While the Pittsburgh Steelers wish offensive tackle Mike Adams a quick and complete recovery, his unexpected injury could not have occurred at a better time for the club.
The Steelers had presumably locked in Marcus Gilbert as their starting left tackle, and Mike Adams on the right side. Adams started several games during his rookie season, in place of an injured Gilbert. Adams often looked like a rookie who was limited in training camp and the preseason due to an injury, but Pittsburgh enjoyed its best rushing production with Adams blocking the right side. Since he will be building on his experience from last year, Adams should only improve in his second season; however, because of his stab wounds, Adams will have to progress solely in the classroom for the next 6-8 weeks.
Even though Adams is now temporarily eliminated from team activities, he will return to his right tackle position as soon as he is declared medically eligible. While he will lose a few sessions on the field, the Steelers will gain so much more as their inexperienced offensive line depth will see an increased workload for the remainder of the off-season.
Free-agent signature Guy Whimper was expected to be the early favorite to be the primary backup to both tackle positions, although in OTAs he has played mostly at right tackle. Now, he will spend all of his time on the right side, which opens up a whole new world of opportunities for the young undrafted men behind him on the depth chart.
Joe Long (6-5, 304) has taken snaps with the second team at left tackle behind Gilbert in OTAs. With Whimper preoccupied with right side duties, Long should continue to gain experience on the left side. Long's brother Jake is a franchise left tackle formerly of the Miami Dolphins, now with the the St. Louis Rams; coincidentally the same Rams team which signed Joe as an undrafted rookie, before he later signed with Pittsburgh prior to last year's conclusion.
Mike Golic Jr (6-4, 300) played mostly interior offensive line at Notre Dame, but the Steelers continue to regard Golic as a tackle. With Whimper bumped up to first team, Golic will have the chance to compete with fellow undrafted rookie Mike Farrell (6-6, 303) from Penn State, for the right to work with the second team on the right side.
Whimper has been regarded as uninspiring during his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, however he could surprisingly improve in the Steelers' zone blocking scheme. If he remains unimpressive in his new role, his temporary promotion to first-team right tackle could cost him his job. When Pittsburgh signed Whimper, they were seemingly searching for an experienced veteran who could backup both sides. Now, in Adams stead, Whimper will only get to exhibit his right tackle prowess.
When the opening of the regular season finally arrives and 53-man rosters are decided, Long could establish himself over Whimper. Including Gilbert and Adams, and Ramon Foster and Kelvin Beachum, the Steelers have four experienced right tackles already, but only Gilbert has invoked any confidence on the left side. Because Beachum and Foster will already be on the roster because of interior priority, the Steelers may not feel the need to retain Whimper as a fifth right tackle. He will have little opportunity to prove he can play on the left, as long as he remains locked in on the right with the first-team. If Long maintains his role on the left uncontested, he may be viewed as more valuable to the team's depth.
If Golic makes the most of his extra snaps during Adams recovery and proves to the team he can handle professional offensive line play, he could make at least the practice squad as a utility infielder. The team is still working Beachum at center, but it has not been a smooth transition. Golic may find his hat tossed in the reserve center ring as well once training camp is in full swing. If Golic finds himself in an interior battle, Farrell would be left with second team right tackle duties, which he could also parlay into a practice squad spot.
With Adams out of the picture for awhile, the coaches will have the unexpected chance to work more intimately with their young prospects. If they can grow and develop their youths' potential, not only could Whimper find himself out of a job, but the inexperience perceived along the offensive line depth chart will receive a significant boost in Adams absence, which should benefit the team as a whole in the long run.
Such an opportunity for player development did not exist until Adams' unexpected wounding. Perhaps the incident will later reveal itself as a blessing in disguise.