Marcus Gilbert was slated for the left side of the line at the start of camp and was moved to the right during Friday evening’s scrimmage. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The Pittsburgh Steeler offensive line has been much of the talk at training camp thus far, and I’m afraid it will continue to be that way until Week 17 of the 2013 season…. and probably continue even after that. Friday evening gave way to a team scrimmage for the fans attending the evening session of practice in Latrobe. During that scrimmage, Coach Tomlin and Todd Haley flip flopped Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams from the left and right tackle positions. This wouldn’t seem entirely strange since Gilbert has played the right tackle spot since he made the Steelers roster, and Adams was the supposed future at left tackle when drafted last season. However, prior to the start of camp this year, Steeler Nation learned that Gilbert would be moved to left tackle and Adams to right. The coaches seemed to understand that Gilbert had the better footwork to lock down Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side and Adams had the physique to hold the right. So why the swap now?
"We are looking for the very best combination of people, and that might even include within groups. Both guys are left tackle capable. Both guys were left tackles in college. We just want to provide an opportunity for those guys to show what they are capable of and find the very best combination. We will continue to do those things, not only with those guys but others. – Coach Mike Tomlin via Steelers.com"
Swapping Adams and Gilbert around doesn’t seem like too much of a big deal. It’s not like either one were locked in their new roles. But what concerns me about Coach Tomlin’s statement is that the big plan for the offensive line is to swap around groups of the line. I presume this means that RG David DeCastro would try lining up on the left side of Center Maurkice Pouncey, and Ramon Foster would step in at LG. Will we see Pouncey move from C to LT? Moves like Pouncey’s are more than likely improbable because Pouncey is so good at center that you would never want him anywhere else. But what about the other four linemen?
It’s a confusing statement to me from Tomlin, and an even more confusing scenario to try and play out in one’s mind. It’s completely understandable to have your bench linemen be flexible and where they can line up. If you only dress seven on a Sunday and have four different starters sit out portions of the game, you are going to need some flexibility within the bench. But making sure your starters can line up anywhere? Isn’t the point of your ‘starters’ is that there is no one better at that position on the rest of the roster? Hence they start and play an entire game in that position? Why would I want to move my front five around in different combinations? Are we really to expect a shuffle to happen with ‘healthy’ linemen during a game time situation?
Each linemen needs to focus on their spot (especially while learning a new blocking scheme this season) and stick with it. If they aren’t a good enough left tackle but can out perform your next best right tackle, then start them at right and put the best left tackle in that role. If Marcus Gilbert begins to under perform at left tackle during a game and keeps giving up pressure and sacks to the quarterback, why would you move Adams from right tackle to left? Adams should stay at right tackle if he’s starting there – that means he’s the best right tackle the team has. Put in the backup at left. By moving Adams to left (because hey he played there in camp a few times and tried his hand at it in some games last season) and then putting a bench player in at right, you’ve now compromised two spots on the line instead of one – neither is the master of those positions.
I’m all for finding the right combination of linemen. But that’s found during camp and hopefully before the start of the season. Injuries happen to the line as Steeler Nation is all too familiar with. But if Tomlin is speaking correctly about getting everyone their shot at multiple positions (even the starters), then I think it’s a recipe for confusion when the line becomes a ‘plug and play’ mentality. I hope Tomlin was speaking more to the bench guys than the starters. But even bench guys should only have a focus on a couple of positions. A ‘Jack of all trades’ mentality leaves me to think that those guys will hit a point of saturation and will begin to become confused and begin to demonstrate sloppy play.