By Matthew Marczi
Ever since the inexplicable scene two weeks ago in which the newly-acquired tackle Levi Brown injured himself during pre-game warmups, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has gone against his own grain and dressed eight offensive linemen on game day.
Did the shock of having just Guy Whimper as a reserve lineman frighten Tomlin into rethinking his strategy? Or was there a more pragmatic explanation, a simple precaution, should some of the injured starters—Marcus Gilbert, more immediately, but also Ramon Foster—be unable to finish the game?
Regardless of the reason, there is a very real likelihood that the Steelers will not even have the ability to dress eight linemen for their next game, depending on the severity of the injuries suffered by Foster, Whimper, and David DeCastro on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
Assuming none of the three will play next week—which, mind you, is neither a prediction nor legitimate speculation—the Steelers would likely present a starting lineup consisting of, from left to right, Mike Adams, Kelvin Beachum, Fernando Velasco, Cody Wallace, and Gilbert. That is the lineup that was forced to play most of the second half against the Raiders, with no linemen left in reserve.
The Steelers, of course, have tackle Joe Long and guard Chris Hubbard on the practice squad. The latter spent virtually all of the offseason running with the second-team, while the former received significant playing time in the last two preseason games at both tackle positions.
Clearly, however, neither were deemed to be upgrades over Whimper or John Malecki, both of whom made the final 53-man roster before the latter was released in order to sign Wallace. If Whimper and DeCastro cannot play, however, we should see the Steelers make some roster moves toward the end of the week.
For example, the front office could decide to continue to play musical chairs with cornerback Isaiah Green and linebacker Kion Wilson. Green originally made the final roster before being cut to sign cornerback Antwon Blake. He was then put on the practice squad only to be promoted two weeks later. After another two weeks, he was released again after the trade for Brown, only to again complete the cycle from practice squad to active roster.
Wilson likewise also made the final 53-man roster, but was released a few weeks ago to bring back Stevenson Sylvester. The Steelers released Alan Baxter from the practice squad in order to place him there, but last week, he was promoted back to the active roster after the team released Isaac Redman.
Will their game of musical chairs continue? If at least two of the injured linemen are deemed unable to play this week, it is a virtual certainty that a roster move would be made, and they are prime candidates.
Also a target is tight end Richard Gordon, who was signed two weeks ago and has been sidelined with a toe injury for virtually his entire tenure with the team. Dare I toss out the name of Curtis Brown, the third-year former third-round cornerback whose inability to play defense and recent poor special teams performances have seen him riding the bench for the past two weeks?