PITTSBURGH -- This is the fourth in a series in which I will examine every position relative to the 2013 season -- and look take a look ahead.
2014 free agents: Guy Whimper.
The good: Kelvin Beachum turned out to be a revelation at left tackle after taking over the position five games into the season. Beachum, the 248th overall pick of the 2012 draft, played well enough to establish himself as a viable option to protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side in the coming years. Mike Adams faltered badly at left tackle, but he didn’t go in the tank after losing his starting job to Beachum. Adams contributed as a blocking tight end and he played well at left tackle when Beachum missed the Dec. 8 Dolphins game with a knee injury. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert was the only offensive lineman to start every game, and he tied for third among Steelers’ offensive players with 922 snaps.
The bad: Adams’ early struggles at left tackle were so pronounced that you have to wonder if he is a long-term option there or is better off moving back to right tackle and competing with Gilbert for that spot. The Steelers were elated when the former Ohio State star slipped to the second-round of the 2012 draft, but he hasn’t shown that he can be the kind of left tackle they envisioned when they selected Adams. The Steelers were also hoping to get more out of Gilbert, who has been OK at right tackle but hasn’t established himself as the long-term answer there. No two players should benefit more from the hiring of new offensive line coach Mike Munchak than Adams and Gilbert.
The money (2014 salary cap numbers): The Steelers have just over $2.5 million tied up in Gilbert, Adams and Beachum so money is one issue they don’t have at tackle. Gilbert is going into the final year of his contract but I don’t think the Steelers make it a priority to sign him to a new deal before the start of the 2014 season. The 2011 second-round pick hasn’t yet shown enough for the Steelers to make a long-term investment in him. Look for the Steelers to bring Whimper back in 2014 as the eighth-year veteran provided quality depth last season and also gives coach Mike Tomlin the position flexibility he covets.
Draft priority: The emergence of Beachum makes it less of one, but the Steelers could still take a tackle early in the draft. It appears to be a strong class for tackles and the Steelers may consider taking one with the 15th overall pick. I think the only way that happens is if a left tackle prospect they weren’t expecting to be around falls a bit in the first round and the Steelers feel as strongly about that player as they did guard David DeCastro two years ago.