Although the ninth lineman is not held in quite the same regard as is the third quarterback within the South Side facility, it’s still generally true that the Pittsburgh Steelers prefer to carry nine offensive linemen on their 53-man roster.
And that means that there’s a spot open for one of these undrafted free agent rookies to make the team out of training camp this year.
Last season, the Steelers felt that they had secured their two game-day active reserves along the offensive line, with Mike Adams as the backup at both tackle spots and Cody Wallace with the ability to fill in at each of the three interior positions.
But behind those two were a pair of young players with no experience.
Technically eighth in the pecking order was Chris Hubbard, an interior lineman who himself was a former undrafted free agent in 2013. Hubbard spent that season marinating on the practice squad behind Guy Whimper and Fernando Velasco, but made the 53-man roster last year and remained there all season.
Ninth on the depth chart was rookie fifth-round offensive lineman Wesley Johnson, who had starting experience at all five positions, but spent all of the preseason for the Steelers playing at center. He made the 53-man roster straight away, but spent his time as an inactive until the Steelers released him for an injury call-up at safety.
The Steelers had hoped to stash him on the practice squad, but the versatile rookie failed to clear waivers and remains a part of the New York Jets organization. Pittsburgh never replaced him on the 53-man roster with another lineman, instead carrying 12 defensive backs.
Nor did they replace him in free agency, or the draft. Instead, they went whole hog on the undrafted rookie free agent pool, stocking up on young linemen hungry to compete for what appears to be an open depth chart.
Keep in mind, Adams is in the final year of his contract, while Wallace will be turning 31 during this season. And the big clincher is, of course, the fact that starting left guard Ramon Foster, too, is in the final year of his contract, with reason to believe that the Steelers are interested in moving on, especially if they are able to do so on the cheap.
When priority free agent B.J. Finney signed with the Steelers, for example, he was reportedly told that he would have the opportunity to compete for the starting job at guard, although this is likely a fairly regular claim.
But just look at the depth chart beyond the top seven linemen. You have a former undrafted free agent entering his third season with nothing meaningful on his resume and a former tight end and defensive end attempting to convert to an offensive tackle in Alejandro Villanueva.
In terms of depth along the offensive line, there are very winnable jobs open for this class of undrafted rookie free agents. The Steelers know that, as does the group that they brought in. if none of them pan out, then the team should still be fine, but if even one does, then all the better.