In less than two weeks, we’ll be at training camp, watching the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 90 man roster roll through 14 practices and four games. There will be so much to learn, tons of things going on, so I want to lay out some of my expectations and hopes for each player before things start up and, frankly, all this speculation becomes irrelevant.
Moving onto the offensive guards now.
Ramon Foster – Just wrote about him in our “One Step To Take” series. His role is to help continue to get Alejandro Villanueva comfortable in the offense and be on the same page on him. Because you’d much rather prefer to zone off stunts than trying to pick them up man-to-man, which is a lot tougher for both parties. As the comfortable vet, there isn’t a lot more you can expect out of a guy like Foster.
David DeCastro – I wish I would’ve looked at him closely in my “One Step” series before writing this but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Still, we know the type of season DeCastro had. The team’s best pulling guard, a nasty run blocker, and solid in pass protection, allowing just 2.5 over 16 games last year. He was a pretty clean linemen too, responsible for just three penalties in the regular season. If there’s any nitpicking, it’s the occasional wart in pass protection and sometimes having trouble staying on his feet as a run blocker.
Maurkice Pouncey – Show that you’re the old Pouncey, that’s the obvious. Want to see that elite athleticism that makes Pouncey who he is. But he also has to be mindful – and yes, this will be the coaching staff’s responsibility – of not overexerting himself. Follow the plan the coaches and trainers give you. There will probably be some really sore days for a guy who hasn’t done much in basically an entire year. Rest is key and I expect the Steelers to give Pouncey his fair share of it.
Cody Wallace – Oh Dr. Cody. You give max effort and did get better after a really rough start last season but still, the numbers aren’t pretty. Led the team in sacks (6) and penalties (12 – including postseason). I expect him to get a lot of play at center again with Pouncey getting rest but hopefully he can get some reps at guard. Been awhile since he’s gotten some serious reps there and now, as expected to fill a backup role, could use the time.
His pass protection has always been below average, struggling to move laterally against quicker defensive tackles. It’s hard to be hopeful for improvement but I am excited to see how he responds in one-on-ones with Javon Hargrave. Can’t let the rookie show you up.
Chris Hubbard – Hubbard is like print media. Everyone is counting it out but it keeps sticking around even if as each year passes, those odds seem less likely. We have been highly critical of him, or at least doubting him, but props to Hubbard for making the team each of the last two years. He may not have a dominant trait in his game but his versatility is a calling card for a line that has been attacked by injuries time and time again. His roster spot might be more about B.J. Finney not showing that same versatility and competency level moreso than Hubbard having to do anything special himself.
B.J. Finney – Speaking of Finney, he’s entering camp as one of the roster’s sleepers. His camp wasn’t spectacular last year, worse than I anticipated, and ended with an ankle injury in the final preseason game. Like I wrote, he’s going to have to show some versatility to beat out Hubbard. Finney has the background for it at the college level, playing center, guard, and a bit of right tackle.
He’s a squatty, chunky dude and needs to move like he did at Kansas State. He looked slow in camp though that could be attributed to a guy who is out there thinking and hasn’t gotten his head above water. In Year Two, there’s no excuse for that. If you can’t play fast, you simple can’t play.
Cole Manhart – Manhart played four years of college ball at Nebraska-Kearney at left tackle but has moved inside to guard since making the jump to the pros. Conditioning, like any young player, is critical. Have to be able to finish each practice like you started. No hands on hips, doubling over, staring at the water jug and praying for the air horn to relieve you. Chuck Noll field is going to be a hot one so I hope he’s ready. That’s step one and what Mike Tomlin preaches like crazy in the spring.
Quinton Schooley – He has a little bit of intrigue as a UDFA out of NC State. He’s undersized, 6’3 294 at his Pro Day, but makes up for it with a strong base and impressive technique. He’ll need to show those things in camp, being able to play fast while playing technically sound. Let’s see how he fares when going against big, NFL linemen like Daniel McCullers and Cam Heyward. Not asking him to win every battle but show he’s able to compete. Do something to get noticed.