Steelers guard Foster's fortitude finally pays off


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It remains somewhat a mystery why none of the 32 NFL teams saw fit to draft Tennessee's outstanding right tackle in 2009.

The Steelers were among those who snubbed him, but they had the foresight to at least offer the Volunteers' three-year starter and offensive captain a contract after the draft. So did other teams.

His agent advised him to sign with the Steelers.

"Pittsburgh is the land of opportunity," Ramon Foster was told and did as he was advised.

He packed everything in his car and headed from Tennessee to Western Pennsylvania that summer, confidently telling his girlfriend: "I'm not coming back until the bye week."

Four years later, Foster arrived for a fifth time at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe last week, only things are a little different now. His girlfriend became his wife, they have two sons and Foster has a new job to call his own as the starting left guard.

Among all those draft picks from the first and second rounds the Steelers have packed into their starting offensive line, Foster sticks out, and not just because he wasn't drafted. At 27, he's the old man of the group, at least two years older than any of them. He has played more NFL games than any of them and at 341 pounds, he's bigger than any of the official weights at which the others are listed.

He also was never handed a starting job early in his career like those four high-round picks, perhaps because he was not a high-round draft pick.

"I don't see how guys passed that up in the draft," three-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey said. "He's a great player. For him to come this far and be a known starter for the past two years is excellent. He deserves everything he gets."

Actually, he probably did not deserve everything the Steelers gave him in past seasons -- they kept giving him the business, trying to take his job away.

A starting job has never been his until now. Someone else always was ahead of him -- Chris Kemoeatu and Trai Essex in 2010, Doug Legursky in 2011, Willie Colon and David DeCastro in 2012.

All but DeCastro, a first-round pick in 2012, have something in common -- they are no longer on the roster. It took five years, 57 games and 42 starts (plus four in the postseason) for the Steelers to finally recognize what they had in Foster. They re-signed him as a free agent to a three-year, $6.3 million contract shortly after free agency began in March.

He is their starting left guard and no one is close to pushing him for the job.

"I found my niche there, I think," Foster said. "I think I can be pretty good at that position. I have experience now, I like the one-on-one contact there, I can move pretty well there. And I think I'm just good at it. I can do the outside [at tackle] but I like the interior better."

He fits better inside because he did not have the quickness to be an NFL tackle, the Steelers believed, and that was a reason he went undrafted. But he is quick enough to fit the Steelers' new zone-blocking scheme in which linemen flow to the right and left.

"He's powerful in there," Pouncey said. "He can really move guys up out of there. Coach showed film of him knocking down a linebacker [Stevenson Sylvester] and getting to the second level. He can really move around. This year, the outside zone is going to be a big thing for us and he's really buying into it."

Foster is taking part in a mentorship program sponsored by Gillette and documented by NFL Films and NFL.com with undrafted rookie guard Mike Golic Jr. Foster, of course, can relate. He and defensive lineman Steve McLendon were undrafted rookies in 2009 rooming together and dreaming about making the team. Foster made it that year. The team cut McLendon, who spent time on the practice squad before inching his way up the ladder.

"Right along, I knew Ramon had a better chance of making it," McLendon said. "I came in with the wrong mindset. They drafted a first-rounder [Ziggy Hood], a sixth-rounder [Ra'Shon "Sunny" Harris] and they were fresh off the Super Bowl. I didn't know where I would fit in."

It took him a while, but McLendon also has a job to call his own as the team's new starting nose tackle, also with a new contract. He and Foster often butt heads in practice.

Foster was one of two players to start every game last season along with tackle Max Starks, who is now with San Diego. As with most of his career with the Steelers, some of Foster's starts came at right guard (after DeCastro's injury) and some at left guard (after Colon's injury). He even moved to right tackle in the season finale against Cleveland after Kelvin Beachum left in the third quarter with a concussion.

But now, finally, Foster has a home at left guard among all those high draft choices.

"Those guys have that thing of being a high draft pick," he said. "I want to hold my own and be dominant with this group. I'd like to stay there for years to come."

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For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com. and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published August 4, 2013 4:00 AM


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