It is funny, every time a fan thinks they have an idea how something will turn out, news breaks, and an outlook is totally changed. That scenario happened today for many Pittsburgh Steelers fans when the news broke that oft-injured offensive tackle Willie Colon is being moved to left guard for the 2012 campaign. For many, this news is a revelation, as Colon always seemed to be a better fit inside.
Armed with this news, plans changed midstream, and we will now breakdown the offensive line. Last season (and really the last few seasons), the line was in flux almost from day one when Colon suffered another season ending injury. The Steelers made no secret about their desire to improve the offensive line play using three selections (including their first two) in the NFL Draft on offensive linemen. Incredibly, two of those rookies could open the season as starters in this newly configured line.
While these are only projections, it is clear that only center Maurkice Pouncey is firmly entrenched at a position he started at in 2011. Pouncey, who is only entering his third season in the NFL is clearly one of the best offensive pivot men in the league and should be around to anchor the Steelers offensive line for years to come. Prior to the draft, it looked as if RFA Doug Legursky or UFA signee Trai Essex would be the primary back-up, but now, with the moving of Colon and the drafting of guards David DeCastro (first round) and Kelvin Beachum (seventh round) makes this one of the more interesting training camp battles.
At guard, as of today Colon and DeCastro should be projected as the starters at left and right guard. Yes, Colon will be transitioning, but when health, he is an athletic and strong presence along the front line and should be able to pick-up the intricacies of the new offense. DeCastro has the potential to be a mainstay of the Steelers offensive line for years to come. The first round selection is a physical technician who can excel in any scheme. Behind Colon and DeCastro, RFA Ramon Foster, seventh round selection Beachum and the winner of the battle between Legursky and Essex should add depth.
The offensive tackle position definitely has more questions than answers at this point. Projecting this unit today has rookie second round pick Mike Adams and second-year pro Marcus Gilbert holding down the fort. Last season, Gilbert was solid and played a huge role at solidifying the right side of the offensive line when Colon went down. Adams is the wildcard of this unit. A talented but troubled lineman at Ohio State, the Steelers took a chance on his upside to come in and be the left tackle the team has been searching for.
Behind those, is where the true questions begin? Yes, veteran Jonathan Scott will return, but he struggled mightily in 2011 and was replaced by Gilbert and finally free agent signee Max Starks. Essex has the versatility to slide outside in a pinch, but does not look like a long-term solution as a swing tackle. The solution to this dilemma could again be Starks, an unrestricted free agent who is recovering from an ACL injury suffered in the playoff loss to the Denver Broncos. Come July, if he proves healthy, it is easy to see him returning to the Steelers for training camp and competing either for a starting tackle spot or at worse the primary back up at offensive tackle. If he does come in, Scott should be the player on the outside looking in.
Last season, the Steelers kept nine offensive linemen and should keep at least that many if not more in 2012. While we at Steelers 101 firmly believe Starks will be on the roster on opening day, he remains unsigned and cannot factor into this projection. The 10 offensive linemen selections for the 2012 Steelers opening day roster are:
Over the next few weeks, Steelers101 will break down every position, highlight training camp battles and eventually have the complete 53-man roster as we see it today.
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