By Matthew Marczi
Anybody who is acquainted with the recent history of the Pittsburgh Steelers and their offensive line knows that there is a good chance that one of the starting linemen will miss time in 2013. When you consider that both players expected to be starting tackles this year missed significant time just last year, it raises a couple of questions and concerns.
Third year pro Marcus Gilbert is switching from the right side to the left side this year. In 2012, he only made it clean through three games. He was forced to leave the week one loss to the Denver Broncos early, and then he suffered what ultimately turned out to be a season-ending ankle injury in the week six loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Likewise, Mike Adams enters his second year with an injury history of his own. He started off early with an injury in the preseason, but did not miss time. He ultimately started the next six games following Gilbert’s injury at right tackle before suffering a season-ending injury of his own.
Fellow sophomore Kelvin Beachum was able to wrap up the season until getting bitten by the injury bug himself in the final game of the season.
The truth is that he performed above expectations for a seventh round draft pick, and, in all likelihood, should Adams go down this year, it will be Beachum entering the starting lineup.
With Max Starks gone, however, the depth at left tackle is wafer thin. Some speculated that Gilbert and Adams would compete for the spot, but Adams was the victim of a stabbing that may keep him out of the first week or more of training camp.
Who will play left tackle should Marcus Gilbert go down, and will it hinge on the situation? For example, I feel (and hope that it is safe to assume), given time to prepare, Mike Adams would slide over to start at left tackle and start there, with Beachum starting at right tackle.
What if it happens in-game, however? The team’s prior offensive line coach, Sean Kugler, was an advocate of keeping his men in a steady position, not wanting to jumble things around on the fly. Is Jack Bicknell, Jr. of the same mind?
Sometimes, of course, adjusting on the fly is unavoidable. When both Beachum and David DeCastro succumbed to injuries in the season finale, Ramon Foster was forced to move over to the right tackle spot, while Doug Legursky and John Malecki were asked to fill in the blanks at guard. After all, I do not believe there is a coherent argument for playing either Legursky or Malecki at tackle simply to avoid moving Foster mid-game.
But, as demonstrated in last year’s season finale, these critical in-game situations do occur. Do the Steelers trust Beachum enough to play some fill-in snaps at left tackle should Gilbert go down mid-game? He was a left tackle throughout college, and played there during the preseason, but his regular season experience has been entirely at right tackle. It is also not clear if he has received any reps at left tackle thus far this offseason.
If they do not trust Beachum enough to take those snaps, it is highly unlikely that they would trust Guy Whimper, assuming that he even makes the roster. So that would mean that they would have to move Adams over to left tackle.
Either way, it would be wise for the Steelers to get both Beachum and Adams plenty of quality reps over at the left side during training camp and the preseason. While both of them were left tackles in college, many left tackles end up as right tackles in the NFL, because the skill sets and obstacles faced are not necessarily congruous.
At least with some solid reps during this exhibition month, it would give the Steelers a couple of viable options to face an in-game injury at left tackle. As shown last year, Foster can always play right tackle if worse comes to worst, but there is no such contingency at left tackle, unless you include Matt Spaeth. Given the team’s recent history, this could be one of the more important questions to answer during the preseason.