When you look back just to the start of last season and project the starting lineup that the Pittsburgh Steelers can be expected to field when they resume play in September, you’ll see that they’ve undergone quite a bit of change. Certainly more than usual.
With two exceptions—Heath Miller and Le’Veon Bell—the changes to the opening day lineup will be made either due to free agency losses or gains or simply superior play. The two aforementioned players, of course, projected as starters but missed the early portions of last season due to injury.
This series will take a look primarily at the starting positions that will be filled by new faces, replacing the old faces that are now gone—Emmanuel Sanders, Ziggy Hood, LaMarr Woodley, Larry Foote, and Ryan Clark. But the first changeover comes in the shape of a demotion.
Position: Left Tackle
2013 Opening Day Starter: Mike Adams
Projected 2014 Starter: Kelvin Beachum
When the Steelers drafted Mike Adams in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, they did so envisioning an image of their offensive line of the future, with Adams protecting Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side. With the move, they asked Willie Colon to move to guard, so certain were they in their plan’s success.
When they drafted Kelvin Beachum, they intended to play him at guard, a position at which they’d just drafted David DeCastro in the first round and where they’d just moved Colon. If he were to make the roster, he was clearly destined to be a backup.
But they also had a belief that he could be trained at all five positions, perhaps becoming a Trai Essex 2.0. That came in handy in the season opener last year when Maurkice Pouncey went down, but after a few more games, Beachum found himself in a much bigger role.
Adams won the starting left tackle job from Marcus Gilbert during training camp. The coaches flip flopped the two one day and simply never moved them back. Gilbert, however, went on to start every game last year at right tackle.
Adams, on the other hand, was benched and relegated to tight end for most of the rest of the season, filling in for a spot start at left tackle for one game late in the year.
Beachum started 11 games at left tackle, and the Steelers won eight of them, while losing all five games started by Adams.
Of course, Beachum is by no means a lock to resume where he left off. 2014 is a new season, and Mike Munchak is approaching this offensive line with fresh eyes. I believe both tackle positions are very much up for grabs during training camp and the preseason.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Adams finds his way back at left tackle by the season opener. Perhaps Munchak can clean up his technique and help him reach his potential. But as of right now, he may have a more realistic shot at competing for the right tackle job.