One of the Steelers’ biggest concerns, as it is every season, will be the offensive line. Overall performance from these players will be put to test during training camp in hopes that the perfect combination can be found. Unfortunately for the Steelers, longevity and sustainability during a long and grueling season is right at the forefront of everyone’s mind when it comes to thinking about the State of the OL. They are young, they are fast learners, but they carry with them the curse of the injury bug on a weekly basis. So, one of the biggest questions that I think needs to be answered going into and coming out of training camp is, ‘How many linemen will the Steelers keep and dress from week to week?’
Frodo Baggins needed eight fellow adventurers, who formed The Fellowship, to protect him in his quest. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may need just as many to ensure his own protection in order to obtain a ring of his own. Mike Tomlin was infamous for only dressing the minimum amount of linemen week in and week out. It was a gamble then, and will continue to be so as long as the Steelers continue to rely on their franchise QB to drive the bus to each Super Bowl city. But, with the emerging young talent that fans witnessed last season, will the Steelers be forced to keep and dress more than they are accustomed to?
The starting five are as follows (LT to RT):
Marcus Gilbert, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Mike Adams
That leaves the following linemen to duke it out during camp:
Mike Golic, Jr. (R)
Nik Embernate (R)
Based on his play last season and versatility, Kelvin Beachum should be a favorite to find himself a spot on the 53 man roster. The rumor coming out of the Steeler coaching office is that the team is grooming Beachum to learn how to play center and backup Pouncey. Great, so the Steelers have a Jack of all trades (master at none) in Beach. The team will need a seventh option, and that’s where things get interesting. John Malecki is also a versatile backup. The Murraysville native will be listed as DeCastro’s backup at right guard, but Malecki can move to the left side as well. Malecki is a bit of a wild card for the Steelers this year because he is no longer eligible for practice squad time. NFL rules state that a player can spend only three seasons on a practice squad. Don’t make the 53 man roster after that third year, and a player gets tossed to make room from a younger player. Hard to swallow when Malecki is only 25 himself.
Malecki’s chances are strong considering he’s played a few games since November for the team. His competition lies in Whimper, a second year, and three other rookies. However, I don’t think the roster positions end there with seven. I think it’s very possible an eighth and final lineman will be placed on the 53 man roster before training camp is over. It makes sense just simply because the team has been ‘this close’ to having a backup tight end or full back fill in for the injured O-line. Tomlin can’t keep rolling the dice week in and week out and expect to not get burned at some point. They’ve been very fortunate (if you want to call it that) thus far. So, the battle really doesn’t lie in Malecki vs Veteran+Rookies. The battle lies in Whimper vs. The Young’ins.
I can see Whimper getting tossed at the end of camp for a more favorable young lineman. I think he’ll serve his purpose as the veteran who will help motivate and push the rookies and Long. It’s a win win in this kind of situation for the Steelers. Long, Embernate, and Golic, Jr. are all around the same size – 6’3″-6’4″ and a shy over 300 lbs. They all ‘fit’ the model of the zone blocking scheme that Jack Bicknell, Jr. and Tomlin want in place. If one of them is good enough to make the squad, then the other two can be placed on the practice squad for development and the chance to make the roster were a lineman to be placed on IR. Besides, if this really is The Fellowship – then one of those lineman is bound to end up like Boromir…. minus all the arrows sticking out of his body.
So do you think the Steelers will complete ‘The Fellowship’ and sign on an eighth lineman, or will Tomlin continue to use seven lineman and try to fill out other positional spots?