LATROBE – Marcus Gilbert understands what Mike Adams is going through, and Gilbert thinks the rookie left tackle will come through his first NFL preseason game Thursday night just fine.
“Mike’s been running a lot of reps with the ones and he’s feeling more comfortable each time he comes out to practice,” said Gilbert. “All he has to do is carry it over to the game and he’ll be fine.”
Gilbert, of course, is the Steelers’ starting right tackle. But last preseason he was the left tackle against these very Philadelphia Eagles and pass-rusher Trent Cole.
Gilbert wasn’t scheduled to play with the first team that night, but Jonathan Scott was injured on the first play and Gilbert was thrown into the fire. He helped complete the 14-play touchdown drive, and the confidence he gleaned from the success catapulted him to the team Rookie of the Year Award by the end of the season.
“I just went in there and had to play with high confidence,” Gilbert said. “You have to be aware of your responsibility, which is protecting Ben (Roethlisberger), our leader and a great quarterback. You have to realize you’re going to do any and everything to keep guys off of him.”
Roethlisberger dropped back to pass four times that night and was hit three times with a sack. However, none of those hits came from Cole, the Eagles’ third all-time leading sack specialist, who lined up across from Gilbert.
Gilbert called him “one of the top dudes I faced the whole year,” and said his success that August night not only gave him confidence, but inspired confidence in the Steelers’ coaching staff as well. So when right tackle Willie Colon went down in the regular-season opener, Mike Tomlin didn’t hesitate to insert Gilbert, and he’s been at right tackle ever since.
Adams is now the second-round rookie left tackle with a chance to follow the same path to the starting lineup.
“He can do it,” Gilbert said. “If you can do it in practice against the Pittsburgh Steelers, you can do it against anybody we face in the NFL.
“He’s fully prepared. He’s going to be confident. He’ll go in there with his chin up and I think he’s going to work real fine and every week he’s going to progress.”
ROOKIE OL, PART II
First-round pick David DeCastro will also start against the Eagles at right guard as an indirect replacement for Colon, the injured left guard. Reports have mentioned that DeCastro has been physically overwhelmed at training camp with the Steelers, but that only brought a hearty guffaw from Gilbert.
“He’s not struggling,” Gilbert said. “What we know is what we know here. Of course when you first come in you’re not going to get what you saw in college, but I think he’s getting better every week, the same as Mike. He’s a guy who has a bright future ahead of him.”
During Tuesday’s two-minute drill against the Steelers’ nickel defense, DeCastro went up against Steve McLendon every play and blocked him effectively every play. The drive stalled at the 17-yard line after quarterback Byron Leftwich’s passes were dropped by Jimmy Young and Marquis Maze.
The second-team offense fared better. Quarterback Jerrod Johnson threw a high fourth-down pass in the back of the end zone that was hauled in by rookie Toney Clemons over rookie Terrence Frederick for a touchdown.
Leftwich and Johnson quarterbacked the units Tuesday since both will most likely be on the field Thursday for the final two minutes of each half.
* Punter Jeremy Kapinos and defensive end Cameron Heyward missed Tuesday’s practice with injuries, while Keenan Lewis left midway through the workout after aggravating his injured shoulder. Cortez Allen replaced Lewis at left cornerback.
* The Steelers worked on several different screen passes Tuesday, with DeCastro out in front of most. Blocking on the move is the rookie’s greatest asset.
* Will Johnson, the tight end-turned-fullback, was a frequent target in the passing game Tuesday, and also lined up a couple of times at tailback. He showed better speed than expected.
* Rookie punter Drew Butler, son of Chicago Bears all-time leading scorer Kevin Butler, is improving weekly. Butler sent several booming punts down the field and one banged off the facemask of return man Chris Rainey for a fumble.