A revolutionary concept took hold on the Steelers offensive line, an idea so wild that even those who run the football team resisted until they had no choice.
They are showing that at left tackle, smaller is better. No one in the banking world would ever call 6-foot-3, 300-pound Kelvin Beachum small, but in the sphere of the NFL, he is -- by 4 of 5 inches and 30 pounds. He is so small for that position that when the Steelers got around to drafting him in the seventh round in 2012, they said he would play guard, even though he started 54 games at left tackle for Southern Methodist University.
Yet Beachum not only started 11 games at left tackle in 2013 and one at tight end, he has overwhelmed the competition this summer known as 6-7, 330-pound Mike Adams, who was drafted in the second round in 2012. Beachum put the clamps on his job from the get-go this year and there no longer is any suggestion of anyone else playing the position.
Steelers Report: Steelers 19, Bills 16
Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac talk about the Steelers win over Buffalo from at Heinz Field Pittsburgh, Pa. (Video by Peter Diana; 8/16/2014)
What has gone largely unnoticed is that Beachum's size really may be an advantage, and his success could prompt NFL scouts to look more closely at why it works. He uses his hands, technique -- and long arms -- as effective tools. And his smaller height gives him leverage over some of the bigger pass rushers he goes against.
This was proven long ago when Tunch Ilkin made Pro Bowls as a right tackle at just 6-3, 260. Ilkin trained with a master arts expert to work on his hands and became so good at it that after his career he was in demand by other NFL teams and colleges to teach those skills to their linemen.
It's no wonder that Beachum has asked Ilkin to work with him and the two continue to do so.
"I tell him to focus on your hands," said Ilkin, who started for 10 years in the NFL before becoming part of the Steelers broadcast team. "He's not that tall but he has long arms. You want that. As a shorter guy you have leverage. It wasn't the 6-7, 6-8 guys who worried me, it was the 6-2 guys who had great technique.
"To me, technique is everything, I don't care how big you are.
"I think size is the most overrated thing in the National Football League."
Ilkin asked Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert if outside pass rushers are any bigger than when he played. Colbert told him they are not.
"Then why do you need a 330-pound offensive tackle to play the 250-pound speed rusher?" Ilkin wondered. "Jason Worilds is no bigger than guys I played against, neither is Jarvis Jones. I played against Reggie White, who was 300. I played against Charles Mann, who was 275, Ray Childress 275, William Fuller 275. They're no different."
Beachum and Ilkin talk regularly, and the old tackle offered some new advice that continues in this revolutionary theme.
"Aim small, miss small," Beachum said.
It comes from the movie, "The Patriot," in which Mel Gibson instructs his sons on the art of hitting a human target in the Revolutionary War. In the Ilkin vernacular, it involves punching with the hands.
"I had my hands a little high and a little wide," Beachum explained. "Aim small, miss small. Sometimes you aim at a certain point you miss that point but sometimes when you miss you're still in a great position."
"We worked with the hand stuff in the past and he really likes that stuff," Ilkin said. "Aim small, miss small [means] throw the punch out there; throw the punch quicker than you think. Don't wait on him."
Beachum and the rest of the offensive line did not allow a sack of Ben Roethlisberger in the quarterback's three series Saturday night in a 19-16 preseason victory against the Buffalo Bills. The no-huddle offense contributed to that. So did the left tackle, who is trying to change the perception of just what people should look for in one.
"Not change dramatically," Beachum said, "but little things that have to change that cause people to think of that left tackle position, especially for the Steelers, in a different light than it's been the past couple of years."
Aim small, miss small. All revolutions need a battle cry.
The Steelers came through the game Saturday night against Buffalo in relatively good health. Coach Mike Tomlin reported one injury, a dislocated shoulder to guard Bryant Browning. The team will practice today and Tuesday and leave Wednesday for Philadelphia, where they play their third preseason game Thursday night.