´ Steel Curtain Rising: The Puzzle and Promise of Moving Willie Colon to Guard

Who deserves the game ball for the Steelers victory over the Carolina Panthers

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Puzzle and Promise of Moving Willie Colon to Guard

The Steelers have ended the speculation they created by taking David DeCastro and Mike Adams with their first two picks in the 2012 NFL Draft. Willie Colon’s move to guard completes a sea-change in the Steelers offensive line building approach.
  • The move is as welcome as it is necessary.
For too long “plug and patch” have been the watch words of the Steelers offensive line philosophy. For a time, Pittsburgh defied gravity by winning one Super Bowl and appearing in another despite sub-standard offensive lines and record numbers sacks allowed.

Even if you control for Ben Roethlisberger retaining the ball too long, 2011 was the season when the Road Runner glanced downward and Big Ben took the fall.

Lacking both depth and talent, injuries forced the Steelers to use an estimated 22 different offensive line configurations in 2011. Only weeks after committing their young offensive lineman, the Steelers reversed courseand recalled Max Starks just over a month after waving him.

The Steelers 2012 offensive line will have a very different look.

Instead of featuring undrafted rookie free agents Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster and journey men veterans like Jonathan Scott and Trai Essex, they’re set to start two firsts, two seconds, and a fourth round draft pick.
  • Hear! Hear! Cried the man whose been calling for more stability on the offensive line.
 Sounds good on paper, but is moving Colon to guard really the right thing to do? The answer remains nebulous.

The Pros of Moving Colon to Guard

The Steelers drafted Willie Colon as a tackle but rumors that he was a natural guard have always followed him. 
  • Position shift rumors are staples of football. 
In the 80’s and 90’s WMAL/WTEM sports radio guru Ken Beatrice never tired of insisting to Steelers Nation expats in Washington that the Steelers needed to move cornerbacks Delton Hall and Chad Scott to safety. Steelers Digest even chimed in, reporting that unnamed Steelers coaches regarded Scott as a safety playing corner.

I’ll leave it to others to definitively rate Colon’s performance as a tackle and simply say that if he was a good tackle he was never going to be a dominate one.

If the Steelers think the Colon can be a better guard that Legursky and Foster, then they should make the move.

Fear never motivates Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert’s. To wit, they informed Colon of the switch as soon as they drafted Adams
  • Precedent supports their decision to do it now.
In 1998, Bill Cowher tried Jamain Stephens, Paul Wiggins, and Chris Conrad at right tackle throughout training camp. All three fell woefully short, and it wasn't until the fourth preseason game that Cowher settled on his line moving Will Wolford from left guard to left tackle and shifting Justin Strzelczyk from left to right tackle.

With Alan Fanenca working himself into the line up that arrangement worked fairly well, but the Steelers offensive line started slow out of the gate and never really caught up.

So if moving Colon now gives them their best chance to field fielding their five best lineman from the get go, then more power to them.

The Puzzling Aspect to Colon's Move to Guard

"But Tomlin refuses to anoint rookies. Believes in a way that it ruins them for the rest of their careers…." – Bob Labriola, Steelers Digest, 9/4/10, explaining why Mike Tomlin delayed naming Maurkice Pouncey as his starter.

There’s a flip side to moving Colon to guard and doing it now, and it has nothing to do with his ability to beat out Legursky or Foster.

Who plays left tackle?

At first, everyone assumed that Marcus Gilbert would move to from right to left tackle, a shift for which he’d been groomed.

Not so, reports Ed Bouchette on PG Plus. Gilbert will stayat right tackle.

That leaves four options on the left side:
  • Giving it another go with Jonathan Scott
  • Bringing back Max Starks
  • Offering Trai Essex his shot
  • Starting rookie Mike Adams
Jonathan Scott or Trai Essex will begin training camp at the top of the depth cart. The Steelers don’t arrive at St. Vincent’s with rookies penciled in as starters. Not under Chuck Noll, not under Bill Cowher, not under Mike Tomlin.

But Jonathan Scott is not and will never be the Steelers answer as a starting tackle. Yes, he performed above expectations, at times, in late 2010 in relief of Max Starks. Likewise, he held his own in spot duty late in 2011.

But he was so overwhelmed in early 2011 that the Steelers wasted little time in going to the red phone to Max Starks after the Trashing in Texas.

Max Starks is kind of like a fire in an Irish peat bog. The Steelers keep trying to put him out (why? well that’s another question) but he keeps returning. Assuming he recovers from his ACL tear, Starks could help this team.

But the Steelers salary cap problems make Stark’s return unlikely, as a recent Tribune-Review article confirmed.

  • That leaves rookie Mike Adams.
Again, I don’t know enough to project whether Adams talent makes him a viable candidate to start in 2012. Others such as Dale Lolley argue that he’s not ready.

But Adam’s talent is not the only variable to consider.

His off the field issues are well documented, and Kevin Colbert readily admitted he went out on a limb for Adams. And even without the baggage, Adams is a rookie, and Tomlin is loathe to anoint rookies.

In moving Willie Colon and keeping Gilbert at right tackle, the Steelers have paved the way for Adams to claim the starting job at left tackle.

Giving a young rookie such a baptism by fire can force him to mature fast and force him to take command of his career. 
  • Or it can set him up to fall flat on his face.
Is that really a risk you want to take with the position charged with protecting your 100 million dollar quarterback’s blind side?

It says here that Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley, and Sean Kugler know more about offensive line and football character than I do.

They wouldn’t attempt this without thinking they can succeed. But it’s going to be interesting to see how they fit this piece into their puzzle. 

Thanks for visiting.
Click here to check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising. Or, click here to follow us on Twitter @SteelCurtainRis.

No comments: