The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the 2013 NFL season with question marks like every other team in the league. This is what we’ve come to expect in the free agency era of pro football. With teams restricted by the salary cap and limited amounts of contact in practice, the days of seeing a team without concerns at certain positions are long gone.
It would be very easy for me to say the most important Steeler for 2013 is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger or rookie running back Le’Veon Bell or even the underachieving LaMarr Woodley. Each of those guys have strong arguments made for them as to why they would be the most important guy this year, but these aren’t the person I have in my mind.
This guy is a former seventh round draft pick who enters his second season with the Steelers and despite expecting little from him last year as a rookie, he ended up starting five games. Former SMU Mustang Kelvin Beachum is the most important Steelers’ player this year for a number of reasons and he isn’t even a starter.
Right now, the starting offensive line is expected to be Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams at the tackle positions, Ramon Foster and David DeCastro at the guards and Maurkice Pouncey at center. This young offensive line has the potential and I stress potential to be a great offensive line for years to come in Pittsburgh.
The problem is health and durability however and that’s where Beachum comes in as my most important Steeler this year.
Last season when Mike Adams went down, Beachum stepped in and started those final five games of the season at right tackle. While Beachum is not going to make anyone forget Jon Kolb at tackle, he performed admirably and represented himself well despite struggling at times. Beachum now returns as the number one back up on the offensive line at tackle. And at guard. And at center.
See where I’m going with his importance?
Both Gilbert and Adams have missed time in their short careers and while we hope for the best for them, we have to expect they will need to be spelled at times until they can prove their durability. During OTA’s this spring and summer, Beachum took a significant number of snaps at center and has often been thought of a guy who ultimately could be moved to left guard.
The major problem is that the Steelers have very little experinced depth behind the starters. Guy Whimper was brought in to possibly be a reserve at the tackle position but I don’t see him being the first ‘guy’ off the bench if a tackle goes down. That will be Beachum.
Whimper enters his 8th season after stints with the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars and during the 2011 season he gave up 14 sacks from his tackle spot. That was a league-high that season.
Let’s assume that undrafted free agent rookies Mike Golic, Jr. Mike Farrell and Nik Embernate do well in training camp. Golic, Jr. has the ability to play guard and tackle. Farrell seems to be a tackle-only type and Embernate is pretty much a guard-only player. Unless one of them or another free agent really blossoms, I just don’t see a scenario where Beachum loses his grasp on that top reserve role.
It’s conceivable that Beachum, and let’s pray this doesn’t happen for obvious reasons, could start at all three offensive line positions in the 2013 season. While that would look darn good on his resume, that would mean several injuries to starters and the Steelers cannot afford that.
Beachum’s versatility is due in large part to his athletic ability but also his intelligence. This is a guy with a degree in Economics and a Master’s in Liberal Arts. He also gave the commencement address at his graduation ceremony which is something I don’t think too many professional football players can say.
Beachum being my most important Steeler this year is not a glamorous selection by any stretch but I believe it has tremendous merit especially considering his own tremendous durability as he started 32 straight games in college.
They often say that the best place for your best reserve player is on the bench. That means the starters are healthy and are playing well. No offense to Kelvin Beachum but the less we see of him this year the better even if he is my most important Steeler of 2013.
Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @steeldad and follow the website at @SCBlitz. He can be heard Mondays on Trib-Live Radio at 4pm ET talking Steelers.