Posted by Ryan Wilson
The Steelers lost their starting left tackle, Jonathan Scott, one play into Thursday night's preseason game against the Eagles. They lost Scott's backup, rookie Marcus Gilbert, two series later. This had the makings of a big deal because Pittsburgh's quarterback is Ben Roethlisberger and his game is built around holding the ball, shedding would-be tacklers and making big plays down the field. As a consequence of this style, Roethlisberger also takes a ton of hits.
But before you have a panic attack, there's some good news, via CBSSports.com's Rapid Reporter Chris Adamski: after the game, head coach Mike Tomlin said both Scott and Gilbert had hyperextended knees and should be okay.
"I have that inner feeling that everything's going to be all right," Scott added, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Just my inner Godly feeling that says I'll be OK. That's the initial thinking, but of course I'm not the experts. In the meantime, I'm just going to stay off of it and let the healing process take place. I'm resilient. I'll be ready to play next time."
Disaster averted, although when talking about Pittsburgh's o-line, it's all relative.
While Scott will never be mistaken for a Pro Bowl left tackle, he's the best the Steelers have, and he has experience playing in their system. He also plays a position with little depth and less room for error, and if Scott or Gilbert are lost for any appreciable time, Pittsburgh's postseason hopes could be in real jeopardy.
That may sound like an overreaction, but that's how tenuous the Steelers' offensive line situation is. A year ago, the team lost starting right tackle Willie Colon and had to hastily reshuffle the unit. The Steelers were fortunate to find Flozell Adams out of work, and he stepped in and played well in Colon's absence. And while Adams is again a free agent, and presumably still interested in working, he's no longer an NFL-caliber left tackle.
Fans and media annually lament the organization's refusal to draft offensive linemen early and often, although they've had to soften that stance in recent years; Maurkice Pouncey was the team's first-round pick in 2010 and he became a Pro Bowler as a rookie. And the Steelers drafted Gilbert in the second round in April.
But the perceived lack of urgency to protect Roethlisberger with the best o-line available goes back to something Tomlin said several years ago. We're paraphrasing, but he explained that there are two ways to protect a quarterback: with the offensive line and with dangerous playmakers.
The Steelers are improving on the former, but are already well stocked on the latter. Mike Wallace is the best deep threat in football. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are second-year wideouts who create matchup problems for defenses. Then there's Hines Ward, Jerricho Cotchery and Heath Miller -- zone-busting, down-the-seam pass-catchers and great blockers. Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman are both hard runners and underrated in the passing game.
It also helps to have a quarterback who can take a beating. For now, it appears that those backfield beatings will be minimized. But this is football. Injuries happen. It's just a question of when.
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