On July 23, 2012, just 4 days ahead of training camp, the Pittsburgh Steelers signed their first round pick, guard David DeCastro. That completes an offseason in which the Steelers have reworked their most notable weakness, the offensive line. While some still see concerns, I believe the Steelers are much improved on the line heading into camp.
Let's be fair, the Steelers have excelled despite perceived problems with the offensive line. They have played in two Super Bowls, winning one, while pundits and fans bemoaned the big boys up front. Certainly there were problems, but the Steelers keep winning. After the shuffling this offseason, fans can no longer whine that the Steelers have not addressed this sore point. What remains to be seen is if they addressed it effectively.
At the draft in April, the Steelers served notice that there would be a changing of the guard. That guard would be Stanford's David DeCastro, a consensus top 10 pick who inexplicably fell to the Steelers at #24. The Steelers broke all kinds of speed records getting to the podium to select him. The Steelers were not done. They chose Mike Adams, tackle out of Ohio State, in the second round. Adams has first round talent, but had some character problems at Ohio State. Adam's personal visit to the Steelers convinced them that he had learned from his mistakes. If he lives up to his word, Adams might be a great value pick protecting Ben Roethlisberger's blind side.
The Steelers also added by subtraction. They released guard Chris Kemoeatu and tackle Johnathan Scott. Though both men had been starters, fans found plenty of holes in their game (but not when the Steelers tried to run). While I remember Kemo crushing poor defenders as he pulled to the right, he was becoming a liability with drive-killing penalites. Scott was the invisible man, especially to the defenders rushing past him on the way to Ben Roethlisberger. Scott and Kemoeatu both struggled against blitz schemes. The Steelers were able to overcome these deficiencies because of Roethlisberger's superior talent for extending a play and still hitting open receivers. However, Ben was still sacked too often. His late season injury and the Steelers' struggles afterwards are the painful legacy of the line.
The Steelers retained or re-signed several important players, too. Former tackle Willie Colon is now the left guard. Although very talented, he has struggled with injuries over the past few seasons. If he can stay healthy, he is an upgrade to the interior of the line. Left tackle Max Starks, who suffered an ACL injury in the Denver playoff game, was re-signed. He might start at left tackle until Adams is ready or be the veteran backup for both tackle positions. Either way, his presence creates a depth at tackle the Steelers sorely needed. Versatile veterans Trai Essex, Ramon Foster, and Doug Legursky, all former starters, also provide experienced depth. Seventh round pick, Kelvin Beachum, is an undersized tackle with high character and intelligence. He may push one of the veteran backups out of a spot with a good camp.
Two young stars also remain: Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey and second year tackle Marcus Gilbert. Gilbert showed promise even while playing through some injuries in his rookie season. When healthy, these two former Gators are solid anchors for a line in transition. So, the starting unit should feature LT - Adams/Starks, LG - Colon, C - Pouncey, RG - DeCastro, RT - Gilbert. The backup players feature experience, versatility, and youth. Finally, the Steelers have a potential powerhouse line and depth. Fans realize this will be the unit that either lifts the offense to elite status or wrecks a promising season. If they can stay healthy and work well together, I think the line will become one of the team's primary strengths. Then fans will have to complain about something else. Here we go, Steelers, here we go!
Sean Durity is a Terrible Towel twirling Steelers fan living in Atlanta. He grew up cheering the 1970s dynasty and appreciates the organization's excellence even more as an adult. Follow him on Twitter @SeanDurity
More from this contributor:
Dan Hanzus, "David DeCastro signs Pittsburgh Steelers rookie deal" nfl.com
Josh Alper, "Willie Colon moving to left guard" Pro Football Talk
Steelers transactions, steelers.com
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