Steelers to start rookie lineman in preseason opener
Rookie Mike Adams' long reach has been huge asset so far.
Mike Adams, right, battles with teammate Kelvin Beachum in a Tuesday afternoon practice at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. Adams and fellow rookie Jason DeCastro are expected to see their first game action Thursday.
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The Steelers are not waiting long to see the future of their offensive line.
It already is here.
When they open the preseason Thursday night in Philadelphia, the players they selected in the first two rounds to bolster their offensive line -- guard David DeCastro and tackle Mike Adams -- will start against the Eagles.
Granted, the moves might not be permanent, at least for now.
DeCastro is starting because right guard Ramon Foster will start at left guard for Willie Colon, who has an injured ankle and has been ruled out of the game by coach Mike Tomlin.
And, while Adams has moved ahead of veteran Trai Essex on the depth chart, it still remains to be seen if he or veteran Max Starks, the incumbent starter who remains on the physically-unable-to-perform list, will begin the regular season as the starting left tackle.
But, make no mistake: When highly prized rookies move into the starting lineup this early, no matter the reason, it almost becomes a situation where the job is now theirs to lose.
"There have been no signs of panic or anything like that," said offensive coordinator Todd Haley. "They have a long way to go, but, to this point, they've kept their cool and they look, physically, like there's no overmatched situation. This will be a great test for them. We'll know a lot more after the game where they stack up."
Even center Maurkice Pouncey, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and was named All-Pro last season, didn't start until the third preseason game in 2010.
"They're probably in a similar state he was in," Tomlin said Tuesday at his morning news conference at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. "The reality is, what happens out here at practice is one thing; what Maurkice showed us in a stadium was something that convinced us he was ready to do the job. So these guys have a significant opportunity Thursday night."
DeCastro, the 24th overall pick in the NFL draft, is so advanced it is almost a given he will be the starter at right guard when the season opens Sept. 9 in Denver.
But Adams, their No. 2 pick, has shown good athleticism and an ability to move people off the line of scrimmage in the first two weeks of camp. At 6-foot-7 with aa mammoth reach, he also uses his long arms to get good leverage in pass protection.
"He looks good, real good," said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. "He's coming along. We got to see him get into a little bit of a scuffle the other night, which is good to see in a young lineman, see, as the offensive line says, what kind of dog he has in him. It was good to see his tenacity.
"The good thing is we don't necessarily have to have him start. We have Max Starks, Trai Essex and Ramon Foster. We have a lot of guys that can fill in and do things. He just needs time to really learn this offense."
Adams, though, knows the opportunity that is in front of him.
And he will get something of a quick baptism against the Eagles because he will line against two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Trent Cole, who ranks third in team history with 68 career sacks. He had 11 in '11.
Adams knows the coaches will be watching intently.
"When you get in the real atmosphere, the game situation, things like that, it's definitely what they're looking for," Adams said. "It's definitely even more of an evaluation.
"For me, I don't really try to think about what the hard part is. I try to think about what I can do, because that's what I can control. But, definitely, it's a step up from college, both mentally and physically. These guys are the best of the best, and you've got to respect that."
The Steelers will waste little time evaluating their top rookies and seeing how they respond in a game situation. They drafted DeCastro and Adams knowing they would be the future of the offensive line along with Pouncey and second-year right tackle Marcus Gilbert.
The future is here.
"Those young guys look better every single day," said running back Isaac Redman. "I'm just really excited to see what we look like come game time."
First Published August 8, 2012 12:00 am