Up until a couple of months ago, 2nd year Tackle Marcus Gilbert appeared to be slated to move to the Left side after a solid Rookie campaign on the Right. But when Left Tackle prospect Mike Adams was selected in the 2nd Round of the Draft and former Right Tackle Willie Colon kicked inside to Left Guard, it appeared that Marcus was going to stay put at the Right Tackle position which he manned in 2011.
Yet according to CBSSports.com’s Sports Xchange, Gilbert spent time at Left Tackle during the team’s second OTA, and two days ago he saw some 1st-Team action at Left Tackle when Adams was on the sidelines during the team’s minicamp. I understand that to many it is usually not a “stop the presses” type of situation to take the time to discuss the status of a versatile 2nd year Tackle on a rebuilding unit. Regardless, I figured that today would be a perfect opportunity to talk about Gilbert and his importance to the Steelers and their rebuilding plans along the Offensive Line over the coming seasons.
Gilbert in 2011 and at Right Tackle
If the Steelers elect to let Gilbert stay put at Right Tackle and continue his development at the position, you will not hear a peep out of me. If some of you do not remember though, Gilbert ended up at Right Tackle essentially out of emergency after he was drafted in the 2nd Round in 2011. In fact, Gilbert actually saw time on the blind-side with the Steelers during preseason last year, and was originally slated to be the team’s “swing” Tackle on game-days. But when an injury to Willie Colon late in Week 1 pressed Gilbert into action, the Rookie was thrown into the fire and performed well under the circumstances.
During a season which saw so much shuffling along the Offensive Line, Gilbert was a steady presence at Right Tackle and truly earned the team’s Rookie of the Year award. Overall, Gilbert started 14 total games at Right Tackle (including the Playoff Game), and even saw action on the Left side when Max Starks went down with his knee injury against Denver in the Wild Card game. But what made Gilbert’s overall performance last season that much more impressive to me though is the fact that he had no OTA’s, minicamps, etc. to get him ready for his Rookie year in the League.
While Gilbert did have a fine 2011 campaign on the Right side, it was not without some Rookie mistakes and a Week 16 benching. The stay on the “pine pony” was not because of Gilbert’s play on the field however, but because of his apparent attitude throughout the previous week of practice which rubbed the Coaching Staff the wrong way. Not what you want to see out of your favorite teams’ players, but I am sure there have been some Rookies over the years which needed some attitude adjustments.
Hopefully the benching lit a fire under Gilbert, because is no substitute for experience and overall talent along the Offensive Line. If the Steelers indeed allow Gilbert to continue his development at Right Tackle, Pittsburgh will be able to have a young, yet stout Right side of their Offensive Line (with David DeCastro) which can be a formidable wall for Ben in the passing game and open up big holes in the running game for years to come. But as nice as that sounds, I do wonder whether or not there are some circumstances where Gilbert might assume the Left Tackle spot this season.
“The Mike Adams Factor” and Gilbert at Left Tackle
I understand that the Steelers selected Adams in the 2nd Round of this year’s Draft, and I am sure he will do a solid job when his is eventually asked to protect “The Franchise” in the form of Big Ben in time. To me, he was the Draft Class’ most gifted Left Tackle behind Matt Kalil in terms of overall talent and ability and figures to compete for a starting job there at some point. However, what happens in the event that Adams is not be ready to step in at Left Tackle on Day 1? Better yet, what happens if Adams is actually better suited to play Right Tackle in the early stages of his career while he adjusts to the speed rushers at the next level before sliding over to the other side?
If this is the case, having Gilbert man the Left Tackle position, like he was originally scheduled to do this season, will not be a huge issue in terms of his performance. I am sure he could not be any worse than the inconsistent Jonathan Scott or the effective yet oft-injured Max Starks. In fact, I am sure that had Willie Colon not gone down with an injury, Gilbert would have been called upon to step in on the Left side after all of the injuries and shoddy play the Steelers had there early last season.
If Gilbert mans the Left Tackle spot though, would Adams be a good fit on the Right side early in his career? Personally, I believe so. Let’s consider the following:
Placing a massive and above-average run-blocker like Adams next to fellow Rookie road-grader David DeCastro and one of the best blocking Tight Ends in Heath Miller would be awesome scenario for the Steelers if they want to run the ball on a consistent basis. Then when you factor in the possibility of the athletic Willie Colon pulling from Left Guard, it would create some devastating matchup-issues for the opposition in the run game. In terms of protecting Big Ben, Adams should be one of the better Right Tackles in pass protection in the League because of his talent, and might be worth a look on the Right side if the Steelers are in any way a bit uncomfortable with him on an island as a raw Rookie. Thus, if Pittsburgh is in any way more comfortable with Gilbert protecting Ben’s blind-sde, Adams might be worth a look at Right Tackle because he could flourish there before moving to the Left.
Finding out which player has the better skill set to protect Big Ben’s blind-side in 2012 is a top priority over the next couple of months, and giving both Gilbert and Adams reps until one wins the job can only help. Both will/should get reps at both Tackle spots, and it will be up to the Coaching Staff to determine which player works best and where. The more competition the better, and whichever guy proves he is the better Left Tackle, then so be it. Yet once a decision is made, the team has to run with it and not look back so both can settle into whichever role fits them best and the Offensive Line as a whole can gel with everybody in place.
It will be interesting to see how this situation unfolds during Training Camp and where Gilbert will ultimately play once the season starts. Gilbert played Right Guard and both Tackle spots during his collegiate career at Florida, and Right Tackle last season so the versatility is there for him to play either Tackle spot. But no matter where Gilbert ends up, the Steelers should at least feel confident that one of the Tackle spots is being manned by an effective and experienced starter. And on a team where injuries have seemed to always occur to their Offensive Linemen over the last half decade, Gilbert’s versatility will always be needed. At least to me it is comforting to know that there is hope when it comes to the fortunes of Pittsburgh’s Offensive Line led by the “veteran sage” (29 years old) Willie Colon, and there is a large amount of young talent like Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Mike Adams, and Marcus Gilbert at each position.
So where do you the readers think Gilbert should play? Left or Right? Why? Let me know.