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

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Ramon Foster:

The N.F.L. is a League where most starters are always looking over their shoulder at the competition that could take their job at any minute, and Ramon Foster is no exception to the rule.  The Steelers’ coaching staff has been putting the proverbial “heat” on the incumbent starter at RG from 2010 by giving numerous reps and opportunities to other players at RG over the last month of practice and games.  Despite the fact that others have been taking his reps at RG, Foster has spent significant time this preseason with the 1st Team at Left Guard with Kemo sidelined, and then jumped to RG after Hills had to fill in at Left Tackle last Thursday evening.  However, Foster’s play against the Redskins and the Eagles was less than stellar, and you gotta wonder why the Coaching Staff  is giving other guys reps at RG during practice, and the Front Office also brought back Trai Essex who has started 21 games at RG over the last two seasons.  Do they have enough faith in Foster to get it done in 2011?  I mean, it is technically Foster’s job to lose, but Ramon needs to play well during the last two preseason games because the job is anybody’s for the taking.  Yet if the former UDFA out of Tennessee fails to earn his spot with the 1st team, and his competition has their acts together and performs well during the last two weeks, Foster may find himself expendable come final cut time.

Chris Scott:

The 2nd year man out of Tennessee was the sexy pick heading into the preseason as the player most likely to emerge as the starter at RG.  This perception was not without a kernel of truth however, because Scott was indeed enjoying a solid camp, and was impressing the coaches to boot in his first season to really show what he could do after spending 2010 on IR.  Yet, after the past two preseason games, Scott’s chances of earning the starting job as well making the final roster are in jeopardy.  Against Washington, Scott looked a bit befuddled while out there with the 1st team.  His blocking in both the running game and passing game was suspect at best, and he also allowed a sack and overall just really couldn’t get on track that night.  Scott’s underwhelming performance against the Redksins left such a sour taste in the coaching staff’s collective mouths that they decided to start “The Ghost of Tony Hills” at RG the following week and place Scott at his former position of Tackle where he had played in college.  Unfortunately for Scott, his play at Right Tackle against Philadelphia in Week 2 was pretty darn bad at best.  He was pushed around pretty good and just couldn’t seem to find a comfort zone when kicked outside.  In spite of his shoddy play, Scott shouldn’t fret just yet.  Since this competition for the starting RG spot is still wide-open and doesn’t have an elite player involved, Chris could impress enough against Atlanta and Carolina to get himself back on track.  Unlike a couple of weeks ago however, it is now an uphill battle for Scott because he is no longer the front-runner for the starting job.

Tony Hills:

Tony Hills finally has a chance to make a meaningful contribution on the field for the Steelers!  And if I’m allowed to put it bluntly and speak for all of Steeler Nation: “It’s about damn time!”  After riding the pine-pony for three years as a 2nd/3rd string Tackle, the 2008 4th Round pick out of Texas may have found his niche after a nice performance at RG last Thursday against Philadelphia.  Unfortunately for Hills, injuries to both Left Tackles (J. Scott and M. Gilbert) had Hills only playing one series at RG (which was solid by the way) before kicking outside to LT (where he had a somewhat below average performance).  Hills did a nice job run blocking, was faster off the ball than I expected him to be, and pass blocked much better at RG than at LT against the Eagles.  This week against Atlanta, Steeler Nation should see Hills getting a large amount of playing time at RG to see if he can build on last week’s success.  I’m actually very anxious and excited to see whether or not Tony can capitalize on his new found opportunity to actually contribute on the field.  Hopefully this new found chance to play, a change of scenery with a different position, as well as some heated competition between him, Foster, and Scott will light a fire under his ass.

Trai Essex (Wild Card):

After not being signed through the first two weeks of the preseason, the Steelers will welcome back Trai Essex for his 7th season with the club.  Essex is probably the most versatile lineman on the team in terms of the positions he has played.  In his career, Essex has started games for the Steelers at Left Tackle (3 games as a Rookie in 2005 when Marvel Smith was hurt) and Right Guard, and can fill in at the Right Tackle spot if need be.  Trai started every game at RG in 2009 and five games there in 2010.  While his play may not have been stellar, Essex does have much needed experience at RG that both Scott and Hills do not.  In addition, don’t be shocked if injuries/ineffective play at RG from any of the guys listed above force the coaches to push the veteran Essex into the starting role (this is fully contingent on the depth available at Left Tackle, and if J. Scott and Gilbert can stay healthy and play well).   If Essex has his weight under control (many articles stated that him letting his waist line go was a big factor in the Steelers not re-signing him) and inevitably makes the team, he would probably be the top backup on the line, just like he was in 2010 and was during the 2008 season.  Having a veteran with versatility on an already thin line can always help.  And if all conceivable options inevitably fail at RG, Essex can be plugged in and do a respectable enough job to keep the Steelers somewhat afloat.