On the Steelers: Beachum breaks the mold at left tackle



That will be quite a contrast at left tackle when the Steelers and Browns take the field Sunday in Cleveland.

Joe Thomas has not missed a snap at left tackle since the Browns drafted him third overall in the first round in 2007 and has made six Pro Bowls.

The Steelers drafted Kelvin Beachum last year in the seventh round to play guard, yet he has helped keep their season relevant by saving them at left tackle when they had virtually no one else to turn to.

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At 6 feet 3 and sometimes 300 pounds (perhaps depending on how many Muscle Milk shakes he downs that day), Beachum has graded out well since taking over what many NFL personnel men believe to be the second-most important position on offense.

After the Steelers decided Marcus Gilbert could not play there, and then watched as Mike Adams could not play there, Beachum was the next man up and perhaps the only man left. His pass blocking has been significantly better than that of Adams, particularly the past two weeks.

Beachum wants to be more than a stop-gap left tackle, and with Gilbert at right tackle and Adams playing some tight end and backup tackle, he'll get that chance.

"I don't just want to be a guy out there at left tackle, I want to make it a mainstay thing," Beachum said.

"I think that's what he's trying to prove and what we are all trying to see," offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. "It's just that he is getting better every week."

He must overcome the stereotypes NFL scouts and coaches have for left tackles. They do not envision them as 6-3, 300 pounds, which is the smallest left tackle in the NFL and the smallest Steelers lineman. The Browns list Joe Thomas as 6-6, 312 pounds. Adams is listed at 6-7, 323 and Gilbert 6-6, 330.

That is why Beachum keeps those buckets of protein mixes in his locker.

"I've always wanted to be bigger than I am. It's just one of those things, keeping the weight on," Beachum said. "It's just eating more."

Beachum has three things going for him -- 54 starts at left tackle at Southern Methodist, long arms and sound technique. If it wasn't for the arms and the technique, many of those 330-pounders would overpower him.

"Everybody gets overpowered at times when you have bad technique," he said. "I have to be good at my technique. I'm not a guy who can absorb blocks, an overly big guy who can hold onto blocks. I have to work on my technique. My feet have to be in good position.

"I can use my feet, my hands, use the scheme we have from a mental standpoint so I know when I can get on a guy real quick, when to set, know when a stunt is coming. It's mental as well as physical."

He also has one other technique that seems to work well.

"I'm a guy who is going to get on you and start the fight early."

Hounding Haden

Antonio Brown, the NFL's leading receiver, said he looks forward to going against one of the league's best cornerbacks, Cleveland's Joe Haden. He also said he looks forward to Haden following him around all over the field, Ike Taylor-like.

"I hope so," said Brown, which prompted the question as to why. "One-on-one is better than two-on-one. If you study game plans and prepare for one guy, it's a lot easier with your matchup planning for him than other guys or other zone coverage."

Haley said Haden is "the best cornerback we've seen this year, for sure. ... Antonio has a great challenge ahead of him, so he has to play his best game."

Brown already has a career-high 74 receptions and needs 48 yards to hit 1,000 for the second time.

Backup TE almost ready

Matt Spaeth practiced for the first time since the Steelers placed him on the short-term injured reserve list Sept. 3 with a foot sprain that required surgery.

They have 21 days to decide whether to take him off IR or keep him there for the rest of the season. That can occur any time in those 21 days, and Spaeth expects to join the 53-man roster at some point in the next three weeks.

"That's the plan," Spaeth said. "I know this is day one of the three-week window, so when that happens I have no idea, but that is definitely the plan."

Spaeth said he felt good after his first practice. Haley said he did not watch him much in practice but "he has been working hard; we will see where it goes."

Few bursts from Bell

Count Haley among those hoping to see rookie halfback Le'Veon Bell have a breakout game, or at least a breakout run.

"There's been production," Haley said. "It just hasn't been in the run game, but there have been some efficient runs when we needed them."

Bell ran 13 yards on the first offensive play Sunday against Detroit, but finished with only 36 yards on 18 carries. He did catch a short pass and turn it into a 43-yard gain on a second-quarter field-goal drive.

"He's made a couple of real big plays in the passing game the last two weeks," Haley said.

Bell has 24 receptions for 238 yards. He leads the Steelers with 375 yards rushing and four touchdowns, but averages only 3.1 yards per carry with a long run of 25 yards.

"I want to see one of those breakout runs here pretty quick," Haley said.


Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published November 21, 2013 11:53 PM

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