By Matthew Marczi
More specifically, what can Kelvin Beachum do for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013? There has been some discussion, fueled by the likes of Ed Bouchette and Dale Lolley, that Beachum has possibly earned the right to start over Marcus Gilbert at right tackle, and they have used shaky reports from camp in order to fuel that dialogue.
Through two preseason games, however, I see no compelling reason to remove Gilbert from the starting line, nor do I see anything notable in Beachum’s game that tells me that he needs to be in the starting lineup. Frankly, I’ve found that narrative to be silly from the beginning. If anybody would like to bring up the fact that Gilbert was involved in a few other players’ injuries last year as a reason that he should not be starting, I’ve got some screen shots to show you as well.
With that said, it is hard to deny that the Steelers have, frankly, already gotten good value out of Beachum as a compensatory seventh-round draft pick, starting five games as a rookie and not getting his quarterback ripped in half. And he looks a lot better this preseason than he did around this time last year, although that is not saying much. With that said, below are my observations on Beachum’s play during the team’s second preseason game against the Washington Redskins in the second half, during which he played every snap at left tackle.
The second-string got off to a bad start right out of the gate, with right guard Guy Whimper giving up a sack on a linebacker blitz on the first offensive snap of the second half. On the next play, Beachum did a nice job of walling off linebacker Brandon Jenkins, setting up running back Jonathan Dwyer with some room to run after taking a shallow pass. On third down, he never really got out of his backpedal as Jenkins rushed against him, as he was also shading to his right, looking to help left guard Chris Hubbard. By the time he attempted to set, he was right at Bruce Gradkowski’s feet, who rushed a pass attempt for an incompletion to force a punt.
On the next offensive possession, he started off by successfully sealing off the backside of a run that should have gained more than two yards if Dwyer would have actually run behind his block rather than try to bounce it outside, which has been a recurring theme for the fourth-year back this preseason.
Fortunately, he did well to avoid defenders and hit the hole on the next play, in part thanks to Beachum sticking with his block on defensive end Phillip Merling, even if he did get away with a bit of a hold. The block really typifies the type of player that Beachum is: a complete overachiever who does anything he can to get the job done.
That is a good constitution to have in a reserve lineman. In this case, it was the difference between a short gain and a first down. He evens shows off a little bit of strength initially in leveraging Merling to the right, even if he was unable to maintain that leverage. Still, it is worth pointing out as something we may not have seen from him last year.
Of course, Merling wins the leverage battle on the very next play on a run to the inside and makes the tackle on Dwyer after a rather modest two-yard gain. Merling was able to easily stalemate Beachum at the point of attack and shed him to attack the back just as he hits the hole. Consistency may never be a prominent element in Beachum’s repertoire, unfortunately.
The play immediately following was not pretty either as he cautiously dipped off Merling to ultimately push Jenkins around the already-established pile, under which rested Dwyer beneath a pile of Redskins, who collapsed the right side of the offensive line. It was most certainly inelegant, but it got the job done. On the ensuing third and 10 run, Beachum made a noble attempt to get to the second level to throw a block, but he was too late. He was bailed out by Guy Whimper, of all people, who made the block and afforded Alvester Alexander an extra five yards or so, though still short of a first down.
One thing that Beachum should be commended for is that he generally sticks with the play, and even looks for the next person to block if he clears his first responsibility. At times, he even approaches the task with aggression. He seemed to show traces of that a couple of times on the next drive as he began to get into the groove of the game. He did a nice job giving Landry Jones a clean pocket to deliver the deep ball to Markus Wheaton.
On second down in the red zone, Beachum was beaten off the line by Jenkins, who got a hand on the quarterback. In fact, Beachum got away with a pretty significant hold. He kind of looked like a child being dragged along while holding onto his mother’s dress. Fortunately, Jones was able to step up in the pocket and find Derek Moye on a crossing route to set up third and short.
Beachum’s best attribute may very well be his quick feet. That is not to say that he has excellent footwork, but he is able to move quickly, which not only helps him get off the line quickly, but also lets him recover from mistakes more often.
He got the opportunity to display his quick feet regularly in the fourth quarter, as the Steelers were trailing, and thus airing out the ball frequently. Beachum likes to use his quick feet to drop out into open space, which helps take some of the heat off the pass rusher’s fastball. Given that core strength is not Beachum’s forte, I consider this a good thing.
Beachum seems to frequently find himself on an island to the quarterback’s left, defending a rusher one on one, and overall, he does a pretty good job of that. Once he is isolated one on one and able to use his hands, he is generally able to hold his own. On this play, however, he did not. In fact, given that tight end Jamie McCoy chipped the rusher, Beachum’s man really had no business being in the backfield here.
Still, he was able to finish on a strong note, displaying some nice work in pass protection during the final two-minute drill with the Redskins bringing at least four or five rushers on every play. Even on the first play of the series, when Jenkins, the outside linebacker, got an excellent break off the snap, Beachum was on him right away. He could have been called for a hold, but he really did not need to, even if Jones were not flushed from the pocket.
So what can Beachum do for you? Well, he can generally hold his own in pass protection, but it will not be pretty. He will give you extra effort and try to get in on blocks downfield at the second level, even if he cannot finish the block. He probably will not afford you much room in the running lanes, and he will draw some holding calls with some more observant officials. His quick feet can make up for some of his deficiencies in some areas, but not all of them. He already proved last year that he can start if you need him to, but that does not make him a starter.