By Jeremy Hritz
The Steelers offensive line is in flux, and across the board, pieces are being added, removed, and vintage ones are being refurbished. A strength of the team for several seasons, the Steelers enter 2021 with more questions than answers on the OL. With more than likely a rookie starter at center, and a first time starter at Right Tackle in Zach Banner, there will also be a new face at Left Guard as a starter, in addition to a grizzled veteran who will continue to man the Right Guard position. But what is behind the two starting guard positions and what does the depth look like?
First, the starter at Right Guard will continue to be David DeCastro. While he had somewhat of a down year in 2020 due to injury, there is no reason to believe he cannot rebound and produce 1-2 more productive seasons at 31 years of age. DeCastro is quietly fierce, aggressive, and physical and has been the team’s best run blocker for years. Having time to heal and recover this off-season will serve him well, and he should regain Pro Bowl form and reclaim his efficacy in pulling to clear running lanes, especially for one Najee Harris.
At Left Guard, 2nd year player Kevin Dotson will step into the starting role with physicality and a mentality to dominate his opponents. Having gained starting experience in 2020, Dotson demonstrated a liking for punishing defenders and is poised for a breakout year. Dotson has all of the tools to be the next great Steelers offensive linemen, and the attitude and mindset to continually grow at the position. Paired with Green and DeCastro, Dotson can bolster the interior of the offensive line, and make the inside running game a strength for the Steelers in 2021.
The depth beyond DeCastro and Dotson gets tricky because of the versatility the Steelers demand from their offensive linemen. In reality, there is no such thing as guard depth for the Steelers; instead, it’s guard/tackle and sometimes guard/tackle/center depth. The Steelers want to maximize their 53-man roster, and finding offensive linemen who can play multiple positions makes this possible.
BJ Finney, who the Steelers re-signed, doubles as both a center and guard, and could step in at a moment’s notice at both guard positions, and more than likely, he will be the first man up in the event of an injury to DeCastro or Dotson. The same applies to Joe Haeg who the Steelers signed this off-season, who plays both guard and tackle and won a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers. The Steelers signed Haeg to a 2-year deal worth 4.6 million dollars which could signal he will stick with the team. If you can get utility at both the guard and tackle position from Haeg, keeping him around just makes sense.
After Finney and Haeg, there are some fringe players who also have experience at both guard and tackle who will have to flash in camp to stick with the team on the practice squad.
Rashaad Coward is a defensive end turned offensive linemen who had multiple starts with the Chicago Bears at Right Guard. He signed a 1-year contract with the Steelers in March, and he will need to show utility, in addition to his starting experience to claim a home with the team.
Finally, John Leglue who played his college football at Tulane and bounced around professionally from Denver to New Orleans to Green Bay. Leglue has experience at both tackle positions, in addition to Right Guard.
One thing is for certain, versatility and adaptability is a must for Steelers offensive linemen, and at the backend of the roster, the players without a history with the team, must show they can do it all.