I have stated on numerous occasions that I believe that Pittsburgh’s offensive line could be a strength this fall. Health permitting, the Steelers have a solid (projected, of course) starting five with Mike Adams, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Marcus Gilbert. It also does not hurt the franchise that they have backups like the versatile “jack-of-all-trades” Kelvin Beachum as well as John Malecki.
When one adds it up though, Pittsburgh appears to only have seven sure-fire locks to make their 53-man roster along their offensive line. In fact, at least one to two 53-man roster spots are still open for backups to win, and another one to two should be open for rookies to earn practice squad berths.
Battle For 53-man Roster
As far as the competition for the final roster spot or two is concerned, I think that it will come down to three players: Guy Whimper, D’Anthony Batiste, and Joe Long.
Whimper, who played right tackle with Jacksonville, played the same position against the Giants in Week 1 of the preseason. The veteran however will move to left guard and take the place of Justin Cheadle who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury. I for one am intrigued to see how Whimper can perform on the inside, and some versatility on his part will go a long way for him come final cutdown time.
Batiste could really do himself a favor by performing well protecting the blind sides Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones tomorrow too. The 32 year-old started 10 games for Arizona last season, and his experience and ability to play left tackle should do wonders for him if he wishes to keep Whimper and Joe Long at bay.
Long, who did not play against New York last weekend, should see an ample amount of time at either left or right tackle tomorrow with Beachum manning the center position and Batiste on the left side. The tackle signed with and finished the 2012 season as a member of the Steelers practice squad, so he does have some familiarity with the team. Even if Long fails to beat out Batiste and/or Whimper, the team could elect to place him on their practice squad once again this fall.
Battle For Practice Squad
How Pittsburgh’s practice squad could shake out is still a bit of a mystery when it comes to how many offensive linemen they will carry. Nevertheless, a group of 2013 UDFAs such as Chris Hubbard, Mike Golic, Jr., Mike Farrell, and Joe Madsen will all duke it out for the right to at least earn callbacks if they are cut and pass through the waiver wire.
Both Golic, Jr. and Hubbard would benefit from stints on Pittsburgh’s practice squad. Hubbard for one would be able to add an extra 10-15 lbs. to his current frame (6’4” 286 lbs.), and an extra year of development at the guard position would help the former collegiate tackle. Like Hubbard, a year on the practice squad would give Golic, Jr. a chance to settle into a single position with the Steelers while he fine tunes his game at either guard or tackle.
Madsen, if he gets a chance to play, will have a really difficult time to even make the practice squad this fall with Pouncey, Malecki, and possibly even Beachum ahead of him on the depth chart at center. Farrell is almost in the same boat as Madsen right now, and the former Nittany Lion sits fourth on the depth chart behind Adams, Batiste, and Long on the depth chart at left tackle.
The door is wide open for these veterans and youngsters alike to make splashes during the Steelers’ final three preseason games, and I hope that at least a few of them can seize their opportunities when they come their way.
Although Pittsburgh’s starting five and top two backups make for a promising situation this fall, the Steelers will still need another lineman or two to fill out their 53-man roster for depth purposes. Furthermore, another spot or two could be for the taking for developmental prospects who illustrate potential during the team’s final three preseason games.
While the fight for backup and practice squad spots might not be the most interesting competitions to watch, I will be paying attention in the second half to see how well some of these reserves along the offensive line can play tonight against the Redskins.
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