The Steelers rocky off-season got potentially worse Monday, as RT Willie Colon suffered an Achilles injury during agility drills, and could miss the season.
NFL.com reported Monday Colon tore the tendon, and will miss the 2010 campaign. The Post-Gazette quotes Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert saying the team would know more (Tuesday).
Thus begins what's become the hottest positional topic going into training camp; right tackle. Who are the candidates to replace the strongest offensive lineman on the roster?
Veteran Trai Essex filled in at right guard for Darnell Stapleton in 2009, after Stapleton started in the Steelers' Super Bowl XLIII victory. Stapleton was lost for the season, and is no longer on the roster. He is a combo G/T, and does have experience on his side. However, his performance was shaky at best throughout the season. His previous experience has been at both tackle positions as a back-up, and hadn't started at guard until last year.
The Steelers' new offensive line coach, Sean Kugler, brought veteran T Jonathan Scott with him when he came from Buffalo, seemingly for this exact scenario. No one questioned either tackle's starting spot - Colon or Max Starks. Scott is being looked upon to fend off younger challengers for the third spot on the depth chart.
Scott gave up a team-high seven sacks in Buffalo last season as a back-up for a Bills team mired in inadequacy.
Free agent options include former Cowboy Flozell Adams, former Buccaneer Donald Penn and former Cardinal Mike Gandy. None of the three had impressive 2009 seasons, probably a key reason why none of the three have landed on a roster.
Second-year man Ramon Foster got some time at guard last season after being signed as a rookie free agent from Tennessee as a tackle. The ceiling is said to be high for Foster, and with the possibility of Essex staying at right guard, Foster could compete with the veteran Scott for the RT job.
Rookie first-round pick Maurkice Pouncey also looks to contend for the RG spot, putting Scott, Essex and Foster head-to-head-to-head.
There's also second-year G/T Kraig Urbik, who spent all of 2009 inactive, and Tony Hills, who's seen as much playing time as Urbik has.
Simply put, it's a rich tapestry, and competition will bring out the first Steelers starting right tackle not named "Willie" since 2007. It's interesting, because the situation will bleed into the right guard position due to the amount of versatile but not polished combo linemen the Steelers have.
Pouncey was drafted as a center, and the team seemed to indicate through minicamp and OTAs that they wished to bring him along as a guard before handling the responsibilities of the anchor of the line. Moving Essex to tackle would open up the RG competition.
It creates pause for thought. Competition is a great thing, something Steelers coach Mike Tomlin thrives on, but with two spots for six linemen - four of which haven't been on this team more than a year, and only one of them having played for coach Kugler before - the amount of reps each of them will get with the first team is pretty limited.
It's a battle likely to extend deep into the preseason. But the offensive line is about unit ability more than individual talent. While Colon is an outstanding lineman - one of the best RTs in the game - the Steelers offensive line, coaches and players, must take the opportunity to exploit addition by subtraction, or all plans of an enhanced running game will be for naught.