Talk about weirdness.
Roughly six months ago, SteelerNation was abuzz with probably the most popular draft pick in the last four decades when David DeCastro surprisingly fell to the Steelers in the later third of the first round.
It was referred to as a late Christmas present.
As it turns out, it seems like it will be more of a really early Christmas present; one to be opened close to a year after it was given. DeCastro is eligible to begin practice with the team, and the Steelers have three weeks from the day of his first practice to either be activated to the roster or placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.
Maybe we put our pony on layaway, Mr. Homer.
No one would have guessed, particularly after a two preseason games in which the Steelers struggled mightily to run the ball, the team would be best served by using those days wisely, fully considering all options, up to and including placing the prized rookie on the IR.
It's a good problem to have; activate DeCastro, and lose some depth at another position. Activate him and gain potentially the best lineman of the group.
Based on the massive increase of the Steelers' production on the ground, and the fact he would get no more than three days of practice to prepare him for his first regular season game, DeCastro won't be activated this week. The Steelers host Kansas City on Monday Night in Week 10, then a huge showdown with Baltimore in Pittsburgh. Road trips to Cleveland and Baltimore follow in Week 12 and 13, then San Diego at home in Week 14.
Frankly, all are winnable games if Pittsburgh can control the game on the ground. Two wins in three weeks over Baltimore and wins over the struggling Chargers and Chiefs, along with what looks to be a hard-fought battle with the Browns (would you have guessed Brandon Weeden, and not either Messiah Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III would lead rookies in passing touchdowns at the midway point of the season?) would all but give the Steelers the AFC North crown. That's reality.
Knowing that reality, ignoring the obvious improvement the team - especially its offensive line - has seen in winning three of its last four games, would be detrimental. Barring injury, how do the Steelers, in good conscious, plan to start DeCastro over Ramon Foster, who's game has improved quite a bit the last two weeks?
The answer is, "They don't."
Maybe the better question is whether DeCastro is simply the odd man out now.
Assuming the Steelers keep their five starters intact - LT Max Starks, LG Willie Colon, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG Foster, RT Mike Adams - with back-ups Doug Legursky (right and left guard and center) and Marcus Gilbert (either tackle position), it becomes a decision over whether the Steelers want to continue activating seven offensive linemen - a risky strategy but one they've been utilizing all season - or cut Beachum altogether, expose him to waivers while hoping to sign him to the practice squad while he could be signed to another team's active roster at any time.
Is it worth exposing to waivers for the sake of keeping a back-up guard, when you can keep both of them simply by placing DeCastro on the IR?
I will concede it's certainly possible Beachum or any number of Steelers younger players suffers a mysterious injury in practice and is placed on the IR (Internal Redshirt) himself.
It's an interesting question, and one, fortunately, the Steelers don't have to answer for three weeks.
On the flip side, doing the seemingly ridiculous thing in putting DeCastro on ice for the remainder of the year keeps the continuity of the group intact. As the saying goes, "don't fix what ain't broke." While there's little doubt who will have a better career overall, DeCastro over Foster, the chemistry and familiarity of an offensive line is critical. Or, they involve the neighbors in their domestic dispute, and cut a player from another position and keep nine offensive linemen. Certainly a plausible proposition, but one that carries with it the same risk when one doesn't know when or where the injury bug will strike.
It struck DeCastro, and every one of these arguments are created under the assumption DeCastro is 100 percent ready - or will be at the end of his 21-day grace period.
It's a near certainty, at the very least, the Steelers will wait until the very end of the three-week period to make any kind of decision. Whether DeCastro's clock begins ticking by practicing Wednesday (not a certainty) will help steer some of these questions toward resolution. Sometimes teams have to risk collapse in order to be great, and this carries with it the weight of being the biggest decision of the season.