AFC North: Kelvin Beachum

PITTSBURGH -- Mike Munchak will take expansively about a lot of things, from what the return of Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey means to the Steelers’ offensive line to the competition at tackle that will take place at training camp.

Just don’t ask the Pro Football Hall of Fame guard and highly respected offensive line coach if he is the most significant free agent signing for the Steelers since the end of the 2013 season.

[+] EnlargeMike Munchak
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsAs far as the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive linemen are concerned, Tennessee's loss of Mike Munchak is their gain.
“I don’t know,” said Munchak, who joined coach Mike Tomlin’s staff in January in what was widely viewed as a coup for the Steelers. “I just think it’s exciting for all of us. We have a fresh start for me, a fresh start for the linemen, a new way of looking at things (and) fresh eyes on what they’ve been doing and they’ve been successful. These guys are very prideful. They’re very excited about the opportunities.

“I think they’re seeing the skill around them, the plays that we can make down the field and they’re excited knowing that our big play is giving Ben (Roethlisberger) an extra second to throw a football or opening a hole. So I think together it’s going to be fun. It’s been fun for me so far me and I’m hoping that they’re enjoying it, too.”

No one is more qualified than Munchak to help an offensive line that is young and has shown promise get to the next level. He will be entering his 33rd season in the NFL as a player or a coach, and he has excelled as both an offensive lineman and an offensive line coach.

Munchak spent the previous three seasons as the Tennessee Titans’ head coach. When the Titans organization removed him from that position the Steelers moved quickly to bring the Scranton native and former Penn State All-American back to Pennsylvania.

His new players have raved about Munchak and they seemed to hang on his every word during offseason practices. Here are three observations Munchak made near the end of offseason practices:

  • On Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro: “They’re smart football players and they adjust to things quickly. They have great vision, and that’s the things I’m learning now is what they are good at. What can they see when their hand is on the ground (and) under stress? Those type of things. I inherited a really good young group that wants to be the best, and that’s very fun to be part of.”
  • On the competition at tackle: “I think the best thing an offensive coach can have is competition, and I think we have that. We have Kelvin Beachum and Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert. I think you got some guys that can really do some good things, and again I’m asking them to do different things than they’ve done in the past. They’ve had three line coaches in three years so everything is not going to change overnight and what we want to do.”
  • On the Steelers’ depth at tackle: “Mike has been playing both sides. He’s been the one pushing on both sides, so we’ll see. Guy Whimper has been, obviously, the fourth guy. We’ve got four veteran tackles. We’re going to have some good football players and some tough decisions.”
PITTSBURGH -- This is the next in a series that takes a post-free agency, post-draft look at the all of the positions with the exception of quarterback.

Our fourth look is at an offensive line that returns every starter and should get Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey back from a torn ACL.

OFFENSIVE LINE

[+] EnlargeMike Munchak
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesAdding Hall of Famer Mike Munchak to the coaching staff could take Pittsburgh's offensive line to the next level.
Who is new: Wesley Johnson. The second of the Steelers' two fifth-round picks, Johnson started 51 career games at Vanderbilt, and the 6-foot-5, 297-pounder is athletic and versatile. Johnson started at least two games at every position along the offensive line except for right guard. The Steelers should know plenty about Johnson considering coach Mike Tomlin is good friends with James Franklin, who coached Johnson at Vanderbilt.

Who is gone: Fernando Velasco. One of the unsung players of last season started 11 games at center before rupturing his Achilles tendon. Velasco remains unsigned as he works his way back from that injury.

Returning starters: Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert. Beachum goes into offseason practice as the starter at left tackle after stabilizing the position last season and playing well in 11 starts there. He could face competition from Mike Adams, whom Beachum replaced at left tackle after the fourth game of 2013. Adams could also challenge Marcus Gilbert at right tackle. The Steelers are set at guard with Foster and DeCastro, who is already a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Pouncey returns at center, barring a setback, after tearing his right ACL in the 2013 season opener. Pouncey is the only center in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons.

Most significant addition: Mike Munchak. The former Titans head coach joined Tomlin’s staff and he could be coach who brings everything together for a promising offensive line. Munchak is a Pro Football Hall of Fame guard, and he coached the offensive line for more than a decade before becoming the head coach in Tennessee. His credentials as an offensive line coach are impeccable, and Munchak is not lacking for talent to mold.

Most significant loss: Velasco. He probably would have signed elsewhere as a free agent after playing well at center last season. With Velasco hurt the Steelers opted to re-sign Cody Wallace to provide depth along the interior of the line. They could re-sign Velasco once he is close to full strength and bring him to training camp to compete with Wallace.

On outside looking in: Johnson. Assuming the Steelers keep eight offensive linemen when they finalize their 53-man roster, Johnson will probably have to beat out veteran Guy Whimper to make the team.

Hidden number: Nine different offensive linemen started at least one game last season as injuries again scrambled the offensive line.

Outlook: The Steelers have yet to field an offensive line that consistently controls the line of scrimmage under Tomlin. That could change this year, especially if the Steelers can stay relatively healthy up front. The Steelers invested heavily in their line from 2010-12 spending two first-round picks and a pair of second-round selections on offensive linemen. Now they have a position coach who can get the most out of a young but experienced group that also has good depth. “I’m excited to work with them,” Munchak said. “I think we can have a special group here.”
videoPITTSBURGH -- The pick: Dri Archer, RB, Kent State

My take: The Steelers added more speed, and arguably the fastest player in the draft, when they took Archer in the third round Friday night. This seems like a little early to take a running back, even one who could add a dynamic element to the offense. Archer is a blur -- running backs coach James Saxon said the Steelers timed him in under 4.2 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine -- but he is also small. Not that the Steelers will ask the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder to shoulder much of a workload. Archer will be used as a situational back as well as a kick returner, and he averaged 7.8 yards per carry last season while also catching 25 passes for 327 yards.

The Steelers tried this two years ago with ultra-fast Chris Rainey, and he was pedestrian even before they cut ties with him due to off-the-field issues. They must think Archer is a much better player, and his versatility and production at Kent State impressed the Steelers as much as his sheer speed. Archer rushed for 2,342 career yards and had 1,194 career receiving yards while also starring as a return specialist for the Golden Flashes. He should at least make an impact in the return game as a rookie.

Still waiting: Who would have guessed this? Two days and three rounds into the draft, the Steelers have yet to take a cornerback or a wide receiver. They have addressed inside linebacker, defensive end and running back, with only the middle position qualifying as one of serious need. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said he is not worried about the Steelers' depth at cornerback. "I feel good about the cornerbacks that we have, and we have more numbers there than people realize," LeBeau said. "We may have great players in the building; they just haven’t had the chance to show us they are greater."

What’s next: The Steelers will be plenty busy Saturday. They have one pick in the fourth round -- which starts at noon -- two in the fifth, two in the sixth and one in the seventh. The Steelers have made some late-round finds in recent years, getting wide receiver Antonio Brown, left tackle Kelvin Beachum and linebacker Vince Williams in the sixth round or later since 2010.
PITTSBURGH -- Steelers left tackle Kelvin Beachum wasn’t even 5 years old when Mike Munchak played in his final football game in 1993. But Beachum knows enough about NFL history that he didn’t need to do any research after the Steelers hired Munchak to coach their offensive line.

“He’s one of those guys you don’t have to go to Google and read about him,” Beachum said. “You know about him already.”

[+] EnlargeMike Munchak
AP Photo/Wade Payne"The guy is no-nonsense. He wants to get the job done," Steelers offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum said of Mike Munchak.
Beachum distilled the impact of Munchak's credentials into two words: “Instant credibility.”

In a Steelers offseason marked by additions – and subtractions – Munchak could prove to be the most significant one.

The Steelers have yet field an offensive line under coach Mike Tomlin that can consistently take over games. That could change with Munchak, a Pro Football Hall of Fame guard and also a highly regarded offensive line coach.

The former Titans head coach will mold and lead a promising group that returns four starters as well as Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who missed most of last season with a knee injury.

“The guy is no-nonsense,” Beachum said. “He wants to get the job done. He has guys in the offensive line are hungry to win and to go out and prove that this is an offensive line that can really carry this team. He’s already had a presence in the room since we’ve met with him a couple of times as an offensive line.”

Munchak is still early in the process of getting to know his new players -- and vice versa -- and he has to be encouraged with the potential of a group that won’t have a starter over 28 this season and only allowed seven sacks in the Steelers’ final seven games in 2013.

Beachum said the line has met with Munchak several times and that the terminology won’t change much. That should ease the transition to a new position coach for the players.

Munchak is expected to implement an outside zone-blocking scheme, something the Steelers abandoned after Pouncey tore his ACL eight plays into the 2013 season, but Beachum said, “I think we’re still going to be varied a little bit, the inside zone and the outside zone and still using the gap scheme. I’m looking to the running game just really taking off in general.”

The offensive line, too.

“To have a Hall of Famer in the room really just speaks volumes because he’s played the game,” Beachum said of Munchak. “He knows what you’re going through, he knows what to expect, he knows you’re going to get beat sometimes, which is part of the National Football League. Then he also knows how to excel. He’s done it a very high level. He’s known for it, and I think he’s going to bring a lot to the room and I know he will.”
PITTSBURGH -- Several Pittsburgh Steelers applauded the NBA for imposing a lifetime ban on Donald Sterling in the wake of the racist comments the league says the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers made in a recorded conversation.

The controversy, which transcended sports, prompted players such as defensive end Cameron Heyward to express how much they appreciate playing for the Rooney family, which has owned the Steelers since their inception in 1933.

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"I’m very blessed and humbled to be part of an organization that values their workers," Heyward said on Tuesday, shortly before NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced the Sterling ban. "It’s just an unfortunate situation with what’s going on out there. A lot of organizations can learn from it and just grow from it."

Steelers left tackle Kelvin Beachum said Silver did the right thing in taking a hard line against Sterling.

"I think it was needed," Beachum said. "What [Sterling] did was not right and was very disappointing. If I was a player for him I would be very disappointed to know that my owner spoke like that, especially being of African-American descent."

When asked if the controversy showed the contrast between Sterling and Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney, Beachum chuckled.

"It’s not even a comparison," the third-year veteran said. "Ever since I’ve known the Rooneys they’ve been cordial. You never hear anything that’s negative in any way. Any man that can come up and shake your hand and talk to you and have a great relationship with you, and you know genuinely that’s how he feels, that’s a great thing. I’ve had that with [Dan Rooney and Steelers president Art Rooney II]."

Dan Rooney is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he has long been at the forefront of promoting diversity in the NFL. He pushed for a requirement enacted in 2003 that requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate when hiring a general manager or head coach, and it is commonly known as the Rooney Rule.

Veteran wide receiver Lance Moore played the previous nine seasons in New Orleans before signing with the Steelers last month.

He said he is fortunate to have played for an owner like Tom Benson in New Orleans and now for the Rooney family.

“Tom Benson did things the right way. He made sure his players were taken care of, and the players in turn played hard for him,” Moore said. “The Rooneys, from the short time I’ve been here as well as what I’ve heard about them, they are awesome. They are all about their players and their organization and doing things the right way.”
PITTSBURGH -- On the same day Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Steelers have told Ben Roethlisberger they plan to draft a tall wide receiver early, general manager Kevin Colbert offered this nugget in regard to the franchise quarterback.

“What we have to do is surround [Roethlisberger] with the best talent,” Colbert said on Wednesday, “and he has to play to that level that he’s capable of playing if we do get that talent around him.”

Colbert’s response was parsed and part of a larger answer to his acknowledgement that Big Ben isn’t getting any younger. But it signaled that the Steelers plan to go all-in with Roethlisberger, who turns 32 next month, and give him every chance of getting the organization back to the Super Bowl.

That, taken with what Dulac reported during an online chat, points to the Steelers providing Roethlisberger with the tall wide receiver he has long coveted – and hasn’t had since his rookie season in 2004.

Think about it.

The offense, unlike a defense in transition, is already largely in place for 2014.

Pro Bowler Antonio Brown returns after authoring the greatest season by a Steelers wide receiver. Le’Veon Bell has established himself as a feature back with plenty of upside after a robust rookie season. Tight end Heath Miller, solid in 2013, will be even better next season when he isn’t coming back from reconstructive knee surgery.

Colbert could have been referring to the offensive line when talking about the need to surround Roethlisberger with top talent. But the line returns intact after making significant improvement in the second half of last season, and it will get better under the watchful eye of new offensive line coach Mike Munchak.

Kelvin Beachum may not be a prototypical left tackle but he proved to be more than capable there after supplanting Mike Adams following the fourth game of the season. And the second-year man provided enough of a sample size for the Steelers to think he can hold his own protecting Roethlisberger’s blind side while also continuing to get better.

The obvious missing piece on offense is a rangy wide receiver, and the Steelers may not get a better chance to provide Roethlisberger with one while he is still in his prime.

The draft that Colbert said is as deep as any he has seen in 30 years is particularly flush with wide receivers. There are tall ones such as Texas A&M’s Mike Evans and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin -- each is listed as at least 6-foot-5 -- and there also appears to be a handful in the 6-2, 6-3 range who could be early-round selections.

Whether that means the Steelers draft a tall wide receiver in the first or second round remains to be seen. Colbert insists that the Steelers stick to their draft board and that talent always trumps need when they are making their picks.

The Steelers can’t know how things will shake out during the pre-draft evaluations that shift into another gear next week at the NFL combine.

Or how the actual draft in May plays out.

But if the Steelers are intent on taking advantage of every snap that Roethlisberger has left at wide receiver at No. 15 overall is very much in play despite the more pressing needs they have on defense.
PITTSBURGH -- Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played every snap and was the only Steelers offensive player to log more than 1,000 snaps in 2013.

Roethlisberger was under center for all 1,021 of the Steelers' snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Info, with wide receiver Antonio Brown (923), right tackle Marcus Gilbert (922), right guard David DeCastro (922) and tight end Heath Miller (874) rounding out the top five in playing time among offensive players.

Here is a look at other snap counts on that side of the ball:
  • Le'Veon Bell logged 656 snaps despite missing the first three games of the season because of a foot injury. Bell played the most of the five running backs selected in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft, edging out Green Bay's Eddie Lacy by four snaps. Cincinnati's Giovani Bernard played 589 snaps with Denver's Montee Ball and Seattle's Christine Michael logging 302 and 26 snaps respectively. Michael has the hardest path to the field as he is playing behind Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin in Seattle.
  • Four offensive linemen played at least 800 snaps with left guard Ramon Foster (819) and left tackle Kelvin Beachum (807) joining Gilbert and DeCastro in that group. Fernando Velasco played 723 snaps despite not signing with the Steelers until after the first game of the season and missing the final four games because of a ruptured Achilles tendon. Eight offensive lineman played at least 250 snaps.
  • Rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton logged just 153 snaps -- the fewest among the players in his draft class -- and not just because a broken pinkie caused him to miss four games and stunted his professional growth. The Steelers did not use many four-wide receiver sets, making it hard for the Wheaton to get on the field. Consider that No. 3 wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery played 617 snaps while Emmanuel Sanders, who started opposite Brown, logged 771 snaps. Look for Wheaton's snaps to at least triple in 2014 if Sanders signs elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent.
  • One reason why Miller is so respected in the Steelers' locker room is because of his work ethic, and the snaps he played in 2013 reflected how much he put into returning to the field less than a year after reconstructive knee surgery. The ninth-year veteran finished 10th on the team with 874 snaps despite missing the first two games and playing limited snaps in his first game back from torn knee ligaments. Miller proved to be remarkably durable as he played every snap in seven of 14 games. One key for the Steelers in 2014 will be having Miller and Matt Spaeth healthy at the same time for the majority of the season. Spaeth missed the first 12 games because of a foot injury but he averaged just under 39 snaps in the Steelers' final three games.

I will break down the Steelers' defensive snaps in my next post.
PITTSBURGH -- Kelvin Beachum started 11 of the Pittsburgh Steelers' final 12 games at left tackle -- he missed a game because of a knee injury -- and strengthened his grip on the position as the season progressed.

Not that Beachum would engage in any talk about his future at the all-important position when he cleaned out his locker a couple of weeks ago.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Beachum
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarKelvin Beachum starts the offseason as the presumptive starter at left tackle.
Beachum gave his standard replay -- "ask the organization" -- when the subject was broached multiple times in multiple ways.

He did explain why he refuses to address his future at left tackle.

"I don't know what their plan is," the second-year man said. "All I can do is continue to prepare, look at film, grow from it. I learned a lot playing left tackle. All I can do is continue learning and continue getting better."

Such sensibilities may stem from Beachum getting taken near the end of the 2012 NFL draft. The seventh-round pick knows nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, particularly for those who enter the league in the manner that he did.

Beachum's stock answer to all left tackle questions also speaks to the singular focus he applies to his job -- whether it is learning every position along the offensive line and filling in where needed or doing everything he can to protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's blind side.

Beachum takes the latter seriously enough that he has sought out advice from a number of former Steelers offensive linemen, including Tunch Ilkin, Kendall Simmons and Marvel Smith.

Beachum talked with Simmons at a Steelers event last season in Pittsburgh. He met with Smith, who was the Steelers' left tackle for much of the last decade before back issues cut short his career, when the team played in Oakland last October.

Ilkin, the color analyst for Steelers' radio broadcasts, is a regular at the team's practice facility, and he is often seen chatting up Beachum.

"Anybody that's willing to help me become a better player I'm willing to take their advice and put it in my tool box," Beachum said.

That willingness to soak up advice from those who have played before him is one reason why Beachum will enter offseason workouts and practices as the starting left tackle.

"He's got a big offseason and training camp [ahead of him]," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, "but he's in pretty decent position from that regard."

That is all that Tomlin would concede when it comes to Beachum's hold on left tackle.

"I will not allow him to have an opportunity to exhale or seek comfort in regards to that," Tomlin said.

Not that Beachum needs any reminders that he has to keep working and keep getting better.

The 6-foot-3, 306-pounder, who is not a prototypical left tackle, said he wants to add strength during the offseason without compromising his athleticism. He plans to work out in Pittsburgh with defensive end Cameron Heyward among others in advance of the Steelers' offseason workouts.

Beachum's emergence at left tackle should allow the Steelers to use their first-round pick in the 2014 draft on another position. Even if the Steelers don't draft a left tackle at some point Beachum will face competition from Mike Adams.

Adams faltered at left tackle last season but the 2012 second-round pick steadied himself after his demotion and contributed as an extra tight end. Adams also played well when he started in place of Beachum against the Dolphins last month.

Adams will have a new position coach this year and he won't have to overcome an offseason stabbing, something that had to set him back last year. His presence -- as well as the investment the Steelers made in Adams -- won't allow Beachum to get too comfortable at left tackle.

Whatever challenges Beachum has to fend off won't faze him considering the path he has taken from the 248th pick of the 2012 draft to the job of Steelers left tackle.

"I embraced and enjoyed the challenge," Beachum said, "and we'll see what the organization has in store for me moving forward."

Offensive line could become a strength

December, 17, 2013
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PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers' offensive line has been beaten up in more ways than one ever since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007.

Could the oft-maligned unit become a reason why the Steelers win next season? Don't scoff.

David DeCastro has emerged as a Pro Bowl-caliber guard this season. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey is expected to return in 2014 from a torn ACL. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum has played well enough that the Steelers may not have to target the position with their first pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

[+] EnlargePittsburgh's offensive line
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarThe Steelers have a strong offensive line to build upon if they can ever stay healthy.
“The biggest problem with the offensive line,” former NFL scout and ESPN analyst Matt Williamson said, “is they can't ever start the same five guys.”

Injuries have long been the X factor along the offensive line and any optimistic forecast for its future has to come with the caveat that the Steelers, for whatever reason, cannot stay healthy up front.

Assume for the sake of argument that the line isn't as wracked by injuries next season as it has been in recent years. DeCastro, Pouncey and left guard Ramon Foster would give them a strong interior around which to build.

That is especially true in the case of DeCastro, whom Williamson said has already established himself as one of the top five or six guards in the NFL.

“He doesn't have a major weakness,” Williamson said. “He can run the power stuff. He can pass block. There's a lot to like about him.”

Williamson echoed similar sentiments about Beachum, who took over at left tackle after the fourth game of the season and has earned glowing praise from offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

The 6-3, 306-pound Beachum is not a prototypical left tackle, and teams generally find protectors for their quarterback's blind side near the beginning of the draft not the end of it.

But Beachum, a late seventh-round pick in 2012, is proving to be the exception to several rules.

“I'm starting to come around on him,” Williamson said. “He might he good enough and he seems to be getting better.”

The 2014 draft is supposed to be deep at offensive tackle, and if the Steelers use their first pick on a potential franchise left tackle, Beachum would still have a key role on the team -- whether he serves as a super sub who can play all five positions or bolsters the line at another position.

The play of DeCastro and Beachum this season is the biggest reason for optimism for the offensive line, and Mike Adams still has time to develop into a long-term starter up front, whether it is at left or right tackle.

Injuries can scramble the offensive line throughout the season as the Steelers well know. But the investment they have made in their line in recent drafts could really start to pay off next season.

If the group can stay relatively healthy.

Beachum to start at left tackle if healthy

December, 13, 2013
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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers' left tackle of the future may already be on their roster, and it may not be Mike Adams, the 2012 second-round draft pick who opened the season there.

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Offensive coordinator Todd Haley talked glowingly of Kelvin Beachum and said he has "earned" the right to play left tackle if he is healthy.

Beachum, who missed last Sunday's game because of a sprained knee, has practiced both days this week and is on track to return against the Bengals.

"He played at a pretty high level for us while he was in there against good competition," Haley said.

Beachum took over for the struggling Adams after the fourth game of the season and stabilized the left tackle position. The 6-foot-3, 306-pounder is not a prototypical left tackle, and he was a late seventh-round pick in the same draft that the Steelers selected guard David DeCastro in the first round and then Adams.

Haley said that combination is something that has fueled Beachum's rise from a key reserve who can play any position to the protector of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's blind side.

"I've seen guys like Curtis Martin carry a chip on their shoulder all the way to the Hall of Fame, getting drafted where they got drafted, whatever you can use to motivate yourself. He's that type of kid," Haley said of Beachum. "He is mentally tough. He carries a chip on his shoulder. He's been told he's not good enough to do a lot of different things. And yet he tries to prove everybody wrong, and he has to this point. I just love having him on our side. He's a great guy to work with."

LT Beachum stays on track for Steelers

December, 12, 2013
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PITTSBURGH -- Left tackle Kelvin Beachum practiced for a second consecutive day and remained on track to return Sunday night against the visiting Cincinnati Bengals.

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Beachum (knee), right guard David DeCastro (foot) and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (shoulder) were among the players nursing injuries who were not limited in practice on Thursday.

One player to monitor is strong safety Troy Polamalu (shoulder), who didn’t practice for a second consecutive day. The Steelers are probably just being cautious with Polamalu, though the problem could be something that cropped up this week.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin did not mention Polamalu on Tuesday when he provided an injury update at his weekly news conference.

Tomlin said on Tuesday that Brett Keisel (foot) would try to work his way back. But the veteran defensive end has yet to practice this week, making Friday a critical day as far as his status for the Bengals game.

In addition to Keisel, nose tackle Steve McLendon (ankle) did not practice for the second consecutive day.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (foot) was limited on Thursday after practicing fully on Wednesday.

Beachum on track to return for Steelers

December, 11, 2013
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PITTSBURGH -- Left tackle Kelvin Beachum was a full participant in the Steelers’ first practice of the week, and he is on track to play Sunday against the visiting Bengals.

Beachum had started eight consecutive games at left tackle before spraining his knee in a 22-20 loss to the Ravens on Thanksgiving. Coach Mike Tomlin did not commit to starting Beachum against the Bengals Tuesday at his weekly news conference. How much and how well Beachum practices will determine who protects quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side against the Bengals, Tomlin said.

Mike Adams started at left tackle against the Dolphins and played one of his best games of the season.

Less certain of returning to action this week for the Steelers is defensive end Brett Keisel.

The veteran defensive end did not practice on Wednesday, and he has played in just one of the Steelers’ last four games because of plantar fasciitis.

Also not practicing for the Steelers because of injuries were defensive end Ziggy Hood (ankle), nose tackle Steve McLendon (ankle), right tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) and strong safety Troy Polamalu (shoulder).

Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (shoulder) and right guard David DeCastro (foot) were full participants in practice despite nursing injuries.

Adams should start the rest of the season

December, 11, 2013
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PITTSBURGH -- Their playoff hopes may have been dashed following back-to-back losses by a combined eight points, but Mike Tomlin is playing to win in the final three weeks of the season.

“There’s no question about that,” the seventh-year coach said.

The unequivocal response to a question about whether now is the time to also take a long look at some younger players is why Will Allen will remain as the third safety in the Steelers’ quarter package instead of giving way to rookie Shamarko Thomas. It is also why rookie Markus Wheaton, who played just four snaps last Sunday against the Dolphins, may have to continue to bide his time as the Steelers’ No. 4 wide receiver.

[+] EnlargeMike Adams
AP Photo/Don WrightThe Steelers used a second-round pick on Mike Adams in the 2012 draft.
There is one case in which the Steelers can play to win but also use the final three games to further evaluate a young player.

Mike Adams played well enough at left tackle against the Dolphins to earn another start there, and the second-year man should finish the season where he started it: protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's blind side.

Adams’ early struggles were so pronounced that he lost his starting job at left tackle, but he impressed his coaches and teammates with how he responded to the benching after the Steelers' fourth game of the season.

Adams worked his way into the lineup as an extra tight end when the Steelers used six offensive linemen, and a knee injury to Kelvin Beachum provided an opportunity for him to start at left tackle against the Dolphins.

The offensive line struggled in the Steelers’ 34-28 loss but Adams’ play was a positive. He did not commit any penalties, and Adams did a solid job of protecting Roethlisberger.

“I thought he represented himself well and it was a great opportunity to get back in the tackle position and show his capabilities in that area,” Tomlin said.

The Steelers will have to decide in the offseason whether the 6-foot-7, 323-pound Adams is their left tackle of the future or whether they like Beachum enough to keep him there. Adams is easily the more prototypical left tackle of the two, and the Steelers used a 2012 second-round draft pick on the former Ohio State star for a reason.

If the Steelers determine that their future left tackle is not on their roster they will target the position early in the 2014 NFL draft. This year’s class is expected to be flush with left tackle prospects though it would help the Steelers if they didn’t have to use one of their top picks on one.

The defense is in desperate need of playmakers, and nothing would benefit the Steelers more than if they could address that side of the ball with their first-round pick in the draft.

Adams’ development will be a significant part of the equation when the Steelers decide how much of a priority they place on offensive tackle in the draft.

And the Steelers can take an extended look at Adams at left tackle over the next three weeks while still satisfying Tomlin's mandate of playing to win.

Keisel, Beachum may return for Steelers

December, 10, 2013
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PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers' playoff hopes can be listed as doubtful but at least they are relatively healthy.

Defensive end Brett Keisel (foot) and left tackle Kelvin Beachum (knee) will be limited in practice this week but each could play Sunday night against the visiting Bengals.

"We anticipate having most if not all of our guys available," coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference.

Keisel has played in just one of the Steelers' past four games -- and sparingly at that -- because of plantar fasciitis. Tomlin said the 12th-year veteran underwent an extensive workout on Monday and the Steelers will continue to monitor his progress.

Beachum, who sprained his knee in a 22-20 loss Baltimore on Thanksgiving night, will also push to return to action this week. The second-year man will likely be limited during the early part of the week, and even if Beachum is able to play he may not return to the starting lineup.

Tomlin said a decision on whether Beachum or Mike Adams starts at left tackle will hinge on how much the former is able to practice this week. Adams played his best game of the season in the Steelers’ 34-28 loss to the Dolphins after making his first start at left tackle since late September.

In other injury news, defensive end Ziggy Hood (ankle) and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (shoulder) will be limited in practice but both are expected to play Sunday.

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