In professional football, there is typically a noticeable difference in build between an interior offensive lineman and offensive tackles. In particular, the left tackle is unique among his peers.
Not in Pittsburgh. Not anymore, at least.
In 2012, the Steelers drafted offensive linemen in the first and last rounds -- David DeCastro and Kelvin Beachum, respectively. DeCastro was a guard in college, and projected as a guard in the NFL. Beachum played left tackle for Southern Methodist University, but was, for all intents and purposes, a pro guard. He is on the short side, and under weight. Next to most left tackles, who are about 6'-5" by the time they are potty trained, Beachum is a runt.
Traditions be damned.
Thanks initially to injury, Beachum became the starting left tackle. Thanks to brains and intense attention to technical detail, he has not just remained there; he has thrived.
Steelers Training Camp Preview: Tight Ends
Between the receivers and the "big uglies" of the offensive line, there is a special breed of human we call a tight end. Throughout the league, they are becoming nothing more than an extension of the receiving corps. In Pittsburgh, though, they are still primarily blockers. And the 2015 camp roster is full of guys with the size and opportunity to be just that.
In fact, the whole offensive line thrived in 2014. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked fewer times last season than at any time in recent memory, and any of those were clearly on the quarterback, not the line. The addition of new line coach Mike Munchak played a big role in that, but he was really just unleashing their obvious potential.
Across from Beachum, Marcus Gilbert recovered from a shaky start to play mostly like the second-round pick he once was. Inside, DeCastro continued to grow into the role -- 2014 was, after all, basically his second season. Most of his rookie year was lost to injury. Center Maurkice Pouncey returned from missing all but one drive of 2013 to make the Pro Bowl, and Ramon Foster continued to outplay his undrafted free agent history. And all the starters are back,
That doesn't mean camp will be boring along the line, though. Once suffering from depth issues, there are now intriguing options.
Cody Wallace, who can play all three interior spots, returns. He's as solid of a backup as there is in the league. Chris Hubbard, who appeared in one game in 2014, also returns. The team has been high on him and kept him around last year for a reason.
They are joined in the camp battle by four rookies: B.J. Finney, Collin Rahrig, Miles Dieffenbach and Reese Dismukes. All could see time in camp at any or all of the interior positions, and all are talented enough to make a push for a roster spot. For certain, at least one will be on the practice squad.
Dieffenbach missed most of 2014 with a torn ACL suffered in spring practice and looked a little sloppy after his return. But he couldn't have a better mentor to break bad habits than Munchak.
Dismukes was a four-year starter who actually compares pretty well to Doug Legursky: a little small with short arms, but moves well. There are worse comparisons to be made.
If we are talking small, though, Rahrig wins the battle to the bottom. Listed at 280 pounds, that may be a little optimistic. He blocks well, though, particularly on the move. That bodes well if he is asked to replace the highly mobile and athletic Pouncey for any stretch of time. If he can add 10 to 15 pounds, he will be alright.
Finally we have Finney, who grew up a Steelers fan. He's big enough, and has heart: he started 52 straight after walking on at Kansas State. He gave up 2.5 sacks -- in four years.
At tackle, there are options too.
Alejandro Villanueva, once an Army Ranger, as well as a college wide receiver and defensive lineman, spent time on the practice squad last year. For 2015, he ma be the frontrunner to be the primary backup for both tackle positions.
Kevin Whimpey, a 2015 seventh-round pick, is strong. Very strong. At his pro day, he posted 39 reps in the bench press. It translates to the field, too, but he does need to work on his footwork and movement. Again, Munchak could easily fix that.
Finally, there is Mitchell Van Dyk, who was signed during the winter after the Rams waived him last year. He does alright at some things but there is little that impresses me. Most likely, he's a camp body. Of course, most of his practice work came against the Rams' outstanding defensive line, which will make just about anyone look bad.
My Absurdly Early Prediction: The starters will remain the same. No one will push Foster off the line -- yet. But, with a contract coming due and so many young, promising guys on the inside, he may find himself being spelled a little more often. In the end, I expect the starters, plus Finney, Villanueva and Whimpey. The last is a tossup between Hubbard, Dismukes and Dieffenbach, but my money is on Hubbard. Dismukes will make the practice squad; Dieffenbach could too.