The Steelers’ Revolving Door at RG, Who Steps Up in 2011?

1 of 3

Instead of my usual training camp/preseason positional unit preview for the week, I would like to narrow down my focus to one single position in particular for this article: Right Guard.  2011 will be the third preseason in a row that the Steelers’ coaching staff will face uncertainty in terms of deciding who will be the starter at Right Guard in Week 1 of the regular season.  And since training camp was started almost a month ago, there has been a heated battle going on once again to decide who the starter will be at Pittsburgh’s personal revolving door of a position.  Thus, I would like to accomplish two things with my Thursday article.  First, I want to discuss and describe exactly how and why the Right Guard position has become such a revolving door for the Steelers over the last three seasons.  But most of all, I want to make at least some semblance of sense out of this entire messy situation by discussing and analyzing the merits of each of the candidates that are competing for the starting job in 2011.

The End of an Era and the Period of Uncertainty Begins:

So how exactly did the Right Guard spot become the revolving door of average/below average players that Steeler Nation knows so well today?  In my personal opinion, I feel the door began to spin out of control on Monday September 29, 2008 in an early season divisional matchup against and undefeated Ravens team.  During the game, six year veteran and solid five year starter Kendall Simmons went down with an Achilles injury that was thought to simply shelve him for the remainder of the 2008 season.  What happened however, was Simmons’ career was essentially ended that night due to that injury.  By March of 2009 Simmons was released, and he never played another down for the Steelers the rest of his career.

With their starting RG shelved, the Steelers decided to go with former UDFA Darnell Stapleton from Rutgers as his replacement for the rest of the 2008 season.  To his credit, Stapleton filled in for the rest of the season for Simmons and went above and beyond the call of duty that most UDFA’s are used to.  Nevertheless, Stapleton’s play was shoddy at best in 2008 and he was arguably the weakest link on one of the worst Offensive Lines to ever win a Super Bowl title.  Despite Stapleton not being an elite player or let alone a solid veteran like Simmons, he was still a viable option as the starter at RG heading into in Training Camp the following season because of his experience.  Unfortunately, he went down with a knee injury during Camp and never played another down for Pittsburgh.  Stapleton’s injury in turn paved the way for the most recent and average to below average combo of Trai Essex and Ramon Foster to hold down the fort at RG.  Of course Essex and Foster were helped out greatly after 3rd Round Draft pick Kraig Urbik washed out after only one pathetic and uninspiring season in the Steel City.  In spite of the numbers of players the Steelers have tried out, the endless carousel of players competing for the RG spot is not stopping in 2011.  Now during this preseason and Training Camp, 2010 5th Round pick Chris Scott and former Tackle Tony Hills are getting strong looks to replace the Foster/Essex duo that have started the last two seasons.

So how exactly have the Steelers been left with a cupboard that is not necessarily bare, but essentially void of anything really substantial at RG?  In my personal opinion, after Simmons’ injury in 2008, the Steelers have just been content with inserting average/below average players (cheap as well) at RG with the wishful belief that they would inevitably work out and eventually develop into quality starters.  Unfortunately, the Steelers found little to no success with said plan at RG and simply just kept plugging similar guys into the starting lineup that could barely “cut the mustard.”  In addition, having Larry Zierlein as the O-Line Coach in the 2008-2009 seasons didn’t help.  Zierlein’s brief tenure in Pittsburgh in my opinion was pathetic and probably stunted the development of some of the guys, but that is simply my opinion and should thus be saved for another article altogether.

Now in 2011, the Steelers are yet again faced with finding a starter at RG in a mix of average/below average/unproven players.  It would have been nice if Urbik proved himself worthy, but he was really the only high draft pick and/or Free Agent investment that the Steelers used to address their concerns at RG.  And the aforementioned indifference to the shoring up of the starting RG spot is clearly evident in terms of the talent level of the crop of players that are competing with each other right now.  I mean is RG as important as other positions on the field?  No, but the RG does have a job that involves opening holes for the run game, and most notably he helps to protect the most important player on the field (QB), and I for one would like the guy that makes the offense go not to be forced to spend a majority of Sunday’s on his back.  So without further ado and before I go on a rant, here are the guys that are vying for that starting spot at RG in 2011, and as with each positional preview that I have done, I will provide a description and my own analysis of how I feel each player has fared so far during this month long mediocrity competition: