The Sports Xchange
Aug. 22, 2011
The Steelers and their already below-average offensive line got a taste of what real disaster would look like with one knee injury. It happened Thursday night when starting left tackle Jonathan Scott left the game after the first play with a right knee injury.
They had no one to replace him.
First came rookie Marcus Gilbert, who is not nearly ready to play, and he showed it in his three series of work against the Philadelphia Eagles before he also left with a knee injury. That followed a succession of would-be tackles who made Jonathan Scott look like Jonathan Ogden. Ladies and gentlemen, we introduce to you Kyle Jolly, an undrafted 2010 rookie who last played in a real game in 2009 for North Carolina.
Fortunately for the Steelers, the injury to Scott was not serious and he was expected to miss a few practices. It also was not serious to Gilbert, but he's at least a year away from playing anyway.
"We're anxious to get those guys out here," coach Mike Tomlin said, "particularly Marcus Gilbert; a young guy like him needs as many opportunities to improve as he can."
The Steelers' offensive line has seen enough turmoil without losing its starting left tackle for the second time in nine months. Max Starks' 2010 season and possibly his career ended with neck surgery last November, which is when Scott manned the position.
The next logical tackle to put there might be Tony Hills, a fourth-year player who has played little in his first three seasons. Hills, though, is competing at the moment to start at right guard. He started there in the second preseason game against Philadelphia, moved to left tackle after the two injuries, and returned to play at right guard. He did well enough that he likely will start at right guard again Saturday night vs. Atlanta.
"He's a guy who's in the mix like some others and that's what we're here for," Tomlin said. "He's represented himself well; if he continues to do that he'll continue to be given opportunities."
Saturday's game will be the last one in which the starters play a bit, and the line -- barring more injuries -- that will open the season at Baltimore Sept. 11 looks like this: Scott at left tackle, Chris Kemoeatu at left guard, Maurkice Pouncey at center, Hills or incumbent Ramon Foster at right guard and Willie Colon at right tackle.
The only holdover from the line that opened training camp a year ago is Kemoeatu. Three of the linemen who opened 2010 training camp as starters are out of football -- Starks, Flozell Adams and center Justin Hartwig. However, the injury concerns did prompt the Steelers to re-sign Trai Essex.
One of the amazing things about the Steelers is their Super Bowl berths two of the past three years came with such a poor offensive line. It has been in transition since left tackle Marvel Smith and perennial Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca left quickly in 2007-08 to injury/retirement and free agency. It took them a few years and two starters between Pro Bowl center Jeff Hartings and Pouncey, and there has been a swinging door at right guard ever since injuries forced Kendall Simmons out of football.
Pouncey is the only player they can point to right now who will be a mainstay in that offensive line. They had interest in drafting his twin brother, Mike, but he went too high in the first round to Miami; he would have played guard for the Steelers.
None of the others are prospects for a long-term spot for them in the line other than Gilbert.
Copyright (C) 2011 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.