Beachum's versatility makes him Steelers' newest center of attention

Kelvin Beachum played strictly left tackle at SMU. The Steelers drafted him last year to play guard. Saturday night, he played tight end. Thursday night, he will play center against the Carolina Panthers and maybe a little tackle, too.

Bill "Spaceman" Lee, 66, played all nine positions on a baseball field in a minor league game last week. Beachum looks to be working on the football version of that.

He will play his fourth position in a game and his second season hasn't begun. What's next? Sending him out on pass routes? Saturday night, the phrase referee Jeff Triplette repeated most often into his microphone was "No. 68 is an eligible receiver."

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"My wife said she kind of got tired of hearing it," Beachum said.

"It would be fun to see him do that," Heath Miller said of the chance Beachum might catch a pass. "I don't know if that's in the plans or not, but we'll see what happens I guess."

Coach Mike Tomlin said he liked what Beachum did as a tight end against Kansas City. So did Miller.

"He's definitely a better blocker than me," Miller said. "They didn't give him a chance to get down the field, so that's still a question mark. We'll see what he can do."

Who could have predicted Beachum would be so versatile? Perhaps those who picked him to be a student rep to the SMU Board of Trustees, or his position on the SMU Student Affairs Leadership Council had an idea of a different versatility. But on the Mustangs' football field, Beachum experienced a luxury he does not have with the Steelers -- he started every game in his four seasons at left tackle, 52 of them.

Here he has been not so much a jack of all trades as a master of them all. Wherever they put him, he has excelled. There are those who believe he should start at tackle, as he did five games in his rookie season, but Beachum said he is happy to help out wherever, whenever. That includes snapping a football for the first time in a game in Charlotte, N.C. Thursday.

He said he is not the least bit nervous about doing something in a game he has been practicing since line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. approached him in the spring about adding center to his repertoire.

"It's football. I've been snapping in practice. I've been practicing it all offseason. I had a chance to work on it during training camp, and I'm still working on it. My snapping has gotten a lot better.

"There comes a point where you just have to play football. Go out there and do your job."

That's the approach he has taken at each position.

"Just learn as much as I can, listen to the coaches, listen to people who played the position. Search out answers, search out for solutions to try to be the best at whatever position I'm at."

He claims to have no favorite.

"No, right now it's just wherever they feel I can be the best asset to the team. Whether it's offensive line or playing the big tight end, wherever they feel I need to be, I'm going to play."

The Steelers drafted Beachum in the seventh round in 2012 after 247 other players were chosen by NFL teams.

Needed: extra snapper

It's not the hottest competition in training camp, it might not even be a competition, but, with James Harrison no longer on the team, the question begs: Who is the emergency backup long-snapper?

Greg Warren enters his ninth season as the team's long snapper and, while he did miss portions of the 2008 and 2009 seasons with injuries, they were able to find another long-snapper to replace him each time. But there was that one game in 2008, when Warren was forced out with an injury, and the Steelers were forced to turn to Harrison as their long-snapper.

It came against the New York Giants at Heinz Field. The Steelers were leading, 14-12, midway through the fourth quarter when Mitch Berger dropped back to punt. Harrison's snap sailed over his head and out of the end zone for a safety to tie it at 14 and the Giants went on to win, 21-14.

So, who goes in to snap for punts and field goals if Warren leaves mid-game with an injury?

Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.

"I'm just an all-around athlete," Gradkowski said, with a smile.

He tried it at Seton-LaSalle High School, although he cannot remember if he ever snapped in a game. He has fooled around with it in practice the way baseball players try to throw knuckleballs. It has gotten him on Tomlin's list as the team's emergency snapper.

If it happens, he might be the first NFL quarterback to make a snap from center, long or short.

"I know we laugh about it, but, if it comes down to it ..." Gradkowski said.

"I enjoy coach Tomlin when he puts a clip on of special teams because that's exciting. If I played any other position, I'd die to be out there on the field with special teams."

Some day, he might get that chance.


For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at Ed Bouchette: and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published August 28, 2013 4:00 AM


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