Are Steelers irresponsibly inadequate in offensive line depth?

Justin K. Aller

In a rare instance, the Steelers did not select an offensive linemen in the NFL draft. Whether the team felt they needed one or not, some who follow the team have their fingers on the panic button.

Here's looking at you, Kaboly.

This writer wishes to be fair to Tribune-Review reporter Mark Kaboly, and agrees with each sentence of his tweet; but agreement stops at its implication.

He is correct in assuming the Pittsburgh Steelers will continue to add to their off-season roster before entering training camp. John Clayton already expects the team to sign Steve Breaston in the coming weeks, and Ahmad Bradshaw continues to hear his name associated with Pittsburgh - despite the fact the team drafted Le'Veon Bell, signed LaRod Stephens-Howling and offered RFA tenders to both Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman. However, neither of those men play on the offensive line.

Mr. Kaboly's tweet implies the Steelers have no depth along their own line, and he is not alone in his assumption. Although, to suggest irresponsibility on the team's behalf is a bit strong. The starting five includes two first-round, and two second-round draft picks. The fifth man is a homegrown UDFA talent, which was deemed worthy enough to not only re-sign as a UFA, but also terminate the contract of Willie Colon days later.

Behind the starting five, Kaboly suggests a lack of depth. While at the moment, the team is still uncertain who will back-up center Maurkice Pouncey; they will eventually pick a guy. John Malecki would have been third in line behind Pouncey and Doug Legursky last season. If nobody outperforms Malecki in the pre-season, the team seems prepared to go with him.

Malecki would also provide depth at both guard positions, along with Kelvin Beachum who will continue to make the transition from tackle inside. Beachum played well enough to impress coaches while filling in at right tackle, after Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams were both lost to injury. Unless Beachum is injured himself in camp, the coaching staff seems anxious to see how he progresses this year. Because of his flexibility, he's a lock to make the roster.

Speaking of flexibility, Ramon Foster, who was re-signed to replace Colon, can also play tackle. He originally joined the team as a right tackle, but seems much more comfortable in a guard role. He is expected to start left of Pouncey, but in cases of emergency could also spell Adams or Gilbert, as would Beachum.

If there are any opportunities along the line, it would be as a true tackle who can play both sides of the line. Granted, someone could outperform Malecki and earn a roster spot, but Malecki has as much chance to retain his job as he does to lose it. Having two guards which can play tackle, while still having additional depth behind the guards and center would normally dictate the existence of depth, in this case it does not for Mr. Kaboly.

The Steelers have met with a few offensive linemen over the off-season, but each one left without an offer in hand. Teams will always explore options, but there is a slight chance the team is confident with what they have. To spend as many draft picks as the Steelers have on their offensive line over the years, only to rely on free agents to fix their problems would be the true irresponsibility. One can hardly blame the team for trying to develop their own talent, like Pittsburgh has done forever. Flozell Adams is an example on a rare instance where the team had to reach outside the organization, when Colon was unable to play due to injury. These instances are the exceptions, not the rule.

At most, the Steelers will carry eight offensive linemen on gamedays. Last year, running with seven was not out of the question. With the starting five plus Beachum and whoever wins Malecki's spot, the team would already have their seven. If there is any room to squeeze in, it would be for a tackle. The team brought in a few new faces, like Mike Farrell, for closer inspection. If someone sticks out for the right reasons, the team will find room like they did for Robert Golden and Adrian Robinson in 2012.

Utlimately, head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert will be held responsible for the result of the final 2013 offensive line, as they are with each passing year. The Steelers have not usually been described as confident when it came to their offensive line in past years.

If they feel confident with what they have, so be it. If they change their minds, so be it; but it is difficult to say the team has been irresponsible for their handling of the offensive line - especially when those claiming irresponsibility were the same calling for the head of Colon earlier in the off-season. Everything known about the players currently on our roster becomes moot when remembering a new offensive line coach is implementing a new blocking mentality.

The true failure of the team would be to bring in a veteran who wishes to start, or at least compete for the chance. With Adams having two seasons remaining on his contract after this season, and Gilbert only one; the team needs to break their current cycle of waiting until a player's contract year to make their evaluations, like is about to happen with Cameron Heyward and Jason Worilds.

Often forgotten is why veteran Max Starks was not retained following the 2012 season. He didn't want to be a backup. He wanted to continue to start. Now, he continues to sit next to a phone which doesn't ring. The team wants Gilbert and Adams to start. Maybe once Starks gets over his need to start , or Gilbert or Adams prove they are still not up to the task, he will find his way back into a Steelers jersey. Until then, if the team doesn't need him, why would they need anyone else?

Perhaps at this time next year, we will be discussing a need for improvement over Gilbert, Adams or Foster; but they have to play out this season before we can make such an assessment. If things like football were settled on paper by the numbers, why would they bother playing the game.

Here's hoping one of the young UDFA's can jump up and seize the chance to be an active backup, and wishing the 2013 evolution of the offensive line makes Mr. Kabloy respectfully eat his words.

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