Pittsburgh Steelers: Guy Whimper

This is the fifth in a series that takes a post-training camp look at every position. Next up is offensive tackle.

Players on the roster: Marcus Gilbert, Kelvin Beachum, Mike Adams, Guy Whimper, Wesley Johnson, and Emmanuel McCray.

Projected starters: Gilbert and Beachum. Both had good camps, Gilbert in particular. Adams never mounted a challenge to either player, and the 2012 second-round draft pick finds himself battling Whimper for the swing tackle position.

Projected number on 53-man roster: Four. Adams is safe and he should beat out Whimper for the job of No. 3 tackle. Whimper and Johnson are likely battling for one roster spot. Whimper has the edge in experience, and he has position flexibility. Johnson’s versatility is his biggest asset and the Steelers may want to develop the player on whom they used a fifth-round draft pick in May.

Rookie watch: Johnson lined up at tackle, center and guard in camp. The 6-foot-6, 297-pounder played center in the limited snaps he received in the preseason opener last Saturday night. Johnson struggled at times at left tackle in camp, and he may need a season to get stronger. Right now, I have him on my projected 53-man roster though he is going to have to show the coaches something in the final three preseason games.

What we learned in camp: Adams is a good run-blocker but his pass-blocking skills continue to lag behind what is clearly the strength of his game. That the Steelers have already settled on Gilbert and Beachum, a seventh-round pick in 2012, as their starters reflects a significant gap between their top two tackles and Adams. Gilbert, who dropped a little weight so he could move better, had a really good camp and established himself as the right tackle of the future as well as the present. The Steelers are expected to sign Gilbert, who is in the final year of his contract, to a long-term deal before the start of the regular season. Beachum is solid at left tackle and the Steelers can win with him protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's blind side.

He said it: “He’s obviously not the prototype, height -- he’s probably tired of listening to all that crap -- and the bottom line is results and we’ll see. I think you see the stuff he can do that a lot of tackles can’t do with his quickness and the way he can recover if he does get in trouble. He’s got a lot of great traits and his work ethic is big time. It’s very hard to outwork him.” – Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak on Beachum.
LATROBE, Pa. -- Mike Munchak gave Mike Adams solid marks for his play in the Steelers’ first preseason game but also acknowledged that the third-year offensive tackle is in a different battle than had been expected when training camp opened.

Adams has been playing left and right tackle in camp and is vying with Guy Whimper for the job of No. 3 tackle with Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert entrenched as the starters.

“They’re obviously competing for the swing spot right now right now with the two (starting tackles) playing as well as they are right now,” said Munchak, the Steelers’ first-year offensive line coach. “We’ll just kind of see what happens.”

The question moving forward is whether the two are battling for a roster spot after Adams entered camp hoping to challenge Beachum or Gilbert for a starting job.

Munchak will lobby for the Steelers to keep nine offensive linemen on their 53-man roster, but they might only go with eight as they did last season. Given some of the other positions where the Steelers are deep, such as inside linebacker, they might keep an extra player there rather than at offensive line, where the five starters are already set, barring injury.

Cody Wallace is probably a lock for one of the three guaranteed reserve spots up front as the swing interior lineman. And rookie Wesley Johnson probably makes the 53-man roster if the the fifth-round draft pick plays well in the final three preseason games because of his versatility and standing as a player the Steelers can develop.

If that leaves Adams and Whimper battling for a final spot, Adams clearly has the edge even though he has struggled in camp. The 6-7, 323-pounder simply has too much potential, and the Steelers aren’t going to give up on a second-round draft pick after just two seasons unless Whimper clearly outplays him.

That didn’t happen in the Steelers’ 20-16 loss to the New York Giants last Saturday night.

Both played extensively with Adams logging a team-high 51 snaps and Whimper playing 43 snaps. Adams received high marks from Pro Football Focus and Munchak said he did well after some early technique issues.

“The more he played the better he played,” Munchak said of Adams. “I thought it was a good, solid start for him. He’ll continue to get better at what we’re doing.”
Ben Roethlisberger’s only completion of the game turned into a highlight-reel play thanks to Dri Archer. The speedy rookie caught a short pass on a well-executed bubble screen and looked every bit as fast as advertised in scooting 46 yards and setting up an early field goal in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 20-16 loss to the New York Giants.

The Steelers could not protect a fourth-quarter lead in losing their preseason opener Saturday night at MetLife Stadium. They haven't won a preseason game since 2012.

Roethlisberger played just one series before giving way to Bruce Gradkowski. The offense couldn’t build on a promising start as the Steelers failed to reach the end zone until they scored a defensive touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The first-team defense gave up a 73-yard touchdown run to Rashad Jennings early in the game but didn’t allow much more in the quarter it was on the field.

Some other thoughts from the Steelers’ first preseason game:
  • Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau had to be furious after Jennings scooted through a yawning gap on the right side of the Steelers’ defense on the way to the game’s first touchdown. Defensive end Cameron Heyward was knocked out of his gap by a pulling guard, leaving a huge hole and resulting in the kind of big play that made it seem like 2013 all over again for the Steelers’ defense. Coach Mike Tomlin was not happy with his secondary on the play as safety Will Allen had a chance to get Jennings on the ground but couldn’t make the tackle. Jennings outraced cornerbacks Cortez Allen and William Gay to the end zone.
  • Sean Spence, playing in his first game in almost two years, looked terrific. Spence, starting for the injured Ryan Shazier at inside linebacker, shot a gap on the first series of the game and forced Giants quarterback Eli Manning to throw a third-down pass into the turf. Spence later stuffed Andre Brown for a short gain on a running play that resulted in a holding call in the Giants. Spence, who has returned from a career-threatening knee injury, had one blemish, an illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty on special teams. But the Steelers couldn’t have asked for more from Spence, who is their third-best inside linebacker and solid insurance in case of an injury to Shazier.
  • Markus Wheaton made a nice grab on a post-corner route and his 28-yard reception was the second-longest gain by the Steelers in their preseason opener. Wheaton, however, needs a blocking tutorial or four from former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. Wheaton won’t like seeing his blocking efforts on several plays, including one on a 7-yard run by Tauren Poole. Wheaton didn’t lock up on anyone as Poole broke into the open field, allowing the Giants to minimize the damage on Poole’s run.
  • The first-team offensive line played well in limited action, providing a nice push on the Steelers’ first possession of the game when they ran on the Giants first-team defense. The second-team offensive line really struggled. Left tackle Mike Adams did not help himself, getting overwhelmed several times by speed pass-rushers, including two-time Pro Bowl selection Jason Pierre-Paul. Guy Whimper, playing right tackle, was beaten badly on a passing play in the third quarter and center Cody Wallace was flagged for holding in the same period.
  • Outside linebacker Howard Jones and defensive end Josh Mauro were among the undrafted rookies who stood out. Jones recovered a pair of fumbles, returning one for a 28-yard touchdown. Mauro, playing with the second-team defense, blew up a passing play by bull-rushing a running back into the lap of Giants quarterback Ryan Nassib. He also appeared to hold his ground at right defensive end more often than not.
This is the next in a series that look at every position on offense and defense with training camp approaching. Our fifth look is at offensive tackle.

Returning starters: Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert. Beachum stabilized left tackle after Mike Adams floundered there in the first four games last season, and it is his position to lose heading into training camp. Gilbert started every game last season at right tackle and was the only Steelers’ offensive lineman to start every game in 2013.

On the bubble: Guy Whimper. A lot would have to happen for the 6-foot-5, 318-pounder not to make the team. Whimper proved to be a dependable reserve last season, and he has the flexibility to play inside as well. Whimper could be competing with rookie Wesley Johnson, a fifth-round draft pick, if the Steelers keep only eight offensive linemen when they finalize their 53-man roster.

By the numbers: Ben Roethlisberger got sacked 24 times in the 11 games that Beachum started at left tackle last season. He was dropped 18 times in the five games that Adams started at the position.

Did you know: The Steelers averaged 124 rushing yards in the six games that Adams started at right tackle as a rookie in 2012. Their season rushing average was 96.1 yards.

Quotable: “I’m not a big-frame guy. I never have been. I’m not a 320- or 330-type of offensive lineman. I know I have to keep my weight down, keep my body fat down, stay lean, stay fast, use technique. That’s something that I’ve used since college and have to continue to fine-tune that. I think with the addition of Coach [Mike] Munchak, technique is really going to be a thing that he focuses on and makes sure that we do a good job of.” -- Beachum

Outlook: It will be interesting to see where Adams gets to compete for a starting job at training camp. Beachum is not a prototypical left tackle but the 2012 seventh-round pick got the job done there last season. Adams has played considerably better at right tackle and Gilbert is going into the final year of his contract. Whoever is the odd man out at tackle as far as starting should give the Steelers a quality reserve there.
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 -- Mock drafts have, predictably, been all over the place as far as the Pittsburgh Steelers' first-round pick. Most, however, have them taking a wide receiver or a cornerback No. 15 overall, assuming they don’t try to trade down.

I think those two positions are most likely the ones the Steelers will target with their first pick, though North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron could also be in play if he slides a little in the draft.

Ebron is the No. 1 player at one of the few positions that is not particularly deep, and he would give the Steelers a tall receiver while also filling a long-term need. I think Heath Miller has at least three good seasons left in him, but the Steelers have to plan for the post-Miller years at some point.

If Ebron is still available when they make the first pick, I think they give him serious consideration, especially if a couple of cornerbacks are already off the board, as well as Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans.

The Steelers have eight other picks in the draft, three of which are compensatory selections, including one at the end of the third round. They have a lot of needs -- or as general manager Kevin Colbert would frame it "wants" -- particularly on defense.

Here is my projection of the positions they will address with their nine picks, which is contingent on the Steelers not adding extra ones through a trade.

Cornerback (2): The Steelers could use immediate help here, and they don't have a long-term starter at cornerback after third-year man Cortez Allen. I would be surprised if they don't draft two cornerbacks, with one of them coming in the first three rounds. They drafted two cornerbacks in 2011, including Allen in the fourth round.

Defensive line (2): The Steelers will draft a defensive lineman as early as the second round -- ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has them taking Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III with their second pick in his latest mock draft -- and they need to take at least one end. The signing of Cam Thomas gives them a player with position flexibility, but the Steelers' need at defensive end is every bit as glaring as it is at cornerback.

Wide receiver (1): No position is deeper in the draft, and even if the Steelers don't address it in the first round, they can still get a good prospect later. The Steelers probably won't get a chance to draft Evans unless they trade up in the first round and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin may be too much of a risk to take at No. 15. LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. has been linked to the Steelers in various mock drafts, and they could pull the trigger on him if they have him high on their board.

Linebacker (1): The Steelers have to take a player who projects as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme given how thin they are at the position. It will be interesting to see what they will do if Alabama’s C.J. Mosley is still on the board at No. 15. Mosley, who projects as an inside linebacker, may be one of the most NFL-ready players in the draft. “He and (Lawrence) Timmons could be your (NaVorro) Bowman and (Patrick) Willis,” ESPN analyst and former NFL scout Matt Williamson said. If the Steelers take Mosley, they will also draft an outside linebacker later in the draft.

Safety (1): The Steelers have hosted at least three safeties for pre-draft visits, including Louisville’s Calvin Pryor, a projected first-round pick. The signing of Mike Mitchell makes it unlikely the Steelers take a safety in the first round but it wouldn't hurt to add another younger player here. The question is whether it makes sense for them to draft a safety -- or instead sign a couple of undrafted free agents -- if they don’t take one in the second or third round.

Offensive line (1): I don't see this as the need that others do. The Steelers got their upgrade up front when they hired Mike Munchak to coach the offensive line and he has plenty of material with which to work. All five starters return, including Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who tore his ACL eight snaps into last season. And the Steelers have depth up front after re-signing Cody Wallace and Guy Whimper. The Steelers will probably take a lineman they can develop later in the draft, but I could also see them not drafting one for the second year in a row if they take two linebackers or a tight end.

Running back (1): The Steelers need depth and they could use a speedster to complement Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. The de-valuing of running backs allows the Steelers to wait until later in the draft to address the position and still get a good prospect. I don't see them taking a running back before the fifth round.

Steelers re-sign Michael Palmer

March, 21, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers added depth at tight end Friday when they re-signed Michael Palmer to a one-year contract.

Palmer, whom the Steelers signehttp://proxy.espn.go.com/blogadmin/pittsburgh-steelers/wp-admin/edit.php?page=statusPaged last August, played in every game last season and caught one pass for eight yards. He was a core special teams player in 2013, and the fourth-year veteran joins Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth and David Paulson as the tight ends on the roster.

The Steelers lost tight end David Johnson last week when the fifth-year veteran signed a two-year contract with the Chargers.

Palmer is the fifth of the Steelers' free agents to re-sign with the team, joining center Cody Wallace, offensive tackle Guy Whimper, safety Will Allen and long snapper Greg Warren in that group.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers were roughly $3.47 million under the salary cap, according to the NFL Players Association, prior to their re-signing of offensive lineman Guy Whimper.

The Whimper deal will be a cost-effective one as he made $715,000 last season but counted only $555,000 against the salary cap, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

His signing leaves the Steelers less than $3 million under the cap and they are going to have clear more room cap room given their interest in three outside free agents as well as some of their own.

The Steelers hosted former Bills defensive end Alex Carrington for a visit last Friday, and former Saints wide receiver Lance Moore and former Packers running back James Starks are scheduled to visit team headquarters on Tuesday.

The Steelers have done a good job of massaging the cap in signing a handful of their own free agents as well as safety Mike Mitchell and nose tackle Cam Thomas.

Mitchell signed a five-year, $25 million contract last week but his cap hit is only $2.2 million for 2014, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and the guaranteed money in his deal is only $5.25 million.

Here is a look at the two other multi-year contracts that the Steelers signed players to last week as both are also cap friendly.

Cam Thomas: The player whose nickname is “Baby Zilla” signed a two-year, $4 million contract, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Thomas received a signing bonus of $1 million and base salaries of $1 million in 2014 and $2 million in 2015.

His respective cap hits are $1.5 million and $2.5 million.

The contract is almost identical to the one former Steelers defensive end Al Woods received from the Titans, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Woods also signed a two-year, $4 million contract that included a $1 million signing bonus.

Essentially the Steelers traded Woods for Thomas, who has also played defensive end.

Cody Wallace: The Steelers bolstered their depth along the offensive line when they re-signed Wallace to a three-year, $3.48 million contract. The signing bonus ($450,000) is the only guaranteed money in the deal and Wallace's cap hits are $880,000 in 2014, $1.25 million in 2015 and $1.35 million in 2016.

It’s a very reasonable deal for a team that needs quality depth along its offensive line given all of the injuries they sustain up front every season.

And Wallace, one of the most well-traveled players on the Steelers’ roster, gets some measure of stability after starting the final four games last season at center and playing well.

The fourth-year veteran can also play guard, providing the position flexibility that the Steelers covet.

Steelers re-sign OL Guy Whimper

March, 17, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers added more depth to their offensive line on Monday when they announced they have re-signed Guy Whimper to a one-year contract.

The nine-year veteran played in 11 games last season and started one game each at left and right guard. The 6-5, 315-pound Whimper also saw extensive action in two games at right tackle while filling in for the injured Marcus Gilbert.

Whimper is the second offensive lineman that the Steelers have re-signed as Cody Wallace agreed to a three-year, $3.48 million contract last week.

Depth is an issue at several positions right now but offensive line is not among them.

All five starters will return in 2014 assuming Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey is able to work his way back from the torn ACL that he sustained in the 2013 season opener.

Mike Adams, Whimper and Wallace are also on the roster, and all have starting experience and can provide depth.

Fernando Velasco, who started 11 games last season at center before rupturing his Achilles tendon, remains unsigned. But he could be the odd man out with the signings the Steelers have made and especially the return of Wallace.

Velasco’s injury provided an opening for Wallace and the latter held his own while starting the final four games at center.

Free-agency primer: Steelers

March, 7, 2014
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: WR Emmanuel Sanders, DE Ziggy Hood, WR Jerricho Cotchery, DE Al Woods, DE Brett Keisel, S Ryan Clark, RB Jonathan Dwyer, C Fernando Velasco, OT Guy Whimper, C/G Cody Wallace, TE David Johnson, LB Stevenson Sylvester.

Where they stand: General manager Kevin Colbert has said the Steelers may be more active in free agency than in recent years, but don’t expect their philosophy to fundamentally change. The Steelers will focus on their own players and are likely to sit out the first wave of free agency and target midlevel free agents after the marquee names have signed with other teams. Colbert hinted that the Steelers could try to land a potential starter via free agency, and they could use immediate help as well as depth at just about any position on defense. Nothing would help the Steelers more than if they could sign a free agent who will make an impact like Ryan Clark (2006) or James Farrior (2002) did, though they would have to splurge to get a free agent the caliber of Farrior.

What to expect: Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, the team's top free agent, is going to command more money than the Steelers are willing to pay. He will almost certainly sign elsewhere, though look for veteran Jerricho Cotchery to re-sign with the team after catching 10 touchdown passes last season. Defensive end Ziggy Hood is likely to sign elsewhere, making it imperative that the Steelers bring back Al Woods. They could also re-sign Brett Keisel for one more season if the two sides can find common ground on compensation. The Steelers have a good chance of signing most of their free agents with the exceptions of Sanders and Hood, and that is how they will add depth to their offensive line. Free agents they could target include former Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant, Dolphins defensive tackle Paul Soliai and 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown. The Steelers met with former Lions safety Louis Delmas last month, but his knee issues may be too much of a red flag for them, and they have since re-signed veteran Will Allen.
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.

A look at the Steelers' free agents

January, 6, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have 21 players who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 11th, the start of the NFL’s new year. Here is a quick look at 11 of those unrestricted free agents – and the priority the Steelers should place on re-signing them.

OLB Jason Worilds: The former second-round pick led Steelers with eight sacks and came into his own after a calf injury sustained by LaMarr Woodley provided an opening at left outside linebacker. Priority: Keeping Worilds should be at or near the top of Steelers’ to-do list.

WR Emmanuel Sanders: Showed flashes in his first year as a starter but also was plagued by inconsistency. Priority: Let market determine Sanders’ value and then see if he is worth bringing back.

DE Brett Keisel: Unlikely to return but I think the Steelers should seriously consider bringing back Keisel for one more season if the price is right. Priority: The Steelers can be patient here as Keisel, 35, won’t draw a lot of interest, at least initially, on the free-agent market.

DE Ziggy Hood: Hasn’t lived up to expectations as a first-round draft pick but I wouldn’t call him a bust either. He is one of the tougher ones to call since Hood has been serviceable and is one of three defensive ends who are impending free agents. Priority: Much like Sanders, the Steelers should let the market determine Hood’s value and then see if they are willing to pay it.

S Ryan Clark: He has had a tremendous run in Pittsburgh – and in the NFL in general considering he is still playing 12 seasons after making the Giants as an undrafted free agent. Priority: The Steelers need to get younger in the secondary and that almost certainly spells the end of Clark’s playing days in Pittsburgh.

WR Jerricho Cotchery: Is coming off a career-best 10-touchdown season. Loves Pittsburgh, loves playing for Mike Tomlin and catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger. Is a consummate professional and great locker-room guy. Priority: The Steelers need to make this happen as they should be able to find common ground with Cotchery in terms of bringing the 10th-year veteran back in 2014.

DE: Al Woods: Woods saw the first significant playing time of his career and started a pair of games at nose tackle for the injured Steve McLendon. He can play both end and nose tackle and still has upside. Priority: The Steelers, assuming the price is right, should bring back Woods. I don’t see both Keisel and Hood returning and there is a chance each has played his last game in Pittsburgh. Uncertainty at defensive end beyond Cameron Heyward makes re-signing Woods a key.

RB Jonathan Dwyer: Love him as a No. 2 running back who can be a spot starter if Le’Veon Bell goes down with an injury. The question is will Dwyer seek a larger role elsewhere and will there be much interest in him as a potential starter? Priority: Dwyer is another player whom the Steelers will let test the market and then see if they want to make a run at bringing him back.

C Fernando Velasco: One of the most unsung players of the season, Velasco stabilized the center position following the loss of Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey. Ruptured Achilles ended his season after 11 games. Priority: Velasco would be ideal as the first center/guard in reserve, and recent history shows how important depth is along the offensive line. The Steelers should have a good chance of re-signing Velasco because of his injury.

G/OT: Guy Whimper: Proved to be a valuable fill-in and started a game at each guard spot. Whimper would bolster the offensive line depth if he returns. Priority: The Steelers should be able to bring back Whimper, assuming he wants to return, and his position flexibility is a bonus.

S Will Allen: The veteran rejuvenated his career after re-signing with the Steelers following his release by the Cowboys. Allen played significant snaps as a third safety in the quarter package and was a core special-teams player. Priority: Allen wants to return and I think there is a good chance that the Steelers bring him back for another season because of their comfort with him and his ability to play special teams.

Rest of the free agents: RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB Felix Jones, WR Plaxico Burress, TE David Johnson, TE Michael Palmer, C Cody Wallace, LB Stevenson Sylvester, LB Jamaal Westerman, P Mat McBriar and LS Greg Warren.
PITTSBURGH -- It is too early to tell whether rookie running back Le'Veon Bell will be able to play Sunday after suffering a concussion in the Steelers’ 22-20 loss to the Ravens last Thursday night.

Whoever gets the bulk of the carries against the visiting Dolphins will run behind an offensive line that has been scrambled by more injuries.

The Steelers barely had enough offensive linemen to practice on Monday, and Guy Whimper said he played left tackle for the first-team offense with Kelvin Beachum out because of a knee injury.

The Steelers are already on their third center with Cody Wallace taking over for Fernando Velasco, who suffered a season-ending Achilles. They will also start their third different left tackle this season if Beachum is unable to play Sunday.

The Steelers will start their sixth different offensive line combination in the 1 p.m. game against the Dolphins.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Whimper said of the injuries that have decimated the Steelers’ offensive line. “This is crazy. It’s another obstacle we can get over, but we’ve just got to stick together as a unit.”

Whimper has started a game each at both guard positions and also played right tackle. The eighth-year veteran is in line to start against the Dolphins if Beachum and offensive tackle Mike Adams (ankle) are unable to play

Beachum and Adams, along with starting right guard David DeCastro (ankle) were among the four offensive linemen who left last Thursday night’s game with injuries.

“This year’s been kind of unusual in that way,” Wallace said of the injuries, “but we’ve had guys that have stepped in and done a good job of filling those roles.”

Wallace hopes to do the same when he makes his first career NFL start, and he won’t be the only lineman who benefits from the extra day of practice the Steelers get this week since they played last Thursday.

Center Eric Olsen, who signed with the Steelers to provide depth, practiced with the Steelers on Monday. Olsen spent Thanksgiving with his family, and the Steelers called him late Friday morning.

By the afternoon he was on a plane to Pittsburgh, and Olsen has since been in cramming mode as the third-year veteran learns a new offense.

“They’re trying to ease me in and come up for air so to speak.” Olsen said. “Luckily for me football’s football, so it’s coming along. I’m going to catch up as fast as I can.”

Steelers could be down three starters

November, 15, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers may be without three starters Sunday when they host the Detroit Lions for a 1 p.m. game.

Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf), defensive end Brett Keisel (foot) and left guard Ramon Foster (ankle) all missed practice Friday for the third consecutive day.

Woodley is listed as doubtful on the Steelers’ injury report though the seventh-year veteran is holding out hope of playing against the Lions.

“There is a great chance,” Woodley said of playing. “Two days left [to heal].”

Keisel, who is battling plantar fasciitis, and Foster are listed as questionable but each is also a long shot to suit up against Detroit.

Guy Whimper said he practiced all week at left guard with the first-team offense and is preparing to start on Sunday. Ziggy Hood will start in place of Keisel if the latter can’t go.

Among the Steelers listed as probable are left tackle Kelvin Beachum (hip), right guard David DeCastro (ankle), right tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle), center Fernando Velasco (knee), offensive tackle Mike Adams (ribs) and tight end Heath Miller.

Six offensive linemen are listed on the Steelers’ injury report but Foster is the only one expected to miss Sunday’s game at Heinz Field.

Rookie safety Shamarko Thomas (ankle) had been ruled out for the game earlier this week.