AFC North: Mike Adams

LATROBE, Pa. -- A snapshot from the Pittsburgh Steelers' final practice of the week on Thursday offered a tidy summation of Mike Adams' training camp.

[+] EnlargeMike Adams
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsOne goal for Mike Adams during the preseason is to work on his consistency, says Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak.
Adams, playing right tackle during an 11-on-11 drill, got bull rushed by outside linebacker Jason Worilds. Worilds, the Steelers' best pass-rusher, drove the 6-7, 323-pound Adams back so fast that the play never had a chance.

The sequence added to Adams' struggles and reinforced the perception that Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert are safe as the Steelers' starting tackles.

The challenge the Steelers are hoping Adams creates for a starting job up front has yet to materialize, and the third-year man has seemingly lost ground instead of closing it since the Steelers reported to training camp two weeks ago.

To be fair, Adams has been alternating between left and right tackle since the Steelers will need him to play both if he doesn't beat out Beachum or Gilbert. Also, the competition for jobs doesn't really start until Saturday night when the Steelers visit the New York Giants for the first exhibition for each team.

"What he needs to do is continue to work on his consistency, push (Beachum and Gilbert) and when he plays to play well," Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak said. "Put it in our court how we want to handle it, who are the best five or the best six or the best seven."

It would be charitable to put Adams among the Steelers' best seven offensive linemen through the first 11 practices.

And what has to be disconcerting to the Steelers is the 2012 second-round pick has not shown improvement despite rebounding nicely after losing his starting job at left tackle last season and working with Munchak, who is as good an offensive line coach as there is in the game.

"I think now he's locked into what he needs to do," Munchak said. "He's a young player that has, you hate to use the word potential because obviously it's there, but it's just a matter of can we get it out. Can he do it on a consistent basis."

If anyone can unlock Adams' potential it is Munchak, and the former still has plenty of opportunities to show the Steelers he can be a starter at this level -- or at least a solid No. 3 tackle who can also play tight end in the offense's jumbo package.

I don't believe Adams is in any danger of not making the 53-man roster. But he clearly has to show more if he is going to be a viable contributor this season and a part of the Steelers' long-term future.

Steelers Camp Report: Day 4

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
LATROBE, Pa. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp:
  • The competition has started. The separation has not. “One unit will have a good day and piss the other unit off. They’ll come back and win the next one,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Wednesday following the second padded practice of training camp. “There’s ebb and flow.” With the first preseason game still more than a week away, Tomlin is using the practices to pit different players against each other and have them hone their technique in the crucible of competition. “We’ve got some guys that have the proper energy and urgency but are still growing in technical areas,” Tomlin said.
  • Troy Polamalu drew a roar from the crowd at St. Vincent College when the veteran strong safety intercepted a pass that would have easily gone for a touchdown had it been an actual game. Rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier nearly intercepted a pass when he arrived at the same time as a short pass over the middle to tight end Matt Spaeth. There was just enough contact between the two to keep Shazier from hanging on to the ball. The first-round pick looked a little gimpy after the near interception, but Tomlin said Shazier did not get hurt on the play.
  • Rookie tight end Rob Blanchflower suffered a setback when he sustained a high ankle sprain. The seventh-round draft pick will miss “at least a week,” Tomlin said. Running back Le'Veon Bell (hamstring), linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (groin) and wide receiver C.J. Goodwin (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday.
  • Rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant flashed his talent a couple of times Wednesday after a quiet start to camp. The fourth-round pick caught a deep ball early in practice after beating cornerback Lewis Toler in one-on-one drills between the wide receivers and defensive backs. Bryant caught several passes Wednesday and nearly made a spectacular sideline grab of a ball that was slightly underthrown and was ultimately broken up because cornerback Antwon Blake had done a good job of establishing inside position. Bryant did have a bad drop near the end of practice.
  • There were several highlights from the pass-rushing/pass-protection competition. Nose tackle Steve McLendon knocked Cody Wallace on his wallet after bull-rushing the reserve center and rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers ran over tackle Mike Adams later in the drill. The offensive line, however, appeared to hold its own as a group in the drill.
  • It’s tough to get a read on how much progress second-year quarterback Landry Jones is making. The 2013 fourth-round pick completed consecutive passes after showing nice pocket awareness and good footwork during an 11-on-11 drill. The former Oklahoma star, however, took a sack and threw a bad interception on the next two plays. He is still very much a work in progress.
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.


[+] 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.”

PITTSBURGH -- ESPN analyst Todd McShay labeled Bradley Roby as "a classic boom or bust" player in the 2014 NFL draft.

And that was before a report surfaced that the Ohio State cornerback faces a charge of operating a vehicle while impaired.

Roby already had some baggage when he declared for the draft following an inconsistent junior season at Ohio State, one in which he missed the opener because of a suspension.

The latest incident, which occurred last Sunday in Columbus, could cost Roby a chance of going in the first round. And he may experience something similar to what happened to former Buckeyes offensive tackle Mike Adams two years ago.

Adams, a first-round talent, slid to the Steelers in the second round, in part because he failed a drug test at the combine. Could Roby, whom the Steelers recently hosted for a pre-draft visit, fall to them in the second round in two weeks?

It's hard to imagine the Steelers considering Roby at No. 15 overall because the pick would be fraught with risk. But Roby's physical skills are undeniable, and he may be too talented for the Steelers to pass on him in the second round if he lasts that long.

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Roby as the 39th-best player in the draft, and McShay said, "I actually think he might be the most athletic corner in this draft."

But McShay also issued a caveat emptor when it comes to Roby, who is 5-foot-11, 194 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.

"I'd be real nervous to pull the trigger on him because I don't know what I'm getting," McShay said. "It's a young man that has some growing to do. I think he's got to become more focused and there's just a lot of inconsistent tape on him.

"He's a wild card. He could be the best defensive back in this class five years from now or he could wind up being another first-round cornerback that doesn't pan out in the league because he didn't need to do what he had to do mentally and from a preparation standpoint."

Colbert: 'All eyes and ears' on Munchak

February, 13, 2014
Feb 13
PITTSBURGH -- General manager Kevin Colbert didn't do anything to temper fans' enthusiasm for the hiring of offensive line coach Mike Munchak.

Colbert said Munchak may have been the most respected offensive line coach in the NFL prior to becoming the Titans' head coach in 2011.

Munchak, a Hall of Fame guard, returned to his roots after the Titans fired him in January, and he joined Mike Tomlin's staff.

Munchak is Tomlin's fourth offensive line coach, following Larry Zierlein, Sean Kugler and Jack Bicknell Jr.

“It was real exciting to have the opportunity for him to join us,” Colbert said on Wednesday. “I think [the players] will be all eyes and ears when you have a Hall of Famer talking to you and trying to teach you and I think they're excited for that.”

Hopes for the Steelers' offensive line are as high as they have been under Tomlin.

A line that showed significant improvement in the second half of last season should only get better under the tutelage of Munchak and with the return of Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey.

Munchak figures to work closely with tackles Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert, and he could be the key to unlocking the considerable potential of the former.

“I don't think Coach Munchak was brought in for any one player,” Colbert said in reference to the underachieving Adams. “You hope that he gets the most out of all your guts and obviously he has the credentials to do that.”

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has already met Munchak at the Steelers' practice facility, agreed.

“I know the line will be excited,” Roethlisberger said on 93.7 The Fan, “because any time you have a Hall of Famer coaching you better listen up.”
When pondering center Alex Mack's and safety T.J. Ward's futures, it's probably important to remember Mike Adams' foray into free agency.

Adams is a former Cleveland Browns safety now starting for the Denver Broncos and will play in the Super Bowl on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.

[+] EnlargeMike Adams
Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty ImagesVeteran safety Mike Adams is finally playing for a winning team.
Tony Grossi caught up with Adams in New Jersey and did a fine story about his life and his career -- and his positive impact with the Browns.

Adams always played well for Cleveland, and was a positive presence in the locker room. For whatever reason, the Browns let him go as a free agent and he is now in Denver doing the things he did in Cleveland.

But as Grossi points out, it took Adams five years to win 28 games in Cleveland. He's now won 28 games in just two seasons with the Broncos.

There were a lot of reasons Denver won all those games, and most start and end with a guy named Peyton Manning. When Adams went into free agency, quarterback Tim Tebow was coming off a playoff win over Pittsburgh. It's to Adams' good fortune that John Elway recognized acquiring Manning was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and he did not settle for Tebow.

That being said, Adams' experience shows what can happen with a free agent. When a player experiences losing for so long the way Mack and Ward have, the temptation to go somewhere to win has to be a factor.

Adams said he didn't want to leave Cleveland, that it was the Browns' choice to let him go. So it is not automatic by any means that a player will leave.

Mack and Ward both spoke of liking the team, the organization and the city. It's not inconceivable both could stay.

But CEO Joe Banner's history has not been to pay a ton of money at certain positions, and center and safety are among them. The former coaching staff was high on safety Josh Aubrey, who missed the season with an ankle injury. The Browns may feel he can step in for Ward. And they may feel that John Greco can slide from guard to center. The Browns haven't won many games with Ward and Mack; the team may feel it can't do worse without them. The Browns made no effort to sign them this past season, which also should be some indicator.

The Browns would lose something if both leave. They're both good players -- both were in the Pro Bowl this season -- and they're both smart. They are at the age where they should be hitting their peak.

So if they leave it would hurt, and it would create two more needs on a team that already has plenty.

The one unknown is whether the recent negativity that has surrounded the Browns affects a player's thinking on his future. A player might not like the idea of leaving his team -- until he sees how another team operates and he sees the money being offered.

In free agency, it only takes one team to make a player rich.

Ward and Mack have certainly earned the right to be free agents and test the market.

If the pair want an example of the potential positives of free agency, they only need look at Adams, who has promised to walk home to Paterson, N.J., if Denver wins.

That's quite a walk for a guy who walked away from losing two years ago.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers made what will probably go down as their most significant acquisition of the offseason Wednesday when Mike Munchak agreed to become their next offensive line coach.

Yes, hiring Munchak is that big.

No one on the planet knows the ins and outs of the NFL and playing offensive line like Munchak does.

Think of the respect one of the greatest guards in NFL history will command from his new players. And his NFL resume merely starts with the 12 seasons he spent crafting a Hall of Fame career as a Houston Oiler.

Munchak has more than two decades of coaching experience, and he impressed the Tennessee Titans’ brass enough in 14 seasons as the team’s offensive line coach that he rose to the head coaching job in 2011.

Munchak might still be with the only NFL organization he worked for as a coach and a player had he agreed to make sweeping changes to his staff following a 7-9 season.

That he ended up in Pittsburgh is a coup for the Steelers.

The only downside to hiring Munchak: He is so highly regarded around the NFL that another head coaching opportunity could come his way in the coming years.

Then again Munchak spent more than three decades with the same organization, so he can hardly be characterized as an opportunist who jumps from job to job.

Munchak inherits an offensive line that is on the cusp of becoming pretty good if not really good provided it can ever stay healthy. He may be the coach to unlock underachieving offensive tackle Mike Adams’ considerable potential.

And he becomes the point man in installing the outside zone-blocking scheme that the Steelers ditched last season after Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey went down in the opener with a torn ACL, a game that the Steelers lost to Munchak's Titans at Heinz Field.

Munchak has tons of experience teaching the scheme, and it is something that will maximize Le’Veon Bell’s running ability.

It’s hard to imagine the Steelers finding a better fit for the one opening -- at least for now -- on coach Mike Tomlin’s staff.

And the Munchak hiring is a heck of a way for the Steelers to start an offseason that will bring its share of change.
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
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
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.

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."

Beachum on track to return for Steelers

December, 11, 2013
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
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
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.