Offensive Line Isn’t a Steelers Priority

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.

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  • Cols714

    Yeah, these moves don’t make a lot of sense. Why get rid of Starks, who was signed to a reasonable contract, just to give the money to Colon?

    It seems like we are paying way too much money for Colon and Kemo. I’d rather have Starks and Adams.

    • Dennis Doubleday

      Starks had a cap figure of $7 million this year. When you’re $10 million over the cap, with people still to sign, there just aren’t that many places where you can find those $$.

  • Grw1960

    I agree with your title/article in general as far as star power and big money O lone players.
    However with the hiring of Kugler last year and the amount of OL draft picks and OL UNFA signings in the last 3 years. Shows the OL has become a priority.
     The OL & TEs on offense has become the equal of the DBs on defense. Last but not least.
     Many questions were raised about the WR group last year when Holmes was traded. But that turned out ok and should be even better this season.Hopefully Kugler is on the same track with the OL.

    • Jfar86

      How on earth does hiring Kugler show that the OL has become a priority?  They needed somebody to coach the Oline, and while he has done a good job, hiring a coach who wasn’t retained by the Bills doesn’t show that Oline is a priority.

      • Anonymous

        Maybe hiring Kugler doesn’t, but firing Larry Zierlein at least tells you that they were unhappy with how things were and looked to improve.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_347QEL3HBMINQRAFAQEM56UGJY hgd

          sorry mate, but larry was fired cuz he liked to watch porn on company time.  look it up.

          • Anonymous

            Maybe, but that incident was three years before the firing.

  • Anonymous

    The rest of that theory is give these mediocre guys the best coaching non-salary-capped-money can buy.

  • Cols714

    I also don’t understand the fascination with Burress. It makes no sense whatsoever. I would much rather they kept Sweed around for another year than sign Burress.

    I guess I’m fine with the OL. I think that the feeling is that Scott improved enough to be about as good as Starks so why pay the money for Starks.

  • Dean Keaton

    I’m starting to wonder if the Steelers had too long to think about the OL during the offseason… Starks and Flozell gone, Colon signed for a whole lot of $, and Jonathan Scott as a starting LT? The line wasn’t great last year, but they were seemingly better than the past 2-3 yrs prior.

  • Cols714

    What I still don’t understand is why are Colon and Kemo making tons of money? They just aren’t all that great. If we are going to go bargain basement, let’s do it, not sign mediocre talent for big money. It’s something the Steelers don’t do at any other position.

    I think they just don’t know how to evaluate offensive linemen. And before anyone says it, even when we had Russ Grimm it was the same way. Plus his big draft pick, Levi Brown, sucks.

  • Rob D

    Maybe either Starks or Adams comes back under a better contract. Or they sign someone like them in FA. I would really love to have one tackle who is Pro Bowl level. That’s all..not much to ask. We finally got a center with that potential. Surely we’ll eventually find a guy to protect Ben’s blind side as he ages and can’t scramble quite like he does now.

  • Dilbert

    The Black and Gold should sign Reggie Wells (G), 8 year veteran, had his best years with Arizona.  He might be a good addition.