I have over the course of the past several seasons turned to a series of articles around this time of year in which I looked to explore the issues and questions facing the Pittsburgh Steelers during the upcoming season and trying to identify the range of possibilities in which any given scenario can end.
I started out with a dual series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take and switched last season to the Devil’s Advocate series. In an attempt to find a more streamlined solution with a title more suited to the actual endeavor, we are introducing a simple Buy Or Sell segment exploring whether the position statement is likely to be worth investing in as an idea.
The range of topics will be wide, from the specific to the general, exploring broad long-term possibilities to the immediate future of particular players. I will make an argument for why a concept should be bought into as well as one that can be sold, and you can share your thoughts on which is the more compelling case while offering your own.
Topic Statement: Jerald Hawkins and Chukwuma Okorafor should get work as interior linemen this offseason.
With the departure of Chris Hubbard, the Steelers lost their most versatile lineman, a player who has literally lined up at every position along the offensive line, including as an extra lineman. They need to replace some of that flexibility with what they have available to them.
B.J. Finney is the typical interior reserve who can play both center and guard. It’s a necessity in the NFL. I’m sure there are very few backup guards in the NFL who are not trusted to play center. Matt Feiler is currently the most versatile lineman in that he can play both guard and tackle.
The Steelers need to prepare their other two reserve linemen to at least be inside-outside capable, if not simply because of the very real possibility that they may not be able to afford nine linemen this year. That would most likely mean either Hawkins or Feiler doesn’t make the team. Hawkins being able to play inside would help his roster odds.
If one of Feiler and Hawkins doesn’t make the team, then they can be really vulnerable when it comes to flexibility, especially if Okorafor is limited to only tackle. Let’s say Feiler gets cut. Then you’re left with one inside-only guy, one outside-only guy, and one guy who will be forced to learn some flexibility but can’t play center.
Neither Hawkins nor Okorafor have even managed to master their craft at tackle yet, so trying to get them to work on another position isn’t the greatest idea. It would be helpful in this regard if Okorafor would be able to play well early and take on the swing tackle role, which would give Hawkins time to adjust to working inside.
I don’t think the roster is going to really break in a way that will require that the Steelers limit themselves to eight linemen. They could have two interior players in Finney and Feiler and two outside players in Okorafor and Hawkins. At least one of the two latter will grow as an outside guy this year, and the other could work on becoming more versatile next year.