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Steelers offensive line depth still a major question after recent acquisitions

Pittsburgh has one of its best starting offensive lines in recent memory. That same memory suggests depth is as important as the starting group. The Steelers are still struggling to find it after the first week of camp.


LATROBE, Pa. -- It's kind of a double-edged sword for the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line, as it clearly has the most overall talent among the starting five than it has had in a long time, but there also is no experienced depth.

"I guess that means we can't get injured,'' starting left guard Ramon Foster said. "We believe we have a lot of talent up front, but I think there some guys behind us who have some talent as well. They just lack experience.''

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. have to be concerned, because there just isn't much depth at all.

"The key thing is to have good leadership, and we're fortunate that Maurkice and Ramon both have been great leaders for us,'' Bicknell said. "They've been there and have done that, so the guys respect them. That's important.

"It's especially key when things aren't going well. And it's a whole lot easier for me when the guys on the O-line get along much better. You want to have a tight unit among your offensive linemen, and I think we have that.''

Behind starting center Maurkice Pouncey is former practice squad player John Malecki, who played scholastically at nearby Franklin Regional High School and collegiately at Pitt. However, he only played on the offensive line his final two seasons for the Panthers and never played center in his life until he was signed to the Steelers practice squad. He has no time left there, so he has to make the team and should. He's played pretty well, and there really isn't anybody else. Besides that, Malecki also could play guard if needed.

The Steelers have tried to teach Kelvin Beachum how to play it, but he has struggled with the few reps that he's gotten. Beachum, you'll recall, was drafted in the seventh round last year as a guard, but started the last few games of the season at right tackle. He's likely the first player off the bench if a guard or tackle is injured in a game. Beachum is playing behind Foster and so is rookie Chris Hubbard.

At right guard is 2012 No. 1 pick David DeCastro, a budding superstar in the league. He just needs experience and at least got a taste last year after returning from knee surgery. He's healthy now and should get better with every snap in a game. Behind him is Justin Cheadle, who played for Bicknell in Kansas City. He's just a first-year player, but he has had a strong camp so far.

Then, there's the tackle position. Marcus Gilbert has been playing left tackle, for the most part, while Mike Adams has been on the right side. Tomlin switched them a couple times in practice, but that probably won't happen in a game. Guy Whimper has been a backup at both tackle spots, while Beachum primarily has played on the right side when he's not getting reps at guard and center.

Whimper has been in the league eight seasons now and D'Anthony Batiste, who was just signed over the weekend, is a seven-year veteran. There's a reason why the two have been journeymen. Maybe their experience will pay off, but Whimper hasn't shown much the past week and Batiste didn't exactly light things up during his debut, either.

Other tackles on the roster are first-year player Joe Long and rookies Mike Golic Jr. and Mike Farrell. There's some talent there, but the Steelers might not have the option to wait. Golic has had a decent camp, but there's a recent he went undrafted. Farrell played for a small Pittsburgh high school academy and didn't start at Penn State until his season year. Long was with the St. Louis Rams and the Steelers in 2012, but his play has been undistinguished so far in camp.

The Steelers are a little better off at guard, but offensive tackle has to be a concern. Maybe they can snag somebody off the waiver wire, but there's a reason why those prospective players end up there. Generally, somebody already didn't think they could play.

With 20 different offensive line combinations to start games the past three seasons -- which must be some kind of record, one would think -- the chances are that someone will get injured along the way. So, standing pat and hoping that the front five stay healthy is like betting that you'll draw an ace for that Royal Flush. Sure, it could happen, but the odds are heavily against you.

The longer the Steelers go with their current backups, the better off they will be. However, it's highly unlikely that the roster will stay intact to get that far.

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