Fernando Velasco Off The Market Provides More Clarity Along The Offensive Line

The Carolina Panthers have just announced today that they have signed center Fernando Velasco, whom the Pittsburgh Steelers signed following the season opener to replace the injured Maurkice Pouncey at the time.

Velasco went on to start the next 11 games for the Steelers until he suffered a season-ending injury of his own, going down late against the Ravens with an Achilles tear.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert previously expressed the belief that Velasco would be ready to participate around training camp, so his signing should be a good indication that he is on track with his recovery.

Even though the Steelers signed their other reserve center, Cody Wallace, to a modest three-year deal early this offseason, there was still the belief held by some that the team continued to hold interest in bringing back Velasco, who is not only capable of playing center, but also both guard positions as well.

Colbert’s previous comment from earlier this offseason, for example, appeared to express that interest, assuming that the market would be suitable for such a reunion.

With Velasco now off the market, however, it does add a bit of clarity to the offensive line picture as we move forward, knowing that he is no longer a wildcard.

The starting offensive line, of course, is well in place, and behind them are Mike Adams and Wallace as the primary interior and exterior reserves and the likely seven offensive linemen that will be active on game days.

Behind those two is Guy Whimper, who is likely seen for now as the fourth tackle, and who was also stretched out to play guard as well last year, as the eighth lineman.

If the Steelers choose to carry nine offensive linemen, it would figure to come down to one of two players—either second-year former undrafted free agent Chris Hubbard, or rookie former fifth-round draft pick Wesley Johnson.

Hubbard spent just about all of the offseason last year practicing with the second-team offensive line, and then proceeded to spend the full regular season on the practice squad before signing a futures contract to remain with the team. He is a guard whom the Steelers also plan to work at center to increase his versatility.

Johnson, meanwhile, was primarily a college tackle, but has in fact played at all five positions during his career, rather than merely aspiring to be a five-position player.

The Steelers seem to be fairly fond of him, including new offensive line coach Mike Munchak, who values technicians, but there’s no certainty that he will be ready as a rookie, and could be seen to use some fine-tuning on the practice squad. He doesn’t have the ideal size of an offensive tackle at this level and could benefit from a year in the weight room.

Of course, there’s also the possibility that both Hubbard and Johnson make the 53-man roster at the expense of Whimper, or perhaps some other young player like David Snow or Will Simmons makes a surprise emergence. But they all now seem to have a better shot at sticking around with Velasco no longer an option.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • joed32

    I liked Velasco but due to his injury Wallace got his shot and proved to be adequate backup.

  • steeltown

    Im thinking Munchak had a say in drafting Wesley, he has good versatility and intelligence and moves well in space so he is a good fit for a zone scheme. Im pulling for him.

  • treeher

    I’m not sure Whimper gave us anything special last year that one of the young guys can’t be coached up to do. And with Coach M, I think we might see fewer OL injuries due to improved technique.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Tip of the hat to Velasco for everything he did for the Steelers once Pouncey went down. Many fans were panicking, and Fernando brought a great deal of stability to the line. All the best to that man.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    As soon as the Titans release Roos, the Steelers will gobble him up.

  • joed32

    That would be nice but according to this guy they may not.

    “Top beat writer Jim Wyatt fully expects Roos to be protecting Jake Locker’s blind side come Week 1, with the real competition taking place on the right side of the line between Michael Oher and Taylor Lewan. If Oher plays like he did in Baltimore, Lewan should have no trouble beating him out talent-wise. However, GM Ruston Webster laughably gave Oher $9.5 million guaranteed in March. Oher is penciled in as the starter, but keep the eraser within reach.”