Max Starks and Flozell Adams have been sent packing and Jonathan Scott is the Steelers’ new starting left tackle.
It’s understandable that a lot of fans are nervous about the idea of Scott protecting Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side for 16 games, but a pretty good argument can be made that Scott starting isn’t the biggest concern.
The bigger concern is the team’s lack of depth behind Scott. Last year, on the Steelers Lounge Podcast we chanted “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature,” all year when discussing the Steelers’ offensive line depth. Pittsburgh didn’t have a whole lot of very good linemen, but they had a whole lot of linemen who were similarly talented. So if something happened to Trai Essex, Max Starks or Chris Kemoeatu, there was someone near their equal (Ramon Foster, Jonathan Scott and Doug Legursky) waiting to step in.
Unless Pittsburgh adds another offensive tackle from the free agent market, it’s hard to say the same thing is true right now. Pittsburgh’s depth at guard and center still seems pretty solid — Doug Legursky has shown he can step in at either position and Keith Williams is looking good in training camp. Pittsburgh will also get a chance to see what swing guard/tackle Chris Scott can do in his second year with the team.
But at tackle, Pittsburgh is in a much scarier situation. For whatever concerns you may have about Jonathan Scott’s ability to handle the left tackle job, we can all agree that Pittsburgh did manage to make it to the Super Bowl with him there. And as the season went along, he generally played better. In a best case scenario, Scott could turn into an average left tackle this year. In a more realistic scenario, he’ll be a below average left tackle, but not a disaster, which is a description that could be used for a lot of Steelers linemen in recent years.
But if something happens to Scott? Well then cue up the warning sirens. Right now there are two options: Tony Hills or Marcus Gilbert.
At this point it’s not fair to call Hills a project at left tackle. This preseason is truly his last chance to show he can handle the job — after all, he’s a free agent at the end of the season. Hills saved his roster spot with an excellent preseason last year, but as soon as the regular season started, he again looked out of his league. After all, there is a big difference between doing a solid job against another team’s third-string defensive ends (who Hills faced in the preseason) and their starters (which you face in the regular season). Hills has the size and agility to be a left tackle, whether he has the strength and technique? There’s a big reason to be skeptical.
Depending on Gilbert may be just as nerve-racking. While he was a second-round pick this year, many scouts saw him more as a right tackle than a left tackle. And the lack of offseason training activities, plus Gilbert’s hamstring troubles mean that he’s already way behind. Throw in the fact that left tackle is a very difficult position to play as a rookie (no Steelers’ rookie has been a regular starter at left tackle since before Chuck Noll was coaching) and it doesn’t seem to be a great idea to count on Gilbert this year.
So what can the Steelers do? Well, Max Starks’ weight issues could serve Pittsburgh well. If he remains unsigned, there’s always the chance that he could be re-signed in case of a catastrophic injury to Jonathan Scott (much like what happened to Starks last year). But Pittsburgh seems more likely to bring back Flozell Adams and possibly move Willie Colon inside to guard. If they did that, Pittsburgh’s depth at guard would reach new levels (with two backups who have started games as well as a promising rookie). But it wouldn’t really fix the left tackle trouble. In that case, if something happened to Scott, the Steelers would have to at least consider moving Flozell Adams to left tackle while Colon moved back to right tackle.
But Adams is already a year away from a poor year at left tackle. He would likely be better than anyone else currently on the roster, but he’s not exactly a great option.
So while many of you may be worrying about Jonathan Scott’s play at left tackle, I’m more worried about him getting hurt.