Steelers build offensive line of the future
Posted: Saturday, July 28, 2012
by Mike Bires firstname.lastname@example.org
LATROBE – Willie Colon wasted no time setting the tone for the new and improved offensive line. On the first snap of team drills in the Steelers’ first practice in pads, he leveled a linebacker with a hit that nearly triggered a brawl.
Several players had to be separated after Colon, who’s now a left guard, put Lawrence Timmons on his back on a running play Saturday afternoon.
When asked why Colon was so fired up, coach Mike Tomlin said “Life … I don’t know … he’s a good player.”
At 29, Colon will be the elder statesmen on the O-line in years to come. As he makes a position change, he’s still the mean, nasty brawler he was at right tackle. He’s going to fit right in with the young, talented bucks on an offensive with such a high pedigree.
It may happen at some point this year, or it may have to wait until next year, but one day in the not-too-distant future, the Steelers will have an offensive line that includes Colon, two first-round draft picks and two second-round picks.
Few teams in the league have invested as many premium draft picks on the O-line.
“That’s what we’re trying to build … a line that’s young and has a lot of talent,” said right tackle Marcus Gilbert. “We’re going in the right direction. We have the talent to be one of the best, if not the best, offensive line in the NFL. We just have to work at it.”
A year ago when Gilbert came to the Steelers as a second-round pick, it was supposed to be learning year for him. He was going to bide his time as Colon’s backup. But when Colon tore his biceps in the season opener, he was done for the year. Gilbert stepped in and held his own the rest of the way.
Gilbert's impressive learn-on-the-fly performance is what the Steelers expect from their top two picks this year: guard David DeCastro and tackle Mike Adams.
At practice Saturday, both DeCastro and Adams were on the second-string offensive line. But DeCastro also got several snaps with the first-team at right guard while Adams got a few snaps as the first-team left tackle.
It’s virtually a given that DeCastro will start on opening day, and not incumbent Ramon Foster.
At left tackle, there’s a chance ninth-year pro Max Starks, who was re-signed just before the start of camp, could start once he gets off the physically unable to perform list. Right now, the versatile Trai Essex is running with the first team. But sooner or later, the job will go to Adams.
“When it’s definitive for me, usually it’s definitive for a lot of other people at a similar time, (and) then we’ll know,” Tomlin said when asked about a timetable for DeCastro and Adams.
“I’m not going to circle some date on the calendar. But when the time is appropriate, everybody will look around at one another and we’ll all know. We had no timetable on Maurkice Pouncey. We just looked around and we just knew.”
Pouncey, a first-round pick in 2010, is already adding to the legacy of all-star Steeler centers that includes the late Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson and Jeff Hartings. Pouncey has only been in the league two years and already he’s been to two Pro Bowls.
“I like the line we got,” Colon said. “I get to play next to Pouncey. He and I need to get after it.
“Depth is a key, too,” Colon added. “We had guys go down left and right last year. Obviously, I’m testimony to that. Any time you have aspirations to go far, you need depth.”
Depth should come from Starks, who’s still rehabbing a knee injury; Essex, who played all five O-line positions last year; Doug Legursky, who started 10 games at either guard or center last year; and Foster.
Ultimately, the Steelers want their front wall to consist of Adams, Colon, Pouncey, DeCastro and Gilbert.
“I want to one day be the best player at my position,” Gilbert said. “And one day, I want to the Pittsburgh Steelers to have the best O-line in the National Football League.”