When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Ohio State left tackle Mike Adams with their second-round draft pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, they did so with the belief that they were selecting a player with first-round talent that they could project as a starter for some time. That is part of the reason that they took the chance of drafting him despite his off-field red flags.
Of course, it hasn’t exactly worked that way, and it seems more likely than not that his opportunity to start for the Steelers has come to an end, at least for the immediate future. The coaching staff plugged him in at left tackle to start his second season, but he had to be benched after four games of immense struggle.
Since then, Adams has started five games as an injury replacement—once for his own replacement at left tackle, Kelvin Beachum, in 2013, and for four games last season at right tackle replacing Marcus Gilbert—but his performance in these games did not reveal much of a significant improvement, if at all.
Following the 2015 season, Adams’ four-year rookie deal will expire, and he will become a free agent, open to signing with any team—including the Steelers. That remains a possibility, although it seems improbable that the team offers him an extension before seeing how he plays this season.
It’s true that some players simply take longer to develop than others, and perhaps Adams is a late bloomer. I don’t know whether or not he will ever develop the ability to reach even middling levels of starter capability, but if he could scratch out a career as a long-term backup, I think both he and the Steelers should and would be able to live with that at this point.
If he is going to make an impression on the Steelers and his coaches, however, this is his last shot, and, realistically, probably his best opportunity for doing so. While Mike Munchak, the offensive line coach, is a Hall of Fame offensive lineman in his own right, he did not play Adams’ position.
Tunch Ilkin, however, has, and as I have previously written, Munchak has requested that Ilkin help out his offensive linemen this offseason, working on their technique and handwork. Ilkin, an undersized tackle even in an age of smaller linemen, carved out a long career for himself because of his dedication to these details.
These same details also happen to be Adams’ biggest issue, failing to punch to keep rushers out of his chest and not bringing his feet with him when they slip by, causing him to bend at the waist and lose all leverage.
Time is of the essence for Adams to show that he can still improve, because I fail to be convinced that the Steelers are very much interested in re-signing him next offseason if he continues to perform the way he has. The team will need a swing tackle either way, due to the lack of depth at the position. If Adams can be that guy, and prove to be reliable, then all the better.