The 2011 state of the offensive line was never one that any of us felt totally good about heading into the season outside of center Maurkice Pouncey and right tackle Willie Colon, but after 3 games now, the best way to describe it is by saying it is a hot mess. Something Steeler Nation has grown accustomed to over the years.
The Steelers lost Colon for the season in the week 1 loss to the Ravens, but at least rookie Marcus Gilbert was ready to jump in at right tackle. Gilbert really has played above the line in his two starts, but is a ways away still from filling the Colon shoes. To make matters worse, he went down with some sort of shoulder injury last night against the Colts. The Steelers were forced to turn to Trai Essex at that point at right tackle and that is not an overly excitable long term option.
Earlier in the game right guard Doug Legursky also went down with a shoulder injury in addition and Ramon Foster was shuttled in at right guard. That move was tolerable, but at that point the Steelers were down to no healthy linemen that were dressed. Late in the game left tackle Jonathan Scott went down with what looks like a high ankle sprain and the hot mess got hotter and messier. Gilbert, bad shoulder and all, was forced back into the game at left tackle to close out the game.
To make matters worse, left guard Chris Kemoeatu seemed to be bothered by his bad knee last night, but he never missed a snap. Kemoeatu started training camp on the PUP list this year and missed quite a few games during the preseason because of it. He only lasted one week against the Ravens before needing the knee drained twice the following week and it was enough of a problem to keep him out of the game last week against the Seahawks. I have noted before that I do not think that this is the last game that he misses this year. The odds are certainly against him.
So what are the options right now if Scott misses time? Let us first assume that Gilbert and Legursky will be ready to go next week and that is a pretty big assumption. You could see either Gilbert or Essex at left tackle with the other playing right tackle. My choice would be Gilbert at left as it is his likely future home and he was not bad at the spot during preseason. That leaves Essex at right tackle for a predominantly right handed running team. Yuck!
What about Max Starks and Flozell Adams you ask? I reported early this morning that Starks was headed to Minnesota and could end up signing there. That is not a definite though, but the Vikings have confirmed he is being looked at. The Steelers reached out to Adams after Colon went down, but the price tag is still likely too high for him as the Steelers remain strapped for salary cap space. Supposedly they claim they can make room, but you know Adams and his agent are well aware of the injury situation and they will likely remain firm on their price. Adams has been out of work since released early in training camp and you really have to wonder what type of shape he is in currently. It is a huge risk regardless of the price and one I do not think the Steelers will take. Pretty much the same deal with Starks should he not sign with the Vikings. There is a reason these two players have not been signed by anyone three weeks into the season.
So what is left as far as options? Jamon Meredith was signed to the active roster after Colon went down and played under offensive line coach Sean Kugler at Buffalo. He seems like the next man up to perhaps play right tackle should the Steelers decide to stay in house and not play Essex there. There is also the second year Chris Scott, but he seems best suited for guard and he did not have a good showing at all during preseason at both the right side spots. In fact he was pretty bad. Trevis Turner is on the practice squad, but that would require a roster move to be made and it would cost a young player a roster spot if Scott is not placed on injured reserve.
Outside of that, there are not many cheap starting quality tackles running around right now unsigned. I suspect the Steelers might work out one or two, but you get what you pay for. It likely would end up being another Jonathan Scott type player though and you can\’t expect that type to walk off street and start.
The options are limited thanks to the cap room and the quality of player that is out there. We will see if anything happens with Starks and Adams, but I have a funny feeling they will stay in house here. Just hope that Gilbert is ready to go next week at Houston, because the notion of starting both Essex and Meredith against Mario Williams and J.J. Watt is a scary thought. The Steelers have won over the years with some pretty bad offensive lines and it will likely have to be that way once again this year. Kugler has dealt with hot messes before and he will earn his keep this year patch working this line.
Have faith Steeler Nation, it might be a hot mess, but it is our hot mess.