There understandably is a lot of head scratching among Steelers fans in the past 24 hours. On Thursday night, Max Starks was cut and Jonathan Scott and Willie Colon were signed. On Friday morning, Flozell Adams was jettisoned as well.
Now there is a chance that Starks or Adams (or some other veteran free agent) will be convinced to come back. But as of now, the Steelers offensive tackle depth chart consists of Jonathan Scott at left tackle, Willie Colon at right tackle and rookie Marcus Gilbert as the backup at both positions. Theoretically Chris Scott and longtime bust Tony Hills could battle for backup spots as well.
When you remember that Pittsburgh lost its starting right tackle before the season began last year, lost its starting left tackle early in the season and was playing its fourth and fifth-string tackles at different points in the season, that lack of proven depth has to seem somewhat frightening.
But here’s a little secret, whatever the Steelers say, they don’t view the offensive line as a priority.
Pittsburgh did use a second-round pick on an offensive tackle this year (Gilbert) and they drafted center Maurkice Pouncey in the first round last year. But Pittsburgh has pieced together its offensive line for half a decade now. It appears that 2011 will be no different.
Pittsburgh appears ready to start a left tackle who was willing to sign for a half million just a year ago–and one who still didn’t exactly spark a bidding war when he hit free agency. The three competitors for the two guard spots are two undrafted free agents and Chris Kemoeatu. Center is in great hands with Maurkice Pouncey, but right tackle will be handed to Willie Colon, a solid tackle but also one who has to show he’s fully recovered from an Achilles injury (an injury that forces 1 out of 3 NFL players who suffer it to retire without ever playing another game).
The Steelers offensive line will likely be a weak link on the team this year. But that was true last year, and the Steelers made the Super Bowl. And that was true in 2008, when the Steelers won the Super Bowl.
With the salary cap, every team has to pick spots to emphasize and spots to scrimp and save. The Steelers have to spend money on their franchise quarterback and the next point of emphasis is the NFL’s best defense. The offensive line gets the scraps, and as much as I love offensive line play, I’m coming around to the idea that such an approach makes sense.
Pittsburgh has a quarterback who ensures Pittsburgh will always rank among the league leaders in sacks allowed. The Steelers also have a big play offense (thanks to Mike Wallace, Rashard Mendenhall and Emmanuel Sanders) that can often make up for poor plays with a 20+ yard explosive play. With that being the case, a mediocre tackle like Scott can be coached up by offensive line coach Sean Kugler, and the savings can be spent to ensure Pittsburgh has the best pair of outside linebackers in the league.