The Pittsburgh Steelers’ depth situation got a little bit precarious along the offensive line last year, both at guard and at tackle, due to injuries, one occurring in the preseason, and another during the regular season. having two key backups in the starting lineup will obviously be a major depth drain.
So it goes without saying that when the Steelers get Maurkice Pouncey back, it will do a lot of good for the offensive line depth along the interior. Rather than Cody Wallace starting at center and relying upon Chris Hubbard to be the fill-in at any position, Wallace can revert back to his usual role as the game day swing interior reserve for both guard positions and center.
There is also B.J. Finney, who was a priority undrafted free agent last year and made headway before suffering an injury at the end of the preseason. He was signed to the practice squad during the season after his injury healed, and figures to be in the discussion for a roster spot in 2016.
But all of that goes out the window if the Steelers are not able to work out a mutually acceptable contract with their starting left guard, Ramon Foster, who played every snap of the 2015 season and has been a consistent presence in the starting lineup for many years, even when it wasn’t planned that way.
And that is a problem, because while they may have depth, they don’t have any immediately obvious viable candidates to take over Foster’s spot—or at least not to do so at a sufficient level. Any of the previously mentioned players would represent a major downgrade.
Wallace, for starters, has been a career journeyman who hardly played a down before joining the Steelers three years ago. He is a natural center and does not fit at guard as well, as evidenced by his two starts playing in Foster’s spot in 2014. His work has been better at center, and that has been pedestrian, replacement-level work in itself.
Hubbard, of course, is far more inexperienced. He has spent the past two seasons on the 53-man roster, but has had minimal meaningful work as a lineman. In his less than 40 career snaps, the bulk have come this year as a tackle-eligible tight end. And he certainly did not give off the impression that he was a budding starter.
Perhaps Finney might eventually develop into starting material, but to ask him to make that leap this offseason would seem to be a bit of a stretch. He was outside the bubble to make the 53-man roster last year even after injuries, and was only re-signed to the practice squad, never promoted during the season.
It’s fairly simple. With Pouncey back, the Steelers greatly bolster their offensive line depth. But if Foster leaves, they may be in an even more vulnerable position, in large part because Wallace, who replaced Pouncey at center, could not perform as well at guard on a long-term basis, which would require the team to address the hole in the starting lineup from the outside to get a comparable level of play.