At this point in the offseason, we find that training camp is just around the corner for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the rest of the league, and a lot has changed for them over the course of the past several months. They have lost a number of players in free agency, through releases, and retirements. But they have also brought in a number of new faces to replace them.
We all know that roster turnover is an ever-present reality for today’s rosters, and it seems that over the course of the past half-decade or so even the Steelers have proven to be as susceptible to the annual shakeup as anybody. With that in mind, we should take the time to get to know some of the new faces with training camp soon to be here.
While there was not much glamor to be had in the Steelers’ free agency haul, the most significant signing outside of tight end Ladarius Green had to be the acquisition of veteran offensive tackle Ryan Harris, who was brought in to compete with Alejandro Villanueva for the starting left tackle job and to secure the depth there.
The latter is no doubt the more significant factor of the two, particular when you pause for a moment to consider just how many games the Steelers have missed from their starting offensive tackles over the past six seasons or so. I won’t even go into the names beyond reminding that they had to dip into free agency to find a starting right tackle in 2010, and that Villanueva was the backup tackle last year and ended up starting 12 games.
Things happen with regularity, and if we’re being realistic, we currently have to accept Marcus Gilbert’s 2016 season as the aberration rather than the norm. Not so much the improvement in his performance, which I fully anticipate will continue, but rather his health, as I do not believe that he even missed a snap last year. He had never gone through a season healthy before last year.
After abandoning hope to reclaim anything of value from Mike Adams, who ultimately was released with a failed physical following slow recovery from a back operation prior to training camp last year, they are hoping that the group of Gilbert, Villanueva, and Harris will prove to be the strongest trio of offensive tackles that they have had in terms of depth for some time.
At the moment, the Steelers are feeling out their two competitors for the starting left tackle job, with Villanueva getting the bulk of the reps with the starting unit one day, Harris the next. No doubt the mixing and matching will continue into the preseason.
But even if Harris fails to unseat the incumbent Villanueva after starting every game for the Broncos last year and 31 games in the last two, his signing will have been more than worth it, particularly for the value, if only for the peace of mind that it provides in helping to protect Ben Roethlisberger.