The signing of Ryan Harris wasn’t sexy but it was logical and after the slew of tackles brought in, expected. But the Steelers have pressed further, bringing in Geoff Schwartz and Stefen Wisniewski, in a more surprising move.
Now, I fully understand both players have seemed to leave without contracts. And like that classmate who moved away in 1st grade, (hi Zane!) they’re usually players you never remember again. Ones who ultimately sign elsewhere.
But if the exception happens, and one of those boomerangs back to Pittsburgh, they’ll have some of the best offensive line depth in the league. Comforting words for a group that hasn’t been able to escape the injury bug since seemingly the days of Jon Kolb and Moon Mullins.
Let’s assume Alejandro Villanueva wins the left tackle gig. If Schwartz signs, with Harris and Cody Wallace serving as backups, that trio will have a combined 131 starts. If it’s Wisniewski, they’ll have 169. I’m not sure where that ranks league wide, and no, I’m not going to attempt to look it up, but it has to be near the top of the league.
Harris as the swing tackle. Wallace at center. Schwartz or Wisniewski at guard. It certainly would break the mold of the versatile, five-spot linemen.
Some have suggested an ominous meaning behind the additional interest in linemen. Is Maurkice Pouncey’s rehab not going to plan? Maybe but in the glimpses we’ve seen, Pouncey has been rehabbing hard and has had no indication of a setback. More likely, it’s pouncing on injury-plagued players who have never been able to fully materialize their talent.
That creates the value, neither are going to command much guaranteed money, with enough depth surrounding them to make signing Schwartz or Wisniewski a bonus. If they get hurt, your depth isn’t shot. If they stay healthy and need thrust into action, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert look like geniuses.
It’s all part of the team’s effort to invest heavily in its offensive line. It’s no coincidence that journey began in 2009, a year after having an offensive line that consisted of Darnell Stapleton and Justin Hartwig, even if those two helped win a Super Bowl. From 2000 to 2008, Colbert drafted a linemen with his top two picks just twice – 2000 and 2002. From 2009 to today, he’s done it four times – 2009 through 2012, including taking two in 2012. That group produced duds like Kraig Urbik and Mike Adams but studs in Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Marcus Gilbert.
That philosophical shift isn’t a coincidence and neither is the recent visits they’ve conducted. Since that time, Ben Roethlisberger’s sack percentage has dipped in every year but two. In 2008, it was at 9%. Last year, it was cut by more than half, down to 4.1%, the lowest mark of his career.
Because as much as we talk about the defense, and the needs it has, nothing matters more than protecting the franchise quarterback.