By Matthew Marczi
By now just about everybody that follows the Pittsburgh Steelers is likely to have heard about offensive tackle Mike Adams’ plight of early yesterday morning, during which he received multiple knife wounds that required staples as he attempted to prevent a group of assailants from stealing his vehicle.
Regardless of what culpability in judgment he may be responsible for as it pertains to placing him in such a location as where the incident occurred in Pittsburgh, it is an unfortunate incident for the 23-year old to have to endure. However, he is expected to make a full recovery from his injuries and possibly be able to resume his career in six to eight weeks as an early prognosis.
While Steelers fans around the world can send him well wishes, the reality is that it will take time for him to heal, time that both he and the offensive line can ill afford after coming off of yet another season of disrupted continuity due to injury and a changing of the guard with new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell, Jr.
One fact that is nearly assured because of this incident is that the battle for the left tackle spot is over. With Adams expected to miss the better part of the next two months, and 2011 second round draft pick Marcus Gilbert receiving all first team reps at left tackle in the first two OTA sessions, it is unlikely that Adams will even have an opportunity to compete.
While many believed that Adams’ superior run blocking that he displayed in his six starts at right tackle combined with his occasional lapses in pass blocking favored keeping him on the right side all along, there were also those who question Gilbert’s ability to handle the left tackle spot, despite the fact that he did not give up a sack in the five games in which he played in 2012 before being injured.
Yet, as Dave Bryan wrote here last week, even Adams appeared to be resigned to his fate at right tackle during an interview posted on the Steelers’ website on Wednesday. When asked if he expected to play on the right side this season, he replied, “as of now, yeah”, adding that he is “just getting ready for that” and noting that he has not done any work on the left side.
It is likely, then, that the stabbing incident early Saturday morning will prevent him from even having a fighting chance at competing for the coveted left tackle spot, if he is even able to practice by the time training camp starts. More importantly, however, if he continues to miss key practice time during camp, it will make life tougher along the entire offensive line.
This formation along the offensive line has never played together. Gilbert has moved from the left to the right side. While Ramon Foster has started a few games at left guard, he has been primarily a right guard, and worked with Adams there last season. Right guard David DeCastro was injured when Adams was playing, and Adams was injured by the time DeCastro got back into the lineup.
It is important for the offensive line to work as a singular unit, particularly as it pertains to players next to each other, so it is imperative that DeCastro and Adams get some work in together to build chemistry and work on double team blocks and blitz recognition.
Adding to the pressure of Adams’ return is the fact that Bicknell, Jr. has been working with the offensive line unit to install new outside zone blocking schemes, which had not been in the verbiage of previous offensive line coach Sean Kugler. Bicknell, Jr. spoke about his coaching philosophy and past experiences with the New York Giants and the Kansas City Chiefs over the past few seasons and how they differed:
“You have to be able to be multiple. It depends on what you have offensively and what you’re facing defensively. Each game plan, each week, is different. With the Giants, we were more of a gap-scheme with big physical guys running power, and then when I got to Kansas City, we were more athletic, could move better and we had a running back who loved the outside-zone plays. A couple of things factor into this: what type of guys do you have up front, and also what type of running back do you have? If you have a big, physical back, you might tend more toward inside-zone and gap-scheme stuff, but if you have a back who can threaten the edge, that would open up more zone-scheme stuff. There are a lot of ways to go about it, but you have to know what you have on your team personnel-wise while also looking at the particular defense you’ll be playing. Then you figure out what’s going to work.”
With players such as Maurkice Pouncey, DeCastro, and Adams being drafted over the past few years, it is certainly evident that the Steelers have elected more nimble, athletic offensive lineman while parting ways with more lumbering, power guys such as Chris Kemoeatu, Willie Colon, and Max Starks. This year’s second round draft pick, Le’Veon Bell, would appear to possess the attributes that would fit Bicknell, Jr.’s desire to “be multiple”, as he has both power and elusiveness, and Isaac Redman has also slimmed down this offseason in addition.
The Steelers have long been a team with a heavy run right mentality, with the bulk of their carries, and success, coming off the right side of the line, often with the left guard pulling right. With Adams at right tackle, then, it is all the more important that he remain up to speed as the offensive line transitions to a more “multiple” unit by mixing in the outside zone gap scheme.
The 2012 second round pick’s misfortune is not just for himself, but also for the offensive line unit, and for the offense as a whole. The Steelers have invested a lot in improving the unit over the past several drafts, and many hoped that the injury bug that has stunted its development had finally passed. Nobody expected that it would strike in this unfortunate and violent manner, but—with all due discretion for the severity of the situation—for the team, it is yet another roadblock on the way to building an offensive line worthy of protecting a franchise quarterback.