On the Steelers: Hills climbs into new role at right guard

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The Steelers have opened a drive-thru window at the right-guard position in their offensive line, hoping the next person in line is just what they ordered.

Tackle Chris Scott, a fifth-round pick in 2010, was the most recent to pass through, getting a chance to play extensively in the preseason opener Friday night against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. But, in his first extensive action since being drafted, Scott had the window close quickly.

Next in line: Tony Hills.

Remember him?

After three years of little, if any, action at left tackle, Hills has been moved to right guard and will start there in the second preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles Thursday night at Heinz Field.,

"Tony is very athletic, maybe the most athletic guy in the group," offensive line coach Sean Kugler said. "We're trying to find the best spot for him where he can help himself and he can help us."

Hills, a fourth-round draft choice in 2008, was used at right guard against the Redskins, and he played so well that the Steelers have inserted him at that position with the first-team offense in practice.

Scott, who missed the entire preseason and was on the physically-unable-to-perform list for the first six games last season, will move back to tackle for now. He had trouble handling twists and stunts by the Redskins defensive linemen.

"Tony Hills had one of his best games as a guard," offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "So we're going to give him a shot."

At 6 feet 5, 330 pounds, Hills may not have the prototypical body size to be a guard. But he does have the athleticism to run the team's counter plays that require the guard to pull to the other side.

And it would be an opportunity to play on a regular basis, something Hills hasn't done in three years. He has been inactive for 43 of the 48 games since he was drafted.

"Whatever it is I'm doing, I'm going to keep doing it," Hills said. "I go out there and play hard and aggressive and play with sound technique and not make the same mistake twice. That's what I'm doing

When you know what to do, it's easier to go out and play. Being my fourth year, it's not about knowing the offense now. It's reading defenses, seeing how guys play, different keys to help me up my game."

The Steelers are not giving up on their other two holdovers at right guard -- Ramon Foster, who started the final 10 games of the 2010 season; and Doug Legursky, who started four games there last season.

But they would like to find a player who is a hybrid of both.

Legursky is the smartest offensive lineman on the team -- even more so than center Maurkice Pouncey -- but he is also the smallest (6-1, 315). He might start at left guard against the Eagles if Chris Kemoeatu, who returned Monday to team drills at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, is held out.

Foster (6-6, 325) replaced Legursky for the final 10 games last season because the Steelers wanted a bigger body to cover a defensive tackle in the 4-3 fronts used by the other teams in the AFC North Division, especially the Baltimore Ravens.

Maybe Hills is that guy.

"He's got great athleticism," Kugler said. "His redirect, his pulling skills, his ability to adjust in space, those translate to guard. I'm not saying he can't play tackle, but we're going to see if those skills flourish at the guard spot. That would be for the benefit of the entire team."

Right now, Hills is considered the top backup to left tackle Jonathan Scott, but that role has a short shelf life. Rookie Marcus Gilbert, their No. 2 draft pick, will be given a chance at some point and will make the roster. And the Steelers still have not dismissed the possibility of bringing back Flozell Adams, their starting right tackle in 2010.

"It's been three years I've been here, and that's what got me to here," Hills said. "And here is where I know the entire offense. I'm looking forward to the opportunity."

Correction/Clarification: (Published August 17, 2011) Tony Hills is taking on a new role as a right guard in the Steelers offensive line. His name was spelled incorrectly in a headline in Tuesday's editions.

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com ; Twitter@gerrydulac.


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