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Thursday, July 8, 2010
On the radar: Trai Essex

By James Walker

NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

In just one week, offensive lineman Trai Essex has gone from a relative unknown to one of the most talked about Pittsburgh Steelers heading into training camp.

Trai Essex
Trai Essex may be called on to replace injured right tackle Willie Colon.
The buzz surrounding Essex is whether he's the key component to replace injured right tackle Willie Colon, who was lost for the season after rupturing his right Achilles tendon.

Now Pittsburgh needs answers -- and quickly. With training camp set to begin later this month, the Steelers worked out veteran offensive tackle Flozell Adams but didn't sign him to a contract. If there is no movement in free agency, Essex could be the top choice to replace Colon.

Essex started all 16 games at right guard last season, but his starting job this year was already in jeopardy. Pittsburgh drafted rookie Maurkice Pouncey in the first round (No. 18 overall) with the anticipation that the Florida product would eventually take over for Essex, who has played on the first team this spring. Colon's injury could speed up the process and give Essex a chance to work at right tackle in training camp and the preseason.

"When you look at Essex, I kind of like him because he's smart and he's versatile," said Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson. "In a pinch, he can probably play any of the five positions. But he's going to get exposed if he's there too long for any of them.

"He moves pretty well, although I think he carries too much weight and a bigger spare tire than you'd like to see [for an offensive tackle]."

Other in-house options for Pittsburgh include backups Jonathan Scott and Tony Hills. Expect both players to get a look in training camp.

For an offense that recently traded receiver Santonio Holmes and will be without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for at least four games, solving the right tackle issue this summer would be a huge plus.