as they come and the comparison to Miami Dolphins left guard Richie Incognito is a fair one. Embernate moves good for a player with his size and build and he was asked to pull left quite a bit during his college career.
Heading into training camp, Embernate is viewed as a one position player, and it will be interesting to see if he is given snaps during the preseason at left guard in addition to right guard. His lack of position flexibility, however, might make it tough for him to make the Steelers 53 man roster, so he must have a strong preseason and clearly show that he is a better guard than Malecki is. Should he not make the Steelers 53 man roster, Embernate should be a perfect candidate for the practice squad.
Justin Cheadle – Cheadle was originally signed by Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2012, so new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. has worked with him before. Cheadle was signed to the Steelers practice squad last November after previously being a member of the Green Bay Packers practice squad for a few weeks prior to that.
Cheadle is primarily a right guard, but there were some reports during the Steelers offseason practices that he received a few snaps at the center position. Despite that work, however, it would be surprising to see him get any snaps over the ball during the preseason as both Beachum and Malecki figure to get all of that work once starter Maurkice Pouncey exits those games.
Cheadle is a long shot to make the 53 man roster out of training camp, so he realistically will be battling for a spot on the practice squad.
Prediction: Assuming the Steelers don\’t add another veteran interior lineman between now and the start of the regular season, Malecki figures to be the favorite to win this battle because of his position flexibility. There is an outside chance that Embernate also makes the 53 man roster if the Steelers choose to carry nine offensive linemen, or if they decide that Beachum and Ramon Foster are adequate emergency tackle backups. The team in all likelihood will only carry eight offensive linemen on the 53 man roster, so carrying Embernate as the eighth with Malecki as the seventh would mean that tackles Guy Whimper and Joe Long both don\’t make the team.