Rebuilding A Champion: Roster Vulnerable At Tackle Depth

The Pittsburgh Steelers spent much of the time between their last playoff victory and now replenishing their roster in preparation for their next chance to make a push for a championship. Last season showed signs that the team was on its way out of that transitional phase after posting a division-winning 11-5 record following back to back .500 seasons.

Still, the Steelers failed to make it out of the divisional round, and have lost their last three postseason contests, dating back to Super Bowl XLV. They followed up that 2010 run with a 12-4 wildcard campaign that saw a first-round exit, and subsequently failed to return to the playoffs the following two years.

So how close might they be to righting the ship and returning to that place that they have been more than any other franchise—that is, holding up the Lombardi Trophy? One way to attempt to measure that would be to compare how this season’s lineup projects against past teams.

For these purposes, it might be helpful to cite both the 2008 and 2010 teams, which are, respectively, the teams that have claimed their most recent Super Bowl championship and their most recent Super Bowl appearance.

When it comes to depth at the offensive tackle position, the Steelers may be in among their more vulnerable positions in recent years, which includes their past two trips to the championship game.

And depth, of course, played a critical role in their 2008 run. When Marvel Smith went down at left tackle a few games into the season, Max Starks had to step in and solidify the offensive line as best he could, and he turned out to be one of just two bright spots on the line that year.

Of course, if they ran into any more trouble at tackle, the Steelers would have been in dire straits, with Trai Essex likely being forced to take over one of the bookmark positions. Interestingly, Essex actually started the 2010 season as a starting right guard. By the end of the year, however, he was a backup at about every position. He even logged 10 snaps at right tackle during the Super Bowl, and looked better coming off the bench than as a starter.

The real story of the season, however, was the fact that Starks went down for the year and the Steelers relied on Jonathan Scott to start from Week 10 on. It was a major grind early on, but to his credit, he did improve over the course of the season, and actually played well in the Super Bowl.

It’s also worth noting that Flozell Adams was a starter that year as a free agent signing only because of a season-ending injury suffered by Willie Colon in the offseason.

Compare that to what the Steelers have right now—a second-round bust with a bad back—and out might have some cause for concern, especially with Marcus Gilbert’s injury history. There was a time last season where Maurkice Pouncey was preparing to log snaps at tackle in a regular season game.

While others may disagree, I saw little improvement in Mike Adams’ game last season, and he is missing all of training camp this year, which greatly hinders his chances of improving. While Alejandro Villanueva is an interesting story, we haven’t seen him do anything yet, and his fundamentals are still very raw.

And he also appears to be the best of an uninspiring bunch of tackle candidates, including a couple of undrafted rookie free agents. If the injuries mount at tackle this year, we may see actually see Pouncey move to tackle. But let’s hope it never gets to that point.

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