Long, solid line forms for Steelers at tackle
October 24, 2012
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers discovered something besides a road victory Sunday night in Cincinnati: An offensive line that looks as if it can shake off the shaky reputation of its past and perform at a level not seen from them in several years.
The line might have had its best game against a good Cincinnati front, and it did so with two of the five positions filled by backups. One of those second-teamers, though, might soon become a regular starter.
Rookie Mike Adams made his first NFL start because of an injury to right tackle Marcus Gilbert and did well enough to have Mike Tomlin singing his praises again Tuesday.
"We're optimistic about his talent level and what he's capable of being. He didn't do anything to hurt that assessment. I think he's continuing to be a guy on the rise. I think his performance was a solid one. I thought he was good in the run game. I thought he was good on the second level, some combination blocks, and I thought he represented himself well in pass pro[tection]. It's a nice next step for him."
This comes from a coach who through the years would hold back praise for rookies and point out that they were, well, rookies, especially after one like Adams has taken so few snaps.
Adams has done well in the past seven quarters playing for the injured Gilbert, and that sets up a possible long-term competition between their past two second-round draft choices. Or does it?
After the Steelers drafted guard David DeCastro, they said they were moving Gilbert, who started 14 games at right tackle as a rookie in 2011, to left tackle. Then, they drafted Adams, a left tackle from Ohio State, in the second round. Then, they re-signed left tackle Max Starks.
The plan shifted. Starks would play left tackle until Adams was ready to move in, and Gilbert would remain at right tackle. But their thinking could again change, especially if Adams continues to perform well at right tackle.
Adams did not do so well as a left tackle in the preseason. One source from another team cited him as too slow-footed for the position. Quick feet are not as necessary at right tackle, a more run-blocking position and one that often has a tight end to his right and does not protect the quarterback's blind side or usually go against the opponent's top pass rusher.
On the other hand, Tomlin has said left tackle is Gilbert's more natural position, and Gilbert said he'd prefer the left side if given a choice.
It sounds as if the Steelers young tackles could be in for a switch in sides. Neither is ready to move Starks out on the left. Adams, though, could stay at right tackle this season if he continues to play well there.
Sunday, Adams will face Washington Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, a first-round draft choice in 2011 with 3 1/2 sacks and an interception this season.
"I'm sure he is excited about having the next opportunity to prove his skills against a solid pass rusher like Kerrigan," Tomlin said.
Tomlin said center Maurkice Pouncey should practice today and return to play Sunday. Pouncey missed the game in Cincinnati with a knee injury.
Gilbert and Troy Polamalu will miss their second consecutive game with injuries. Tomlin said halfbacks Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman have an "opportunity to participate" as well as backup linebacker Chris Carter.
If Mendenhall and Redman return, it will create an intriguing decision for the coach. Not only who will start among those two and Jonathan Dwyer, but also who might not dress for the game. When all were healthy, Dwyer was inactive for two games in a row.
Dwyer's 122 yards rushing in Cincinnati, however, were the most by a Steelers back in more than a year.
"I thought all the running backs did a nice job, highlighted by Jonathan Dwyer's efforts," Tomlin said.
"He's a guy in the group that's working. He's evolving and maturing as a player and as a person. It's good to see him take advantage of opportunities when presented. I think that helps his cause and ours. He's a guy in development. We like how it's going thus far as we sit here today."