Following the season-ending knee injury that starting left tackle Kelvin Beachum suffered yesterday, the Pittsburgh Steelers are left in dire straits along the offensive line, with their depth at the tackle position completely decimated.
The Steelers entered the season with just eight linemen on the roster, and only three of them were tackles. Now that third swing tackle, first-year 27-year-old Alejandro Villanueva, is the starting left tackle, and there is no true backup on the 53-man roster.
As much as Villanueva’s backstory and potential offers intrigue, the fact of the matter is that he is potentially over his head, and facing a dynamic pass-rushing duo in his first career start next week will be no help.
But the depth chart behind him is even more concerning. The Steelers only have one other tackle even practicing in the organization, that being first-year former undrafted free agent Matt Feiler, who spent the 2014 season on the Texans’ practice squad.
Houston released Feiler in the fifth of September, and the Steelers added him to the practice squad two days later, where he remains.
Of course, there is another tackle, who bears a name that we have not heard lately, that being Mike Adams. Adams was selected in the same 2012 class that netted Beachum in the seventh round, only the former Buckeye was taken all the way in the second round.
After busting as the starting left tackle for the first quarter of the 2013 season, he had seemingly settled into the role of the swing tackle, making one start at left tackle, four at right tackle, and logging some time as a tackle-eligible tight end as well.
But he is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform List, and given the lack of updates on his status, one must seriously wonder whether or not he is anywhere near returning. Mike Tomlin originally said that his back surgery, which he underwent around mid-July just prior to the opening of training camp, called for a recovery period of about four weeks.
We are well past that mark by now, and there has been no indication that Adams will be ready to be activated to the 53-man roster, for which he will become eligible now, given that the six weeks have passed. There is now a three-week window during which he must begin practicing before he reverts to the injured reserve list.
The Steelers must decide what to do in the interim, if we are working under the safe assumption that Adams will be unable to serve as the swing tackle next week. The most immediate, an in-house, option would be to promote Feiler.
This may be only feasible if the Steelers believe Adams’ return is not far off, believing that they could get by with the non-descript warm body for a week or two if necessary. Should a starter go down, in fact, it’s not inconceivable that they would instead turn to Ramon Foster, or even Chris Hubbard—or tight end Matt Spaeth.
If Adams’ condition appears to be more long-term, then they would likely be forced to resort to a veteran option, headlined by a list of names such as Gabe Carimi, Derrek Sherrod, and Byron Stingily.
None of these are ideal options—including a fully healthy Adams—but the Steelers can only play the hand they’re dealt. A decision must be made shortly, even if it is a temporary one.