It’s more than a safe guess that the battle for the starting guard positions on the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line this year is going to be one of the best battles we’ll have seen in a long time. With so many question marks surrounding Sean Kugler’s group this year (and really for the last several years), there is finally cause for some real optimism about who is going to land the starting positions. Just as importantly though, who the backups will be.
For the first time since before the Super Bowl XL run, there are legitimate starter and backup candidates available to Mike Tomlin. Perhaps if this group does have to play musical chairs again, we’ll actually have a capable unit available to step in. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though and surely let’s not jinx ourselves either.
As far as the Guards go; veteran Chris Kemoeatu is gone now and so is his bone head personal fouls and bad knee. Honestly though, Kemo was one of the better pulling lineman in the league at his position, when he was on his game he could steam role an oncoming linebacker as well as anyone. The knee problems for the last two seasons coupled with the uncontrollable urge to dive into a pile of players after the whistle spelled his ultimate demise.
Looking at who is available to fight it out this year makes me excited about this group in a big way:
Ramon Foster: Don’t think for even one second that Foster is going to just step aside and hand his job over to rookie David DeCastro. Big #73 has fought through being a rookie free agent and demotions to still keep his job. Last season Mike Tomlin chose to go with utility lineman Doug Legursky instead of Foster to start the year. That was a disaster as Legursky, along with the rest of the line, started out in horrible fashion and never truly recovered. Ramon bought his time and was ready to go with Sean Kugler and Tomlin called his name. He was also the starter for the Super Bowl XLV run in 2010. He’s got the experience and just because DeCastro is slated to be the next Alan Faneca, doesn’t mean Foster is chopped liver. If he, Decastro, does ultimately win, the Steelers have a serious veteran ready to step in if he struggles during the season or gets injured.
Willie Colon: The big man with a nasty attitude on the field is itching to get back into the lineup and stay there for more a game or two. After being placed on injured reserve the last two seasons, and coupled with newly acquired tackles on the team, Colon was moved to guard officially this offseason. A move that most fans felt was long overdue as Colon’s build appears to be more of a guard than tackle. To his credit though, when he was healthy was a solid player on the right side, plus he’s got the experience of being on the team since 2006 when he was drafted out of Hofstra. Colon is penciled in as the starter at left guard for the time being, and as long as he can stay healthy he’ll probably keep that job to start the year. Fortunately there has been no lockout so he’s been able to work with Kugler to learn the ins and outs of playing his new position and he’ll have a full camp and preseason as well.
David DeCastro: The heralded rookie, the 2nd coming, the next big thing to help return the Steelers offensive line to greatness has not yet signed his deal. With training camp just 2 days away, there is still time to get a deal done and I’ll be mildly surprised if he’s not in camp on time. With so much riding on the new road grader from Stanford, he needs to get into camp on time and take advantage of every rep he gets. Most feel he’s already penciled in to start on the right side he’ll get reps on both sides to see where he best fits in. If he does stay at RG, look for the offense under Todd Haley to have more of their patented “G Power” running plays go to the left instead of the right. DeCastro is well known for his quick feet and ability to get out into space quickly and eat up defenders.
Like we said though, Ramon Foster isn’t just going to hand over that job. Ultimately DeCastro may very well win that starting spot but if he does hold out, the Steelers have Foster ready to go and can feel confident in his ability. Clearly DC is the future so whether it’s sooner or later, he’ll be the next starter.
Reserve Options: As happy as I am with the starting potential, I’m equally as content with the backups. Doug Legursky and Trai Essex both have starting experience at virtually every position on the offensive line. While Legurksy is the primary backup to center Maurkice Pouncey, he can fill in at guard as needed. He’s coming off shoulder surgery this off season but says he’ll be ready to go for training camp. “Legs” is the ultimate utility lineman on the Steelers, the jack of all trades. If he’s needed he can fill in at a moments notice.
Trai Essex just keeps hanging around and hanging around, last season he ended up starting for 3 games due to all the injuries but ultimately he played regularly at various spots throughout the year as Kugler played the dreaded musical chairs with his group trying to find a healthy five players on any given week.
John Malecki: The hometown kid out of Pittsburgh will likely be a practice squad candidate. He’ll get his chances to state his case in camp and preseason with the rest of the reserve players but the competition will be tough to say the least.
Kelvin Beachum: I know he was drafted as a tackle, but he could also play guard if the coaches decide to go that route. The 2012 7th round draft pick was a starter at Tackle for all 52 games he played at SMU, but he’s raw and would likely be a possible practice squad candidate. Even if that is the case, he turned some heads at the OTA’s and mini camp so if he has a good showing coming up in July and August he’ll be a name to watch for in the future.
Overall, this group of guards for the Steelers on 2012 is just flat out amazing, especially when you consider what’s happened over the last few years at this position. Between the starters and backups, I like the potential here…now let’s just stay healthy shall we!