When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Kelvin Beachum in the seventh round of the 2012 NFL Draft, they were getting a left tackle that they believed, initially, would be best suited to kick inside, but that would eventually be able to play every position.
Beachum worked all along the offensive line barring the center position as a rookie during the preseason before being forced into the lineup at the end of his first year at right tackle.
The following offseason, he practiced everywhere, and started the opener as a tight end before ended it at center, but before long, he wound up back where he started—at left tackle.
The Swiss Army knife had to go back into the box and be traded in for just a single, sharpened tool, as the Steelers soon realized that Beachum was their only realistic option at left tackle.
This offseason, they turned to the draft and selected Wesley Johnson in the fifth round as a player who spent most of his time at left tackle, but who had starting experience at every line position during his college career.
And the only position he’s played during the preseason is center.
To be fair, that was largely by necessity. The Steelers’ backup center, Cody Wallace, missed much of the preseason, and the third center, Chris Elkins, was cut as well. But Johnson only played center during all four preseason games.
This despite the fact that he practiced all over the line during training camp, which we know thanks to Alex Kozora’s reports.
But if we look at the roster the way it’s currently assembled, it certainly appears as though the Steelers intend for Johnson to brace himself for action at tackle, because right now he is the only backup tackle besides Mike Adams.
The Steelers released veteran tackle Guy Whimper in favor of keeping Chris Hubbard, a guard, on the 53-man roster, making three of the four reserve linemen interior-capable, but only two with experience at tackle, and only one with game action at the position in the pros.
Let’s not forget the kind of faith that the Steelers put in Beachum as a rookie, however. It was largely meritorious that he was even kept on the 53-man roster after the poor preseason that he had, and many assumed that his long-term future in the NFL would be as an interior lineman.
But when the team lost two right tackles with about a third of the season left to play, they turned to Beachum, a rookie compensatory pick in the seventh round, to enter the starting lineup, and he held his own.
Johnson would appear to exhibit many of the same strengths and weaknesses that Beachum had during his rookie season, and, at least initially, it seems that he’s headed down a similar path. Unless the roster changes in the next few days, the rookie will presumably serve as the fourth tackle as his primary role while preparing for a more multi-faceted role in the future.