Paved without a semblance of control, that's the football path of Steelers offensive tackle Mike Adams.
He prepares to start each week, but only on rare occasions does it actually provide an immediate benefit. He did the starter thing. It didn't go very well and he was benched after four games. The Steelers replaced him with a player drafted nearly 200 spots lower than him and without five percent of the hype. Kelvin Beachum (by way of Levi Brown) took over the team's left tackle spot and hasn't looked back.
Except that one game against Miami last season. Adams probably knows that game as the best one he played in his hometown Steelers' uniform. The Steelers lost - as they have in all five games he started at left tackle. Still, he prepares for the possibility of the team needing him to move back to the position that bludgeoned him badly in the first four games of the 2013 season. They needed him against Miami, and he delivered.
The Steelers needed him in Week 8 of this season as well, filling in for Marcus Gilbert, who was recovering from a concussion. He played reasonably well or, at the very least, he was part of an overall level of pass protection that may have been the best the Steelers have seen in years. It was back to the bench for him after the game, not having logged a snap in the three games that followed it.
The Steelers' offensive line had perhaps its best day ever in pass protection in Week 8 vs. the Colts.
Adams may get the nod again today, looking to fill-in on the right side once again for an ailing Gilbert. Adams should be comfortable on the right side. Gone are the dreams of playing left tackle, but it's on the right side where Adams has experienced positive dreams rather than nightmares.
Adams' highest and best use might be his ability in the ground game. Angularly-challenged as he may be in pass protection, Adams' athleticism showed itself in run-blocking, particularly during a four-game stretch of the 2012 season in his rookie year, when the Steelers won four games in a row and rushed for an average of 130 yards in those four victories.
The freak injury to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the fourth game, an overtime win against the Kansas City Chiefs, wasn't on Adams as much as it was on bad luck. Roethlisberger was sandwiched by Tamba Hali and Justin Houston (two of the game's more ferocious pass rushers) off the offensive left edge and up the middle, driving Roethlisberger into the ground. The rare shoulder separation that followed nearly caused a far more significant injury - his heart was nearly pierced from the dislodged SC joint - and it kept him out for the next three games. For the rest of the season, actually, Roethlisberger didn't look like the same player. The Steelers couldn't get their running game back on track, either. It wouldn't be until Week 16 of the 2013 season when they'd again see a 100-yard rusher.
Adams would succumb to his own injury that year, finishing the season on injured reserve, the first of two seasons Adams would fail to see the post-season. After the disastrous experiment of using him at left tackle, and during the tenure of two of the three offensive line coaches he'd play under during nearly three seasons in Pittsburgh (Sean Kugler, Jack Bicknell Jr. and now Mike Munchak), he would be called on as a third tight end and a backup left tackle.
He showed the ground-game prowess in that third tight end role, so much so that it seemed he might be carving a niche out for himself - this coming after an off-season in which he was the victim of a stabbing incident, for which the accused were found not guilt in light of their testimony painting Adams as the aggressor, not the alleged car thieves who never took his car.
There always has been a level of potential with Adams. Issues off of the field, as well as his truly spectacular failure at left tackle in 2013, have hidden that. In his time as a backup, though, he always has come through for the Steelers, particularly at right tackle.
He might get the nod again on Sunday when the Steelers take on the Saints in what's essentially a must-win game, considering the fact the AFC North is currently the only division in NFL history having all four teams at three games over .500. None of those teams, except division-leading Cincinnati, is currently set to quality for the playoffs. Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Baltimore all are chasing wild card leaders San Diego and Kansas City, in addition to the division-leading Bengals. There isn't any margin for error. So if Gilbert is unable to play, the Steelers will again turn to one of the team's most experienced backups and hope he's prepared to start this week the same way he did against Houston this year and Miami last year.
The team needed him to be a left tackle and, while it doesn't appear that will end up being Adams' best role, maybe he can shine as a right tackle.