The Left Tackle position is arguably the most important piece of the offensive line on any NFL team. The Center is the captain of the unit, the anchor, lynch pin or whatever descriptive word you care to use. He’s the one that calls all the plays for the line and makes sure everyone has their assignments. Without a good LT though, you spent a lot of time running for your life or on the turf, just ask Ben Roethlisberger.
For a right handed Quarterback like Big Ben, his best friend on gameday is the man to his blind side, and the Steelers have tasked 2nd rounder Mike Adams with that job for what they hope will be the next 10+ years. Drafting a quality LT is no easy feat to accomplish either, but after seeing their $100 million man get sacked 314 times since joining the league in 2004, they knew they had to do something.
It’s been a bit of a rocky start for the big man out of Ohio State. After owning nearly every opponent he faced in college with brute strength, size, and talent, the NFL has proven to be a challenge but certainly not one that he can’t overcome. At training camp, his days were spent rotating in with the 1st and 2nd tier players on a regular basis and eventually getting his first true professional action against the Eagles a couple weeks ago. It was a learning experience to say the least; giving up 2 sacks and then getting injured. He missed several days of camp but was able to return and play against the Colts this past Sunday night. While he didn’t start he was in with the reserve players and again, had his share of struggles. He routinely got turned around or beaten on both inside and outside moves by the Colts backup lineman and pass rushers. All hope is not lost though, so let’s keep this preseason in perspective when it comes to criticizing him.
As Tunch Ilkin, former Steelers lineman and current Radio Analyst, pointed out this afternoon with Bob Labriola, when you’re in training camp and in the first 2 weeks of preseason you are doing nothing but going against your own guys in their own base defense. You see the 34 every day and you lineup against guys like Lamarr Woodley, Chris Carter every time you step on the practice field. Perhaps having James Harrison healthy would have helped some too but it’s still a base defense against guys that you know. You get a feel for their style of pass rushing and an understanding of how things work in Dick Lebeau’s world. There is no game planning in training camp, nor is there any in the first 2 preseason games. It’s all about learning the basics as a young player and regaining your edge as a veteran. These rookies get enough thrown at them in their first experience at the NFL level so trying to run before you can walk isn’t going to accomplish much of anything.
Enter preseason week 3 though, and Mike Adams may very well start against the Bills on Saturday. The first team will play the entire first half at least in that game but whether or not Adams starts or Max Starks, who practiced the last two days in pads, the future Left Tackle will get his share of reps.By the way, Starks is hoping to play on Saturday evening in some capacity, his rehab is going better than expected.
This is also the time when you start to get in regular season mode, which means game planning for the opponent. Oh sure it’s not the same as preparing for a regular season game but Adams will get a look at how the Bills defense utilizes their front 7 in both pass rushing and run defense. The Steelers defense will give looks to Mike Adams that he’s never seen before in an effort to simulate things that he’ll see on gameday. They’ll adapt their defense to the Bills style in as many ways as possible for the benefit of not only Adams but fellow rookie David DeCastro and the rest of the lineman. That is something they do during the regular season each week in their preparation.
Having not yet seen many scenarios on defense is a big reason why Adams struggled against the Eagles especially; if you haven’t seen a pass rusher take a wide angle before, it’s confusing because you can’t react the same way as one who’s right against the Defensive End. Those two sacks he gave up, combined with the experience he gained against the Colts will be building blocks for his future with the team. Each week he’s going to see something knew, and even with practice before hand there’s never anything like the real thing. If he ends up being the starter in week 1, there’s going to be growing pains. If Max Starks is the starter and Adams comes in at some point in the season, there will be growing pains. There’s no substitute for experience, and Ben, that can’t come soon enough I’m sure.