Even with the return of RT Willie Colon, the Steelers went from what could have been a fairly deep position with some flexibility (Starks, Colon, Marcus Gilbert and Jonathan Scott all have starting experience, and Scott and Starks have played both tackle positions in the past).
Instead, Starks, just two days shy of his 30th birthday, blew out his knee, forcing the Steelers to look deeply at the position.
First, Gilbert was told he would be moving to the left side, a move that wasn't all that much of a surprise given his growth as a player in his rookie year and his athleticism. Colon's return after a torn Achilles' heel in 2010, followed by a triceps tear that kept him out of nearly the entire 2011 campaign, could solidify the right side.
But offensive tackle still remains a questionable position in terms of depth. Neither Chris Scott nor Trevis Turner (both practice squad members in 2011) have done much to boost support for their respective causes, leading one to consider the Steelers may look at the position in the draft.
Some speculation has existed, seemingly for four years now, of the possibility of moving Colon inside, while replacing his spot at right tackle with Scott ($2 million cap number) or a rookie (like they did last year, although not by original design, with Gilbert in 2011).
It will be interesting to see how the Steelers play their cards concerning the position on first round draft night. It's a popular position for first round picks, for obvious reasons. We've highlighted Cordy Glenn as a guy who could potentially play tackle or guard, a pivotal characteristic for a team lacking depth at both spots. Stanford's Jonathan Martin has shown flashes of potential, but not enough consistency, which may drop him into the Steelers' range at No. 24. Ohio State's Mike Adams has a similar rep as Martin, and will likely be available when the Steelers go on the clock.
To free up money to bring Starks back, Scott, who has the biggest cap number of all the Steelers' reserve players, would seem to be the one they'd let go; however, it seems counter-productive to release him if their goal is depth. Keeping one veteran at that position would be the wiser move, considering this unit's amazing history with injuries. While they did sign Swiss Army Offensive Lineman Trai Essex, he cannot be counted on as a legitimate long-term starting candidate.
Ideally, if they're looking to start Gilbert and Colon this year, a lower-priced veteran and possibly a rookie backing those positions up would seem the most logical path. The issue is, they can't count on Starks returning immediately, and will have to come up with a plan of attack that doesn't involve the long-time Steelers veteran.
That could be to go with a guy like Glenn, if available, at No. 24.