A few days back, I wrote about Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Ramon Foster, the oldest starter along the line at the age of 29, who is heading into the final year of a three-year contract.
Now a six-year veteran after joining the team as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee following the 2009 NFL Draft, Foster has started 71 of 86 career games, including 59 starts over the span of the past four seasons.
Despite his wealth of playing experience, he was never viewed as a starting offensive lineman heading into a season until 2013, having always simply found himself eventually in the lineup due to injuries or ineffectiveness ahead of him.
In fact, the only season in which he started 16 games came in 2012, when David DeCastro, then a rookie, missed nearly all of the season due to a torn MCL. DeCastro was plugged into the starting lineup ahead of Foster during the preseason prior to that. He came back to start the final three games at right guard, but by then, Foster was able to slide over to left guard with Willie Colon going on injured reserve.
Now more than ever there seems to be a quiet push to send Foster, if not on to his life’s work, at least out of the starting lineup—even if his only competition currently consists of former undrafted free agents, the majority of whom are rookies and have about 10 snaps of playing experience between them, all belonging to Chris Hubbard.
It’s true that the Steelers were able to secure some promising interior offensive linemen after the draft, and it’s also true that one of them may eventually supplant Foster in the starting lineup, even by next season. Gerry Dulac, for one, doesn’t believe the Steelers will re-sign Foster.
But I tend to think differently. The Steelers do want to get more athletic, if not younger, at the left guard position, with Foster being the least agile of the starting linemen, and that does curtail some of the things that offensive line coach Mike Munchak would like to do.
But Foster would offer tremendous value as the top reserve should he lose his starting job. I believe that he is a player who could potentially become a five-position guy who can excel at at least three of them: both guard spots and right tackle.
Foster was primarily a right tackle in college, and did play there briefly during the 2012 preseason, in fact, due to injuries. He does have the size to play there at the professional level, even if his feet may limit him against speed rushers.
He also appears to have the cerebral aspect of the game down that should allow him to learn the center position. He already signals to center Maurkice Pouncey when to snap the ball, and spent the 2013 season calling out the defense and coverage when the team had to make do with backups.
Even if his shelf life as a starter may be dwindling, and that is an if, I believe he can serve longer as a valuable reserve. And I haven’t even talked about what his presence has meant in the locker room, particularly over recent years.