Move To Left Side For Marcus Gilbert Just Another Part Of Steelers Offensive Line Shuffle

By Matthew Marczi

All five starters along the offensive line for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013 earned starting experience in 2012. However, only one of them started more than six games at his position, that being center Maurkice Pouncey.

Ramon Foster started every game last season, as previously discussed; however, 13 of his starts came on the right side, and he is being shifted to the left this year. In fact, only eight of his 42 career starts have come from the left side.

Between second-year players David DeCastro and Mike Adams are a combined nine career starts. Marcus Gilbert does have 18 starts over the last two seasons; however, only five of them came last year, and all of them came at right tackle.

On the other hand, Gilbert did finish with a very impressive 96.1 pass blocking efficiency rating in 2011, which was good for thirteenth best among tackles in the league, and tops among rookies, just edging out Tyron Smith. In addition, if you eliminate players with less than 250 snaps, that bumps Gilbert into the top ten.

Despite the admirable rating, he did allow seven sacks as a rookie. Curiously, he was somewhat less efficient in giving up pressure in 2012, but he did not forfeit a sack.

In 2013, Gilbert is expected to slide over to the left side and replace departing veteran Max Starks, who has been the primary body manning the left tackle spot over the past five seasons. While Starks is a solid veteran, he was certainly never a Pro Bowler at the position.

According to Pro Football Focus, Starks was ranked 47th among offensive tackles in pass blocking efficiency in 2012. Unlike Gilbert, Starks played every snap of the season, so his numbers should be fairly representative of his performance during last year.

Starks’ strength, most certainly, was never in the running game. While he is more than capable of engaging in one on one blocks, one can often find him putting in a bare minimum effort. This is perhaps largely due to the amount of running plays away from the left side; however, one can also argue that the scarcity of running plays to the left side is partially attributed to the quality of run blocking in that direction.

Gilbert, too, is more geared toward pass protection than run blocking; however, he has shown some success in the run blocking department, primarily in 2011. On the other hand, it must be noted that the team had by far its greatest success running the ball after Gilbert got injured, during a six-game stretch with Adams at right tackle.

One advantage that should help Gilbert transition from the right side of the line to the left is that Foster is moving from the right to the left as well. Foster was the starting right guard in nearly all of Gilbert’s starts at right tackle, and they have shown some chemistry together in the past.

While it was near universally agreed upon that Starks should be re-signed as, at worst, the swing tackle, and perhaps even be given a chance to retain his starting spot, there was one damning factor that played against him, and that was the hiring of Jack Bicknell, Jr. as the new offensive line coach.

With Bicknell comes a new offensive repertoire that emphasizes placing its offensive linemen on the move, which is perhaps the weakest element in Starks’ game. At 6’8” and 350 pounds, Starks is not the most nimble of men, especially considering he is already 31 years old. He has historically struggled out in space, and would potentially limit what the Steelers would be able to do in a zone blocking scheme.

On the other hand, Gilbert actually has fairly nimble feet for a man of his stature. In fact, during his time with the Florida Gators, Gilbert started at every position along the offensive line but center.

While it remains to be seen what Gilbert can do on the left side for a prolonged period of time on a professional level, the fact that he has experience there and has handled himself well in the preseason bodes well for a relatively smooth transition for the third-year pro. Despite Ben Roethlisberger’s great friendship and comfort level with Starks, Gilbert should ‘have his back’, at least on the field, just as well as Starks did last year, if not better.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Shea Fahr

    These are all GREAT points Matt, particularly the ones regarding Max. Good Article.

  • VaDave

    The key here is he’s got to stay on the field. If he does, he should do fine, and may be a significant upgrade in the overall scheme of things. I love Max as a player, and as a Steeler, but it was time. You hit this one on the head. Good Job Matthew.

  • steeltown

    I knew Gilbert was named the Steelers rookie of the year in 2011, but I had no idea he was ranked that high League wide.

    Even though it was a small sample size, no sacks allowed in 5games last yr is a good sign of progression

  • Paul

    Good points but Adams should get a crack over there.

  • TJimmy

    Hopefully he will develop a good rapport with Ben as well, and also avoid falling on people.

  • dgh57

    I sincerely hope that this musical chair thing with the o-line stops this year or at least shows some meaningful improvement! Would like to see everyone on the o-line to start racking up some starts and thus building up experience(because we have some youth along the o-line) at their own position for a change.

  • Shea Fahr

    Agreed!

  • dgh57

    Why? Adams has already been given a crack at LT last preseason and the results weren’t good. He may see time at LT if Gilbert goes down with a injury.

  • Shea Fahr

    Plus Gilbert, Marvel and Max all started their tenures on the right side. Smart move by the Coaches.

  • steves

    Did you see Wimper was in the bottom pack? It sounds like Steelers threw money away on him. GIlbert and Foster should make a good tandem. Let us see more running to the left and what Foster can do pulling outside with the sweep.

  • Luke Shabro

    Great article Matt! Keep it up!

  • Matthew Marczi

    Well, either way I think he certainly needs to at least get some work on the left side during training camp and the preseason, because he should be the second string left tackle should Gilbert get injured, with Beachum taking over for Adams. To be honest, I’m not really sure if Adams will be given much of a chance to win the left tackle job in training camp, and even if he is, I don’t know if he’ll be up for it. Don’t forget he’s still recovering from a stab wound.

  • Madi

    He should get a crack over there with the 2nd team. He’ll likely be the backup LT if Gilbert goes down. It sure won’t be Foster, Whimper, Long, or whoever. He needs reps there, but we need to form a starting offensive line, and that’s Gilbert-Foster-Pouncey-DeCastro-Adams.

  • Madi

    steves,
    How much money will the Steelers lose on Whimper if they cut him before the season starts?

  • Matthew Marczi

    Nothing. Vet minimum contract with no signing bonus.

  • walter mason

    When he falls maybe he could try to support himself somewhat when a twisted knee is beneath him.

  • Stevie

    Hopefully Adams Fat Ass falls on an oposing player and puts them out. He has that down and is good at it too!

  • Randy Neff

    As long as the line shuffling doesn’t happen during the season they will be fine. Injuries will be the key factor here. There are due for some good luck with that.

  • Madi

    Oh good, maybe we haven’t thrown away that much money on him after all.