Foster adds depth to Steelers offensive line
If Ramon Foster was a basketball player, he'll be that wide body off the bench muscling inside for a rebound, then collecting a hard-earned basket that seemingly doesn't matter until the end.
It's been that way for the former Tennessee Volunteers offensive lineman since the Steelers inked him to a free-agent contract in 2009.
Foster arrived at the South Side complex an unheralded line prospect. The 6-foot-6, 325-pounder was dwarfed by more celebrated SEC linemen — including Baltimore Ravens' offensive tackle Michael Oher.
Like a sixth-man, Foster has spent much of his three seasons coming off the bench for the Steelers. The versatile offensive lineman -- sometimes a third tight end -- lingered in the shadows until he was thrust into the spotlight amid a plethora of injuries, including guards Doug Legursky and Chris Kemoeatu.
But as the Steelers' run game hit the wall and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger became a punching bag for pass-rushers, such as Houston's Mario Williams and Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney, Foster took the heat along with the rest of the front line.
Still, Foster isn't likely to be the focus of everyone's attention, especially if the injury-plagued Kemoeatu returns to the starting lineup at 1 p.m. Sunday when the Steelers face Jacksonville at Heinz Field.
Coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Foster likely will stay at right guard, with Legursky playing left guard against the Jaguars. Kemoeatu is listed as questionable on the injury report.
"We're going to let the week determine that," Tomlin said. "If (Kemoeatu) is able to prepare and practice, we'll take a look at those scenarios and formulate what's the best group for us. ... We'll an?tici?pate moving forward with Legursky and Foster until (Kemoeatu's) availability proves otherwise."
Foster doesn't seek attention. He doesn't complain when he's benched -- even when he appears to play better than Kemoeatu and Legursky.
"I worry a lot less about starting and playing time than I do winning," said Foster, who started eight times last season for the injured Kemoeatu and Trai Essex. "We just want to be efficient so we can run the ball, which opens up our offense."
Last Sunday, the Steelers' offensive line was efficient and dominant. The Steelers rushed for a season-high 174 yards in pounding the overmatched Tennessee Titans in improving to 3-2 with a 38-17 victory.
"It was very important we got started early on them," said Foster, who made his third start. "I think we discovered (against Houston) that would could run a little bit.
"We knew if we got good blocks on that first level, that our running backs could make plays. If we continue to be efficient in the running game, it'll open up a lot of other stuff, especially the play-action pass."
Foster and Legursky threw key blocks to spring Jonathan Dwyer for a 76-yard run that helped the Steelers to a 21-3 lead in the third quarter.
"When I saw Dwyer running down the sideline, all I could think was, 'Go, go and don't get caught,'" Foster said.
Foster took on two defenders as Roethlisberger zipped a 40-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace late in the fourth. Roethlisberger, slightly limping in the pocket, was sacked only once as the offensive line fended off Titans' pass-rushers.
"It's one of those games that wasn't a must have, but we needed it," Foster said. "It was important for the offensive line to establish itself. Tennessee is a penetrating defense, so we had to beat them to the point of contact. If we can get on the opponent's side of the ball first, we'll be very successful in the run game."
The offensive line faces another tough challenge against the Jaguars, who are third in the AFC against the run. Jacksonville has allowed just 3.7 yards per carry and 101 yards a game.
The Jaguars' defense, which is anchored by former Pitt linebacker Clint Session, former Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny and defensive end Matt Roth, is hardly to blame for their 1-4 start. The Jacksonville offense is 31st in total offense — last in yards (270.6) and passing yards (150).