Ramon Foster beat the odds and made an NFL roster as an undrafted free agent. He worked his way from versatile reserve in his early years to full-time starter last season.
In the offseason the Steelers rewarded him with a three-year contract, but Foster isn't taking his newfound status on the team for granted.
Foster is entering his fifth season in the NFL, and even though he is the most-tenured player on a revamped line, the 6-foot-6, 325-pound guard has never shed the chip on his shoulder that developed after he went undrafted out of the University of Tennessee in 2009.
"I'd be a fool not to think that way," said Foster, who started 16 games last season for the first time in his career. "I tell the young guys, if it's me or you, I'm going to step on your head to get the job done."
It's not only the memory of being undrafted that makes Foster think that way. He has had to fight every year to make the team as the Steelers have restocked the line through the draft.
Since 2009, the Steelers have invested a lot of draft picks and money into their offensive line. They drafted nine offensive linemen in that span, including two from 2009 who are no longer with the team - third-rounder Kraig Urbik and seventh-rounder A.Q. Shipley.
Foster always found a way to make the 53-man roster. It's rare for any team to sever ties with a third-round pick after only one year, but the Steelers felt good enough about Foster that they released Urbik in September 2010.
That same year, after injuries to Chris Kemoeatu and Trai Essex, Foster started eight games, including the two AFC playoff games and Super Bowl XLV against the Packers.
Foster started the 2011 season as a reserve but once again became a starter after some early season injuries. He started 14 games, one at left guard and 13 at right guard. Last season, he became a full-time starter in his fourth season in the league.
This spring, for the first time since Foster has been on the team, general manager Kevin Colbert did not draft an offensive lineman. Now Foster is starting alongside four players who were drafted in the first or second round.
"I know they have some trust in me, but I can't slack off," Foster said. "A guy like Ryan Clark didn't make it 11 years now by slacking off. I talk to him a lot and a lot of other guys. You still have that chip on your shoulder. I can't get complacent whatsoever.
"I just know when you line up as a starter there's always someone coming at you. I have to perform at even higher level. You can't be complacent in this league. I know that. I come from being undrafted. It's never been an easy road, and I can't make myself believe it's going to be an easy road."
Foster might be the only undrafted player starting on the line, but the Steelers have a few undrafted players playing key roles on their team. Clark, the stalwart safety, entered the league as a free agent with the Giants in 2002. Will Johnson, the starting fullback, made the team as an undrafted free agent last year.
Now that he has earned a starting position, Foster would like to take the next step in his development and become a leader much in the same way Clark has for the defense.
"I just want to work on my consistency," Foster said. "That's one of the biggest things. I've been solid, but I want to be more dominant and be more consistent in being dominant. That's my next step, to make a name for myself and help this team out in a bigger role."Steelers - mobilehome
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1230 and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published May 27, 2013 2:30 AM