Mandatory Credit: Vincent Pugliese-USA TODAY Sports
As some of you readers already know, I would love nothing more than to see the Pittsburgh Steelers spend their first round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft on a left tackle prospect like Jake Matthews or Taylor Lewan.
Thankfully for the Steelers’ front office, the franchise is almost assured of a Top 10 pick next May with the way the team has played so far this year. Of course, Pittsburgh’s brass will still have to wait until next spring to actually go out and acquire a new blind-side protector.
If the Steelers do elect to upgrade the left tackle position after this season is finished, then the battle between Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams, and Kelvin Beachum for a future starting spot at right tackle will begin this weekend in London.
Do the Steelers Only Have “Right Tackles?”
So why would the Steelers be looking for a left tackle early in the 2014 NFL Draft instead of trying to develop one of their three younger tackles already on the roster? Well, I believe that Adams, Gilbert, and Beachum are all better suited to line up on the right side.
Adams, the team’s current starter at left tackle, has struggled mightily to deal with the quickness and agility of pass-rushers in his second year in the league. Julius Peppers had his way with the second-year tackle in Sunday night’s game, and Adams did not fare very well against the likes of Cincinnati’s strong rotation of defensive ends either.
To be fair to Adams, he is probably playing “out of position” right now. His build (6’7″ 323 lbs.), strength, and skills as a run-blocker could actually help him develop into one of the better right tackles in the league. He showed promise at that position as a rookie when he started six games, and it might benefit him to shift back to the right side where he has the potential to flourish.
Gilbert (6’6″ 330 lbs.) started 13 games during his rookie season at right tackle in 2011, and has started another eight at that position over the last two years. To his credit, the Florida Gator actually played some left tackle earlier this spring, and he even relieved Max Starks during Pittsburgh’s Wild Card loss to Denver as a rookie. For those of you who remember as well, Gilbert was actually supposed to man the left tackle spot in 2012 until the team drafted David DeCastro and Adams.
Like Adams however, Gilbert has not illustrated that possesses the type of agility to man the left tackle spot on a long-term basis against some of the league’s quicker speed-rushers. While he can run-block very well as a right tackle, his struggles to consistently pass-protect on an island would make him a liability lining up on the blind-side.
Although Kelvin Beachum should factor in to Pittsburgh’s long-term offensive plans, the offensive line’s most versatile player is probably ill-suited to man the left tackle position heading forward as well.
Unlike Adams and Gilbert, the versatile former Mustang is not a particularly large-framed individual (6’2″ 303 lbs.). In addition to his lack of size for both tackle spots, I also harbor concerns regarding whether or not Beachum possesses the type of strength to consistently handle some of the stronger blind-side pass-rushers at the professional level.
While the team’s “Swiss army knife” can provide emergency depth due to his versatility and knowledge of the position, emerging as a full-time left tackle for the Steelers is just not something I can see the second-year player eventually doing.
Although they are still relatively young, Adams, Gilbert, and Beachum have done little to inspire confidence that they can be long-term answers at the left tackle position. Thus, it would not shock me at all if Pittsburgh’s front office elected to find another solution for their blind-side woes next spring.
With their struggles in mind, how often Mike Tomlin plans to rotate his tackles will definitely be an intriguing story-line to follow for the rest of the 2013 campaign. If the rotation continues and nobody is able to step up as a legitimate blind-side protector by the end of the regular season though, then a starting job at right tackle should up for grabs next fall.
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