PITTSBURGH – The young group of offensive linemen who have enough pedigree, talent and potential to become the backbone of the next era of Pittsburgh Steelers football came together yesterday for the first time, officially, on a practice field.
Unofficially, they’ve been working together since the end of the season, and that’s what’s giving the unit’s most senior member a great deal of enthusiasm.
“Chemistry?” Ramon Foster repeated as he pondered the perfect answer. “Uh, this is where it happens, right now. I’ve played beside Marcus Gilbert probably more than anybody since I’ve been here. And Mike Adams and David DeCastro are two young guys who came in together as first and a second-round guys. I’m sure they’re ready to prove themselves.
“We’ve been tight this whole off-season. We’ve been here the entire time. I think our chemistry is there. It’s just about putting it on the field.”
There was more than chemistry brewing yesterday as OTAs opened for the Steelers and their brand spanking new line. There was also athleticism, as evidenced in some of the drills run by new line coach Jack Bicknell Jr.
There was some irony, too, in the fact that on the day Max Starks signed with the San Diego Chargers, Gilbert and Adams were not only being utilized wide, but being pushed wide by Bicknell’s drills as he stressed outside zone principles.
It was clear on the field and off it, as Foster talked about the new philosophy of running an entire group of big men wide, in concert, to allow a back to run laterally, stick his foot in the ground, and cut up through the hole of his choice.
“It’s going to be new, but we’re embracing it,” Foster said. “If you look at our run tape last year, teams stacked the box on us. We were running inside zone, inside zone, inside zone, and we never really had an outside threat. But Coach [Todd] Haley’s stressing it this year; Coach Bicknell is stressing it. That’s something we want to do: soften the defense up and be able to run it outside just as well as we do inside.”
So, the new lineup?
Well, as Foster confirmed yesterday it was Gilbert moving over to replace Starks at left tackle; Foster moving over to replace Willie Colon at left guard; All-Pro Maurkice Pouncey at center; and last year’s first and second-round picks DeCastro and Adams at right guard and right tackle.
Foster said the tackles will likely swap spots throughout the spring as coaches attempt to put the right player in the right place for training camp. But, when pressed for his gut instinct, Foster said he believes the Day One lineup will stick.
“I see it that way,” he said. “I’ve worked a lot with Marcus in the past and I think that’ll be a good fit for him and I to be on the left side. He’s capable of doing it. He’s a mature guy. And Mike and DeCastro work well together. I think it’s going to be nice.”
The athleticism in the Steelers’ new offensive line is obvious, even in Foster, who ended last season at 350 pounds but who not only has been working out rigorously since then but has halted his intake of alcohol and sugar. Foster’s appearance may have changed more drastically than any of the returning Steelers this spring.
“I am really fit,” he said. “I changed a lot of stuff around. My body fat is a whole lot better. I’m running better. I’ve been stressing to become more athletic. I don’t want to be a weak link of any type on this offensive line. I’m an older guy who’s starting right now and I’ve got to be a leader on the field and off the field.”
But there remains a potential chink in the armor: depth.
Foster let out a long sigh when the topic came up.
“Just pray that everybody stays healthy,” he said, before adding: “We’ve got guys in our clip right now. Kelvin Beachum is ready. John Malecki played in games last year. Guy Whimper has played on a Super Bowl team. We’ve got some guys. We’ve got some guys who’ve got to mature really fast. If worse comes to worse, I believe guys will be ready.”
(For more insight, read the complete transcript of the interview with Ramon Foster here.)