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Old 08-25-2011, 09:15 PM   #1
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Default Analyzing the Offensive Line: So Many Injuries, So Few Options

http://www.steelerslounge.com/2011/0...uries-options/

When Jonathan Scott and Marcus Gilbert both suffered minor knee injuries in last week’s game against the Eagles, the Steelers looked around, apparently realized their lack of depth at tackle and decided to bring back veteran Trai Essex.

It’s good news for Essex, who had been waiting for a contract, and it does add a versatile lineman to the Steelers’ mix. But it’s also a sign of failure for the Steelers young offensive linemen.

Pittsburgh entered the preseason with five candidates to fill the open right guard spot, and three players who could legitimately fill the job of being the backup tackle. Two weeks into the preseason, Pittsburgh decided it needed to bring in Essex to be the backup guard/tackle who will likely dress on gameday.

In essence, they looked around and realized that while they had five candidates, they have a very short list of linemen they are comfortable with. After watching the Eagles game, I can see why. Many candidates were given a chance, few have stepped up to the opportunity.

But before we talk about some of the guys who are struggling, let’s acknowledge the big surprise. Tony Hills, offensive guard, has a much better ring to it than Tony Hills, offensive tackle. That much is clear after two games of the preseason.

Hills may be better known as the last man standing when it comes to the Steelers’ competition for the right guard spot. From Chris Scott to Doug Legursky to Keith Williams to Ramon Foster, the other guard candidates have all shown significant flaws.

Now Hills isn’t exactly prepping for a spot in the Pro Bowl. But his mobility has proven to be pretty useful at guard. Hills does a good job of getting to the second level to block linebackers, and once he locks up a linebacker he does a solid job of staying on his block, something that is frequently a problem for Legursky and Foster. And he has a little bit of a mean streak as well, as he likes to generally play to the whistle.

When Hills gets into trouble at guard, it’s usually because he’s playing too high. We mentioned a play last week where he was struggled when pulling because he hit a linebacker too high. We saw the same thing in different situations this week. On Ben Roethlisberger’s second pass of the game, Hills was slow off the snap and was caught playing too high. The result? Anthony Hargrove drove him into the backfield like Hills was wearing roller skates. Roethlisberger’s escapability in the pocket ensured it was a bad play but not a sack, but it was a rough start for the fourth-year lineman.

Hills’ problems with playing too high were more apparent when he slid out to left tackle after injuries to Jonathan Scott and Marcus Gilbert. There were multiple plays where Trent Cole drove Hills back into the pocket. Interestingly, while most tackles’ biggest problems come from speed rushes, Hills seemed to have more problem overplaying for speed rushes, which opened up the inside for defensive ends with an out and up move. If you tell me that Hills is starting at guard in Week 1, I think he’s got a 50 percent shot of playing well enough to avoid being benched. If he’s forced to play left tackle I would fear for Roethlisberger’s safety.

The rest of the guard candidates? It wasn’t pretty.

Ramon Foster is never going to be a particularly nimble guard. He’s more of a straight-ahead road grader. But in the first series against the Eagles, he wasn’t doing a very good impression of a bulldozer either. On two of the Steelers first three running plays, Foster was driven into the backfield by his man. In both cases he recovered to at least occupy his man enough to let Rashard Mendenhall by, but you’d rather see those stalemates taking place at or on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

Foster did show a mean streak, although he may have taken that a bit too far with an absolutely brutal hit at the whistle on an Eagles linebacker. The play came just three minutes into the game. On a dump-off pass to Isaac Redman, Foster followed the play, then laid a cut block on linebacker Jamar Chaney just as the whistle was getting ready to blow. It wasn’t a late hit, but it sure was the kind of block that could end a guy’s season.

Foster did show flashes where he was able to use his strength to put his man on the ground, but his inability to prevent penetration was more apparent than his ability to dominate his man. On one particularly poor play Foster was driven into the backfield, which caused him to run into a pulling Legursky and ruining the play. Foster also gave up a sack. For a veteran, it was a pretty ugly performance.

Chris Scott got a chance to try out for the guard job in the first preseason game. He played poorly, and apparently was immediately dropped from the competition. He played right tackle exclusively against the Eagles, where he showed that he’s probably better off competing for the guard job. Scott wasn’t a complete disaster at right tackle, but he did look a little slow off the ball and generally he relied on doing just enough to push his man past the back of the pocket.

I would argue that Scott would still be a viable candidate for the guard job. Most of his problems in Week 1 were more assignment issues and technique problems than physical issues. As a young player, one can expect that some of those issues would improve as he gets more experience. But it would appear that Pittsburgh has largely given up on the idea of Scott being a guard candidate, and the signing of Essex could even put his roster spot at risk. Scott’s struggles at tackle ding the argument of his versatility, and if he’s not considered a legitimate guard prospect, then he could be the odd man out now that a veteran guard/tackle swingman is on the roster.

As far as Doug Legursky, he was adequate against the Eagles, but he struggled to stick blocks on linebackers. That’s not normally a problem for the mobile Legursky, so maybe it was just a bad night. But it’s hard to say in the first two games that Legursky has done enough to go from solid backup center/guard to starting guard. That being said, Legursky is the one of these candidates who seems to have a helmet guaranteed on gameday, as there is no other backup center on the roster.

As far as Keith Williams, he showed flashes of talent against the Eagles, but also plenty of problems. He was caught lunging with his head down on one play, which meant he was quickly shed. He was also driven into the backfield by his man on a couple of plays. He’s a rookie, so none of this is shocking.

All of these struggles are good news for Chris Kemoeatu. If several players had emerged, then Kemoeatu, who has missed the first two games with a knee injury, could possibly be looking at competition for his job, but right now, it’s hard to see anyway a healthy Kemoeatu isn’t starting against the Ravens.

With Essex’s signing, it’s highly unlikely there is room for everyone on the roster. If you count Jonathan Scott, Chris Kemoeatu, Maurkice Pouncey, Willie Colon, Marcus Gilbert and Trai Essex as roster locks, there are probably three more roster spots available (and maybe four). At this point Tony Hills seems pretty safe as well, as right now he’s likely to start at right guard.

So that leaves three guys playing for two spots. At this point one would think that Foster has an advantage because he has starting experience, but you could make a pretty decent case that the upside of Scott (a much more mobile guard than Foster) or a rookie like Williams outweighs Foster’s experience. Pittsburgh will already have two experienced backup guards on the roster (Essex and Legursky), so it may be better off to try to develop Scott and Williams then bring back Foster just to sit on the inactive gameday roster.
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Old 08-25-2011, 10:51 PM   #2
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Default Re: Analyzing the Offensive Line: So Many Injuries, So Few Options

it seems to me the logical thing to do would be to move colon to guard , where he'd probably excel, and bring adams back ar RT...
i just can't for the life of me understand why they won't even take a look at colon at guard. of course all we can do is speculate about the success he may have on the inside , but i really do believe , given his physical stature and mentality , that he'd be twice the guard that he is at tackle.
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Old 08-25-2011, 10:59 PM   #3
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Default Re: Analyzing the Offensive Line: So Many Injuries, So Few Options

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it seems to me the logical thing to do would be to move colon to guard , where he'd probably excel, and bring adams back ar RT...
i just can't for the life of me understand why they won't even take a look at colon at guard. of course all we can do is speculate about the success he may have on the inside , but i really do believe , given his physical stature and mentality , that he'd be twice the guard that he is at tackle.
Because Colon has no real experience at guard and has been rock solid as tackle. If Hills is the real deal our OL is set on the right side. I'm more concerned about the other side with Kemoeatu and J. Scott.
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Old 08-25-2011, 11:03 PM   #4
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Default Re: Analyzing the Offensive Line: So Many Injuries, So Few Options

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Because Colon has no real experience at guard and has been rock solid as tackle. If Hills is the real deal our OL is set on the right side. I'm more concerned about the other side with Kemoeatu and J. Scott.
Again, I agree with this. I was actually secretly hoping that Keith Williams would actually live up to the early camp hype that he received before falling on his face after he got into the game against the Eagles (although I thought he did fairly well against the Redskins). If Hills proves to be a legitimate RG and Gilbert can man the LT position within the next 2 seasons, then the Steelers only need a LG.
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Old 08-25-2011, 11:18 PM   #5
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Default Re: Analyzing the Offensive Line: So Many Injuries, So Few Options

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Because Colon has no real experience at guard and has been rock solid as tackle. If Hills is the real deal our OL is set on the right side. I'm more concerned about the other side with Kemoeatu and J. Scott.
and how much experience did hills have at guard ?
coming out of college, it was speculated that colon would be moved to the inside in the nfl. his body type fits that of a guard more than that of a tackle. shorter with short arms.

sure he's played ok at RT. improved every year. but i'd rather have a probowl calibre colon at guard, than a serviceable colon at tackle.
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Old 08-25-2011, 11:23 PM   #6
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Default Re: Analyzing the Offensive Line: So Many Injuries, So Few Options

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and how much experience did hills have at guard ?
coming out of college, it was speculated that colon would be moved to the inside in the nfl. his body type fits that of a guard more than that of a tackle. shorter with short arms.

sure he's played ok at RT. improved every year. but i'd rather have a probowl calibre colon at guard, than a serviceable colon at tackle.
colon has looked sharp this preseason, i think it's not fair to call him just serviceable

body types don't always tell the story, there are so many intangibles that make good football players that can't always be measured on tape
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Old 08-26-2011, 12:00 AM   #7
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Default Re: Analyzing the Offensive Line: So Many Injuries, So Few Options

Plus, if Hills doesn't play guard, then the Steelers have no use for him. And, who the **** plays right tackle next year? Instead of playing musical chairs, let's just get the line as settled as we can. If we move Colon to guard and take a gamble on how he would play at a new position and bring back a 36 year old who may or may not even be in football shape to play RT for one more year, then chances are Tony Hills gets cut, and then who plays RG next year? I would like to see somebody play better RG than Trai Essex, Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster, and Darnell Stapleton have played it for the past 3 seasons, and if Hills is that guy, then don't screw around with it.
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Old 08-26-2011, 11:02 AM   #8
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Default Re: Analyzing the Offensive Line: So Many Injuries, So Few Options

some better drafting at this position would make all of this moot .We have 1 O-lineman from the last 3 drafts.
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Old 08-26-2011, 11:39 AM   #9
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Default Re: Analyzing the Offensive Line: So Many Injuries, So Few Options

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Plus, if Hills doesn't play guard, then the Steelers have no use for him. And, who the **** plays right tackle next year? Instead of playing musical chairs, let's just get the line as settled as we can. If we move Colon to guard and take a gamble on how he would play at a new position and bring back a 36 year old who may or may not even be in football shape to play RT for one more year, then chances are Tony Hills gets cut, and then who plays RG next year? I would like to see somebody play better RG than Trai Essex, Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster, and Darnell Stapleton have played it for the past 3 seasons, and if Hills is that guy, then don't screw around with it.
correct me if i'm wrong, but didn't they just spend a 2nd round pick on a tackle ? if the guy can't even nail down a spot on the right side by year 2 , then i guess he was a wasted pick. if he somehow does improve enough to man the left side , then move scott to the right. they trusted him enough to watch bens blind side, so why couldn't he play the right ?
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Old 08-26-2011, 01:15 PM   #10
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Default Re: Analyzing the Offensive Line: So Many Injuries, So Few Options

Colon has been rock solid at RT. He was our best lineman in 2009 and looks like he hasn't missed a beat since his injury. Don't fix what isn't broken. If body type was the most important factor, Chris Scott wouldn't of gotten beat out by Hills in the first place.

Left tackle is what needs to be addressed and I'm hoping Gilbert pans out. Jonathan Scott is a solid backup shouldn't be anything more.
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