Granted, it is definitely more of an exception than the norm for a team to start a Rookie at Left Tackle in Week 1 of any regular season. Nevertheless, the Steelers appeared all but ready to hand the “Blindside Protector” spot over to their 2012 2nd Round draft pick Mike Adams as they entered OTA’s and Training Camp. Unfortunately, the former Buckeye has played like a Rookie thus far into the preseason, banged up his knee a bit, and has played inconsistent/looked lost at times when matched up against 1st and 2nd stringers.
The regular season showdown in the Mile High City only 18 days away, and “Gunslingin” Dumervil and Von Miller are ready to wreak havoc again off the edge. With the struggles, the injury, the stage, and the future competition in mind, the Steelers have some important choices to make concerning the Tackle position:
Should they start the Rookie Adams? Or will they go with another Tackle in his place? If so, which guys should play where and why?
I personally believe that if the Steelers decide to let Adams rest up, develop more, and rehab from his injury fully, the team has options to exercise for the time being and can benefit in the process. I have listed two starting Offensive Line combinations which the Steelers can employ without Adams, and I will further discuss why these lineups could help the team if they choose to not play Adams come Week 1.
(LT) Marcus Gilbert, (LG) Willie Colon, (C) Maurkice Pouncey, (RG) David DeCastro, (RT) Ramon Foster
If you readers do not recall, Marcus Gilbert was originally slated to start at Left Tackle this season. In fact, the 2nd Year man from Florida also saw time there during OTA’s and Training Camp, and even got some work there in the Wild Card playoff loss this past January. Overall, Gilbert started 14 total games during his Rookie season, and the experience which he gained during a year where it appeared he would have to sit and develop was invaluable to all parties involved in his development. While Gilbert has not started a regular season game at Left Tackle for the team so far, he still has been thought of as a viable option for the team to use at the position. Plus, with a year of regular season experience already gained, Gilbert is much farther along in his development than Adams currently is at the moment.
As far as Foster’s experience at Right Tackle goes, the former Tennessee Volunteer started 26 games during his final two seasons in college. And while Foster has played a majority of time during his three seasons the pro level at both Guard spots, the guy at least has some sort of experience under his belt at the Tackle position. Truth be told, I was actually pleased with Offensive Line Coach Sean Kugler’s decision to give Foster time at Right Tackle to start Sunday night’s game, but at Left Guard as well. Both positions feature starters which have either had injury issues (Willie Colon) or are at risk of being switched elsewhere because of uncertainty somewhere else (Marcus Gilbert). For insurance purposes, I would like to see Foster see extended time at both spots during the rest of the preseason contests, and I hope that the Coaching Staff feels the same way as I do.
Together, Foster and Gilbert did a solid enough job against the Colts when they were lined up at Right and Left Tackle respectively. They kept Big Ben from being destroyed and managed to help get the ground game going led by Jonathan Dwyer and Co.. More reps are needed by both players at both positions, and it will be up to the Coaching Staff to determine whether or not both players have a future at either spot. While I would not mind seeing this pairing lined up in Week 1, there is one other Offensive Line combination which could benefit the team as well.
(LT) Max Starks, (LG) Willie Colon, (C) Maurkice Pouncey, (RG) David DeCastro, (RT) Marcus Gilbert
To those of you which decried the move (and mine and Craig’s support of said move) to resign veteran Tackle Max Starks (80 career starts) for insurance purposes, let me just take the time to issue a quick “I told you so.” before I proceed. Look what has happened recently. Oh yeah, some of the scenarios which I alluded to in my past posts: injuries have struck, and Adams is hurt/not playing up to standard. Now that Big #78 is no longer on the PUP List, Starks could very well begin to see some playing time in Pittsburgh’s next preseason contest. And who knows? Starks could very well be protecting Big Ben’s blindside come the time the team takes the field at Mile High Stadium (or whatever they are calling it now). Of course, Starks’ ability to play however will all hinge on his recently surgically repaired knee. Thus, the veteran should only be inserted into the lineup if and only if the Steelers and Big Ben are fully confident that he is athletically up to play come Week 1.
Also helping the “Max Starks at Left Tackle scenario” is the fact that Marcus Gilbert can stand pat, stay comfortable, and man the Right Tackle position for a second consecutive season. Gilbert will have some continuity and could remain there as long as Starks can stay off the injury list/Adams can return to form. In addition, Adams can be the team’s top backup, learn at his own pace with little to no pressure, and heal in the process as well. Plus, Foster can be the top backup at the Guard spots and play in case Colon gets injured again or DeCastro has some issues too.
It will be interesting to see how healthy Starks is over the next two weeks, and should make for a good storyline. If he proves that his knee can hold up, I would personally lean towards starting a veteran like Starks, especially because he has the trust of Big Ben and has played in big situations before.
My argument that Adams should not start Week 1 in Denver has more to do with what is in the best interests of the team right now, not what his future with the club will ultimately be. Starting as a Rookie in the National Football League is a tall order to say the least, and many players which turn out to be Pro Bowl players ride the pine and develop their talented skill-sets until they are ready. Heck, Adams could be starting by midseason and should even be putting together more consistent performances by the end of the year. But as of right now, Week 3 of the preseason, Pittsburgh should really begin to explore the options of inserting Starks and/or Foster into their starting lineup until the Rookie’s play improves.
I will give Adams the benefit of the doubt from his performance against the Colts because of his sore knee. Injuries happen and performances suffer because of it. Yet if Adams cannot keep the Colts’ backups at bay, heaven forbid what happens when Miller and Dumervil are lined up across from him. Big Ben could get seriously hurt if Adams struggles with pass protection as much as he has over the last two weeks, and the Steelers might want to consider all of their options at the Tackle positions before they head into a hostile environment with hungry pass rushers during the opening week.
Stats Courtesy of: Pro Football Reference.com