By Matthew Marczi
After the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum with the last of their four seventh round draft picks in last year’s draft, there was some excitement and anticipation—albeit just a trace—over his potential to help improve the offensive line’s depth, given the way that Kevin Colbert and others talked him up after the draft.
Speaking to the media during the team’s post-draft press conference, the General Manager had the following to say about the last of the three offensive linemen the team picked up in the 2012 draft class:
This is a kid that could have some position flexibility, even though he has been a left tackle. We know he can play tackle but he really has guard size, and he really has a center’s intelligence. This kid is extremely bright. He is actually on the board of trustees, as a student, at Southern Methodist. He is viewed as a team leader.
The thinking was that he could possibly work his way up to replacing Trai Essex, a former third round draft selection who never rose to the talent level of a starter, but had the ability to fill in at any position along the line, including a start at center during which he did not embarrass himself in 2011.
As the preseason games got on, however, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Beachum looked awful on the field, getting no push in the running game, being bullied by pass rushers, and consistently being flagged for holding.
There was legitimate concern that Beachum’s play would not even merit a spot on the practice squad before he finally started representing himself just a bit better during the third preseason game and into the fourth.
When he was asked to fill in at right tackle for the final stretch of the season after Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams were lost to season-ending injuries, there was worry about whether he would be up to the task—enough that there were those who felt the team should move guard Ramon Foster over to right tackle.
However, he ultimately held his own and turned in a passable performance, at least enough to not be consistently overmatched. Some, I believe, have overreacted to the fact that he simply was not dominated in his five starts and turned that into an exceptional performance; however, the reality is that he was simply adequate.
Still, it was enough to impress his coaches, who already, rightfully, took a liking to him as a person since he entered the team’s facilities, and from most reports, Beachum is continuing to build upon where he left off at the end of last season.
Physically, he has clearly gotten stronger, as can be seen simply from looking at his physique, which is no longer the awkward and lumpy frame that he sported his rookie season. In addition, he has been receiving work at both tackle positions, in addition to learning center. The odds suggest that he has or will also be receiving work at guard as he prepares for his likely role of first lineman off the bench in case of injury.
There is a sense, however, that the team would like to get Beachum on the field in 2013, even if the starting offensive line plays every snap of the year; this is ignoring the speculation that Beachum is challenging Gilbert to start at right tackle, of course.
As Bob Labriola said on the Saturday edition of Steelers Live, there are those who are a fan of Beachum, some of whom even believe that he deserves to be starting:
“Maybe he ends up technically being one of the five best, so therefore technically he should be a starter, but sometimes, if you are the backup at every position, like a sixth man in basketball, a player can almost be too valuable to start because he can do so many other things.”
Beachum, it seems, keeps adding to his bag of tricks as well, as he has been getting work in during practice at the tight end position, according to his chat with reporters on Saturday.
That is a strong indication that Jack Bicknell, Jr. intends to employ a variation of the ‘Jumbo’ package this year with the Steelers that uses six linemen at a time, one serving as an eligible receiver at tight end (a role that Guy Whimper has played in the past).
This has been a rare sight of late for the Steelers, with Trai Essex being the most recent to fill that role, if I am not mistaken, although Gilbert played two snaps in this role in 2011 during a Week 16 game in which he was benched from the starting lineup.
Former reserve Doug Legursky, of course, played as a fullback in the ‘Bronco’ package during his first season on the active roster in 2009, but, as an interior lineman, he was never asked to serve as an in-line blocker while playing the role of sixth lineman.
It will be interesting to see how this offseason tinkering ultimately comes to fruition—and how often—when the games matter, and if we will see it in the preseason. In particular, I expect to see the ‘Jumbo’ offensive line formation used a fair bit in the early going should tight end Heath Miller end up starting the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
The New York Giants ran such sets quite a bit with great success in 2011 after tight end Kevin Boss went down with an injury, and other teams have incorporated it as a fixture with varying degrees of success as well.
With the return of tight end Matt Spaeth—a strong run blocker—and the insertion of Emmanuel Sanders, the team’s best blocking wide receiver, into the starting lineup, adding to that mix the Jumbo offensive line package could be a boon in helping the running game get back on track after a down season in 2012.