The offensive line takes a lot of punishment. It doesn’t matter whether Roethlisberger throws the ball or hands it off. Roethlisberger extends plays like no other quarterback and the risk of injury to him or the offensive line increases every time he waits for a receiver to get open. So, what are the chances that the Steelers will have the same offensive line in game 16 as they did in game 1? Not good. Based on the current players’ injury history and an early bye week in their schedule, Steelers’ are likely to do the O-Line Shuffle. Granted, this is a dance most NFL teams contend with, but the Steelers have do-si-do’d the offensive line players around so much over the last couple of years that fans needed dance cards to follow who was where.
The Steelers intended to start the season with 9 offensive line position players and had worked hard during the off season to craft a mix of veterans and young talents. Their first and second round draft picks, David DeCastro and Mike Adams, proved the Steelers knew they had to make some changes. However, DeCastro’s MCL/kneecap injury is a tough break. The Steelers have not brought a player on to replace him and are working with 8 offensive line players. It’s hard to predict how DeCastro’s rehab will go and if he, as a rookie, will even contribute this season once he is healthy. The injury history should make the Steelers a little worried.
Willie Colon, one of the most veteran players, is healthy after two straight years of injury. After the tricep injury last year, you had to wonder if he was one of the most unlucky tackles in the league. He’s in his seventh year with the Steelers and has only played three full seasons. The back-to-back years of catastrophic injury make it seem like he is prone to problems.
Max Starks, with the Steelers since 2004, has been released and resigned several times over the last few years. This year, he returns after ACL surgery during the off season. He was injured in the AFC wildcard game against Denver. However, seven years is a long time as a tackle. The odds that he will stay healthy go down with that surgery.
Maurkice Pouncey has been a sturdy performer for the Steelers since he was drafted in 2010. He struggled with ankle injuries in his first two seasons and had ankle surgery shortly after the 2012 AFC Wildcard loss. Hopefully, the surgery will help Pouncey avoid future injury allowed him to strengthen this area, but as a center, his ankles and knees will always be stressed. It could become an area of concern as the season drags on.
Ramon Foster is one of the younger linemen, picked up as an undrafted free agent in 2009. His injury history is brief, missing one game late in the 2011 regular season with an ankle injury. If Foster can stay healthy, that will go a long way to limiting the O-Line Shuffle. Foster had an eye injury in the 9 Sep game against the Broncos, but that is not a long-term concern.
Marcus Gilbert, drafted in 2011, stepped in to fill Colon’s spot and has been a standout offensive lineman. He received the Steelers’ top rookie award last season. However, his season wasn’t spotless. Gilbert had a knee injury in the 2011 preseason and shoulder injury during the regular season. So far this season, Gilbert is dealing with a groin injury and was out briefly for the game against Oakland.
Doug Legursky is the back-up center and fills in wherever needed. He has a history of shoulder problems and, similar to Pouncey, had surgery in the off season. He also missed three games in the 2011 season for his shoulder injury and another three for a dislocated toe. Legursky hasn’t seen any regular season starts yet but hopefully his surgery helps him avoid future injury to his shoulder.
Mike Adams and Kelvin Beachum are the rookies on the offensive line along with the injured DeCastro. Mike Adams is already having back problems and was not available for the game against Oakland. With his history of off-the-field issues during college, the Steelers probably have a low threshold for issues with him. Beachum’s preseason wasn’t inspiring. In the game against the Raiders he was in only a short time during the second half for Marcus Gilbert when he promptly drew a false start penalty. On his second play, he did a poor job blocking the right side and Gilbert came back into the game for the rest of the snaps. Beachum may not be ready for a starting role this year, healthy or not.
So, the Steelers offensive line has some veterans with injury histories and even some of the younger players such as Gilbert and Adams have enough issues that the Steelers should be concerned. Obviously, there are only so many players you can have on the active roster. However if you look at the injury history, the passion the Steelers players give to the game, and the early bye week, the Steelers will be soon be shuffling players around. Unfortunately, the back-up players, except for Legursky, have little NFL experience and may not work out as the Steelers hope. Yes, the tight ends and the running backs can help out on the line, but they don’t take the hits snap after snap like the tackles, guards and center do. Let’s hope the Steelers have some good offensive line candidates on the practice squad. Get ready for the O-Line shuffle.