Release Of Mike Adams Ends Curious Saga

With the Pittsburgh Steelers finding themselves three players over the 90-man offseason roster limit, they had until yesterday to make room for those three players, in doing so releasing three. The most notable of that group, of course, was offensive tackle Mike Adams, the team’s former 2012 second-round draft pick, and at one time the aspirant for the long-term starting left tackle position.

With his departure from the roster now, I would like to make the effort to make sense of the former Buckeye’s four-year tenure with the team, during which he was active for 41 games between 2012 and 2014, starting 20 games in a variety of capacities.

Adams was regarded by some, including the Steelers, to be a high-value on-field prospect during the 2012 NFL Draft, but had originally taken him off their boards due to off-field concerns. He took the unconventional method of personally reaching out specifically to his favorite team, hoping to assuage their doubts.

He got himself back on their board, and when he was available in the second round, the Steelers drafted him. They viewed him as the long-term replacement for Max Starks, who was in his final season, and with the drafting of guard David DeCastro ahead of him, they shuffled things around by moving Willie Colon inside to guard, with Marcus Gilbert taking over at right tackle.

Gilbert ended up on injured reserve with an ankle injury after five games, however, which thrust Adams into the starting lineup, and he arguably played the best football of his career during this stretch, during which he earned a reputation for being a solid run blocker in spite of his issues in pass protection. But he, too, found himself on injured reserve after starting six games.

He was the plug-in left tackle in his second season after an offseason in which he received a knife wound following a late-night encounter in downtown Pittsburgh, the details of which may never be entirely clear. Gilbert initially projected to flip over to left tackle, but Adams was installed there on a trial run and never moved back.

The problem was that he flubbed his starting opportunity badly, such that he was demoted after four games, all of which the Steelers lost, and his issues stopping the pass rush played a role in that. Kelvin Beachum started the rest of the year at left tackle outside of one game that he missed with an injury, during which Adams played his final snaps at the position he was drafted to assume.

The rest of his career was spent primarily serving as an in-line blocking tackle-eligible tight end, which accounts for half of his 10 ‘starts’ during the 2013 season. He did start four games in 2014 at right tackle while Gilbert dealt with a number of injuries, but his performance continued to regress from the best moments of his rookie season, even under Mike Munchak.

A nagging back problem was finally determined to be addressed just before training camp last year, which resulted in him spending the entire year on the Physically Unable to Perform List. It was because of this that he remained under contract this year after his final year was tolled into 2016. He never played, and now he will never get an opportunity.

It seemed apparent that the Steelers were likely done trying to count on Adams, for both health and performance issues, to serve as the swing tackle, which is why they signed Ryan Harris in free agency, who will compete for the starting job, and serve as the swing tackle should he fail to win it.

With the drafting of Jerald Hawkins in the fourth round of this draft, the team has four tackles that they seem comfortable moving into the season with—and four tackles that are healthy, as Adams was released with a failed physical designation.

There is no doubt, I think, that Adams’ selection in the draft was in hindsight a disappointment. The Steelers viewed him as the future left tackle, and given that they are still experimenting to find the answer there, that is a strong indication that things did not work out.

He never made much progress in his pass-blocking techniques in his three healthy seasons, and it always limited him. The lack of year-to-year progression was disappointing. He did start 15 games at left or right tackle, but his best performances aspired to the level of adequate, while in many other games any success by the offense was very much in spite of him. Perhaps he was not a bust, but he certainly did not come close to his potential, and the high-value investment in him with meager returns set the team back just a bit in their overall development.

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