When Pittsburgh Steelers 10th-year guard Ramon Foster went down with a knee injury last week, there was due concern about his health and whether or not he would even play this season. The team received good news yesterday on that front, now believing that he doesn’t need surgery and may not even miss a start.
While they dodged quite a bullet, it was also an eye-opener about what now rests behind the starters following the events that have unfolded this offseason. One need only look at the first two offensive lines the team is fielding in training camp right now and compare them to last season.
With their starting left guard currently sidelined, the Steelers are now down three linemen from last season’s roster. Chris Hubbard, an experienced veteran swing tackle, signed with the Cleveland Browns in free agency. Jerald Hawkins, who was expected to take over that role, is on injured reserve with an Achilles tear suffered during OTAs.
While Finney is in the starting lineup, the top interior reserve will be Matt Feiler, who made his first career start in the season finale last year, playing in place of David DeCastro at right guard, who was given the game off because it held little to no playoff implications.
Feiler is an extremely raw center, however, so if Maurkice Pouncey were to go down, it’s virtually assured that Finney would move over to center and Feiler would start at left guard. And until we see more evidence, he could also be the team’s top backup at tackle as well. He has begun seeing some work there this training camp after not working there at all until the regular season a year ago.
It’s entirely possible that there arises a situation in which Feiler enters the starting lineup no matter which of the team’s five starters suffers an injury, in a scenario in which Foster is required to miss time, though that fortunately appears to be a good change he won’t. For the tackle and guard positions, he would be a direct replacement. For center, he would play guard and kick Finney inside.
Beyond that, the Steelers don’t have much to work with, either inside or outside, that has a proven track record. Some interior players that would become more important to watch would be Patrick Morris, Parker Collins, Larson Graham, R.J. Prince, and Chris Schleuger. Morris and Collins have center experience among those players. Some, like Graham, are converting from a tackle background.
It’s worth noting that Graham has moved up to take Finney’s second-team reps while he works with the starters. A college tackle, the undersized prospect appears to have moved full-time to guard and has so far been the most immediate beneficiary.
Around this time last year, the Steelers had Hubbard, Finney, Feiler, and Hawkins among their second-team line. Right now, that group is made up of raw rookie Chukwuma Okorafor, Graham, Parker Collins, Feiler, and Jake Rodgers. Which group comforts you more?