For the first time in many years, the Pittsburgh Steelers are entering a season with an offensive line that has few questions. That doesn’t mean there aren’t questions, it’s just that there are as many as we’ve dealt with in the past.
The starting five appear to be set. Kelvin Beachum will start at left tackle and Marcus Gilbert at right tackle. David DeCastro is your right guard and Ramon Foster is your man on the left. The center is the highest paid man at his position and that’s Maurkice Pouncey.
The major question is who are the two guys that Mike Tomlin calls on for the sixth and seventh spots? Tomlin is notorious for making just seven offensive linemen active on the game day roster and I see little reason for that to change.
Here are the men fighting it out for roster spots.
C/G David Snow 2nd year from Texas
C/G Cody Wallace 5th year from Texas A&M
G Browning Bryant 1st year from Ohio State
G Chris Hubbard 1st year from UAB
G Will Simmons Rookie from East Carolina
OL Chris Elkins Rookie from Youngstown St.
OL Wesley Johnson Rookie from Vanderbilt
OL Emmanuel McCray Rookie from Ole Miss
OL Mike Adams 3rd year from Ohio State
OT Guy Whimper 9th year from East Carolina
What the Steelers and new offensive line coach Mike Munchak look for is versatility and that means guys who can play multiple positions. If we look at the starting five, only Beachum is a guy who realistically can play other spots on the line if needed.
The Steelers were very pleased with Cody Wallace’s performance at center following the injury to Fernando Velasco who filled in admirably for Maurkice Pouncey until Thanksgiving night in Baltimore. Behind Wallace, the rushing game averaged 115 yards per game in the final four games of the season and Ben Roethlisberger was sacked just a handful of times.
Wallace also has the ability to play guard as well.
The two other returning guys from last year are Guy Whimper and Mike Adams. Whimper was actually respectable (I’m being nice) in ten games and two starts last season but he came to the Steelers as one of the worst pass protectors in the league. That was mostly as a tackle however so perhaps a backup guard is his calling.
Mike Adams history is well-documented and I believe this is a make or break year for him. His pass blocking at the tackle spot is poor at best at the NFL level. While his run blocking is good, I don’t believe it’s enough to overcome his other issues. Adams will be Munchak’s greatest accomplishment if he can turn into a respectable NFL lineman.
The intriguing guy to me is rookie Wesley Johnson who was durable and multi-faceted while at Vanderbilt. He fits the Steelers mold of being a guy who can play anywhere along the line. While he focused mostly on center through the pre-draft process, he can play anywhere. I believe he’ll more than likely fit the interior line better than he might at the tackle position.
Johnson will need to add strength and that could put him on the practice squad in year one but don’t dismiss his chances.
Of the remaining players fighting for roster spots, those that can show the ability to play multiple spots will have a leg up on the competition. That doesn’t mean a player who shows dominance at one spot isn’t an option.
Besides the starting five, I believe you’ll see Wallace, Adams and the rookie Johnson earn spots. Once again remember that Tomlin likes seven O-Linemen on the game day roster so someone will be inactive. If Johnson goes to the practice squad then look for Whimper to return.
Let me leave you with one final thought on the offensive line. Mike Munchak is a Hall of Famer as a player and is well-respected as a coach but to expect immediate results from this line might be asking too much. Let’s give Munchak the opportunity to mold this line before we anoint him and them as anything greater than they currently are.
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 weekly on Trib-Live Radio talking Steelers and is a blogger for ESPN 970 in Pittsburgh.