It's fair to challenge the Steelers' offensive line, even if they've only had one year under offensive coordinator Todd Haley and now have a new offensive line coach. It's equally fair, considering the roster moves looming, to question if their best linemen is in the best spot right now for the sake of the team.
While there is currently little certain about the 2013 edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the growing consensus seems to be that offensive line will undergo some major reshuffling. Should the Steelers be considering moving All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey to left guard?
Before we can give an honest answer to that question, we should probably consider this one first: Are we comfortable with the idea of Kelvin Beachum being the starting left guard?
Many in the Pittsburgh sports media seem convinced that Willie Colon is going to be a salary cap casualty. Some Steeler fans are perfectly fine with that idea, while others would love to see Colon come back under a restructured deal. Regardless of where you stand in that discussion, I think it is safe to assume that no one should be shocked if the Steelers decide to part ways with Colon.
Under that scenario, what are our options at left guard? Ramon Foster is an option, but at what price? Even if the price is relatively cheap, can the Steelers afford to bring him back? I, for one, would much rather see James Harrison back at a reduced price than Foster signed to long term deal. Not to say that it is an either or scenario, but reality to me is that I am more comfortable with our second team offensive linemen than I am with our second team outside linebackers.
So, for the sake of argument (and let's face it; what else do we have to argue about in mid-February?), let's say that Foster is not an option. That leaves us with Beachum and Doug Legursky. Let's forget about Legursky for a second and focus on Beachum. Once again, some in the media seem to be high on Beachum. Some of the fine contributors to BTSC are also high on Beachum.
To those that think highly of Beachum, I ask them this: Right now, is Beachum a better left guard than Legursky is a center?
If you think that Legursky is a better center then Beachum is a left guard, then we are in agreement. Besides the pre-season, Beachum has no experience at playing left guard, Legursky started, and by most accounts seemed to play well, in a Super Bowl. Therefore, I think the assertion that Legursky is a better center than Beachum is a left guard is a pretty strong one.
To take that assertion one step further, are we a stronger offensive line with Pouncey at center and Beachum at guard, or with Legursky at center and Pouncey at left guard? Remember this about Legursky also: He is not going to cost anything. Once again, I'd rather have a chance at resigning Keenan Lewis and not cutting Brett Keisel and/or James Harrison, than I would at paying Ramon Foster any money at all.
I just do not see the logic of signing Foster. If we had cap space like the Bengals or Browns, then yeah, I'd be for signing him. But, we do not. Moreover, if Legursky is an above average NFL center, why wouldn't we entertain the thought of putting Pouncey at left guard?
I think that the skills that Pouncey have made Pouncey an All-Pro center will translate well to guard. A few years ago, there was the thought that guards had to be very thick and stout to stand up against the huge, 3 technique defensive tackles in the NFL. That is what Colon obviously thought when he played so heavy this year. But that line of thinking is wrong. The Steelers are no longer the only team playing the 3-4. Centers have to play against massive nose tackles, and Pouncey has. And he has done it well. There is no reason to think that he could not dominate huge defensive tackles. It was his ability to move Casey Hampton during his rookie training camp that first caught the eyes of the coaches. Sometimes, coaches like to have an extremely athletic center to cut off the backside linebacker when running a zone scheme. Admittedly, Pouncey did this well. However, because of all the different fronts that NFL teams now run, Pouncey will have just as much of an opportunity to do this at guard than he would at center.
Pouncey might even be an upgrade at left guard. It's no secret that the Steelers are very right handed. Normally, our best run blocker is our right tackle. When we run the off tackle power or counter play, we normally run that play right. I see Pouncey being extremely adept at pulling. The Steelers must agree somewhat. The first play against the Ravens, when Pouncey played guard, he pulled to his right. Also, the Steelers have not been able to develop a decent screen game for, what seems like, 15 years. An effective screen game is a great way to slow down an opposing pass rush. It's also great to run against teams when between the opponent's 20 and 10 yard line. The defense is probably going to be in man. Therefore, block the linebacker assigned to the running back and you are probably going to score. Imagine having two athletic guards like David DeCastro and Pouncey leading on screens. Imagine how much that would help our pass protection and our red zone efficiency.
While you may say that you shouldn't mess with a good thing by moving Pouncey to guard, you can also make the argument that you want your best interior offensive lineman playing guard, not center. NFL guards are more coveted than centers. Guard is a more demanding position. The amount of money paid to guards, as opposed to centers, bears this out. With this in mind, are we "wasting" our best interior lineman at center?
Since this article is riddled with assumptions, let's make a few more. Let's assume that Gilbert is the left guard. Let's also assume that most of last season was his John Jackson vs. Pat Swilling moment and assume he becomes the tackle we thought he was going to be after his rookie campaign. Gilbert will no doubt be a better run blocker than Max Starks. On both sides of our offensive line, we have a good push at the point of attack, and, maybe, the two best pulling guards in football. Honestly, do we need an all-world center if we have the two best guards (taken in tandem) in football?
I'm fairly certain that the interior line of Legursky, Pouncey, and DeCastro is better than Pouncey, Colon, and Foster. I'm positive it's cheaper. I'm also fairly certain that that Legursky, Pouncey, and DeCastro is a better combination than Pouncey, DeCastro and Beachum.