“...Last season ended in disappointment for the Steelers. Expected to contend for the Super Bowl, they instead failed to make the playoffs.
Secondary breakdowns humbled their once vaunted defense. Injuries and subpar performance on the offensive line rendered the Steelers running game, once known for bludgeoning opponents into submission, a shadow of its former self, while the quarterback was left running for his life.
This year was to be different. A mandate to reestablish the run came from the highest echelons of the Steelers hierarchy.
A single ball has yet to be snapped at Heinz Field but management’s goal already appears to be in jeopardy as a budding starter on the Steelers offensive lineman has been lost for the season due to an injury…”
- Edward M. DiPaola, Pittsburgh Press Review Gazette, Summer 2004
There is not, nor has there ever been, a Pittsburgh Press Review Gazette and you can consider the equally fictional "Edward M. DiPaola" to be a composite scribe.
However, the above missive aptly describes the situation the Steelers found themselves in during August 2004. Six years later, Fate has landed the Steelers in a similar spot.
Things looked bleak then, but does anyone remember the results?
The offensive line did dominate the line of scrimmage, the Steelers running game reasserted itself with a vengeance, and a rookie would become the first NFL quarterback to win 15 straight starts.
Remembering Keydrick Vincent's Lesson
How did it happen?
After all, losing Kendall Simmons to a torn ACL early in training camp was a blow that seemed to portend disaster.
The answer is that Keydrick Vincent stepped to the fore, and started the entire season at right guard and the Steelers never missed a beat.
Could something similar happen this year?
The odds may be against it, but let’s look at what history teaches us.
Important differences between 2004 and now exist of course. Keydrick Vincent, whom the Steelers signed as an unrestricted rookie free agent, had 11 starts under his belt and had appeared in 11 other games.
In contrast, Tony Hills has done a lot of nothing since being drafted in the 4th round in 2008.
Still, special teams coach Sean Kugler came to Pittsburgh with a reputation as a coach who did something with… very little in Buffalo, and Kugler has both options and time to plan.
In addition to Jonathan Scott, Ramon Foster, and Trai Essex, the Steelers also signed unrestricted rookie free agents Dorian Brooks, guard, out of James Madison and Kyle Jolly a 300 pound tackle out of North Carolina.
If you think it is preposterous that someone no one ever heard of can come in and contribute at right tackle on the offensive line, then you need to remember Larry Tharpe.
In 1999 Anthony Brown and Chris Conrad alternated starts at right tackle in what seemingly devolved into a quest to reveal who was more inept while Larry Tharpe sat on a couch somewhere.
In 2000, Kevin Colbert brought Tharpe to the Steelers, and injuries to rookie Marvel Smith and Shar Pourdanesh forced Tharpe to make 5 starts where he clearly outshone the previous seasons starters.
Integrity demands acknowledging that Steel Curtain Rising enthusiastically joined the chorus that greeted the news of Willie Colon’s Achillies tear with dismay.
The truth is Colon’s loss represents another serious set back for a team already reeling from a turbulent off season.
Will the Steelers be able to compensate for Colon’s loss? There is no guarantee that they will. But history shows that they certainly can.
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