The Offensive Line's Future

Yesterday, Craig Wolfley made a case for Tunch Ilkin as the Steelers' new line coach. Today, Wolfley goes into the nuts and bolts of the entire line.

Craig Wolfley's a rarity.

How many people do you know who truly enjoy watching the inner workings of an offensive lineman's practice?

How many would work the sidelines of Steelers games and focus mainly on what an assistant coach is telling his "hogs" between series?

That's Wolfley, the former Steelers lineman who now works for the team's broadcast network.

Yesterday, Wolfley made a case for his friend and former teammate Tunch Ilkin to become the next Steelers' line coach to replace the departing Sean Kugler.

Today, Wolfley goes into the nuts and bolts of an offensive line that's far from settled after another injury-plagued season that saw three rookies make starts in place of veterans who will return.

It's a crazy puzzle, but who better to put it together than Wolfley?

Q. Craig, let's get into the moving parts here. Do we start with Maurkice Pouncey at center and David DeCastro at right guard?

CW. Yes.

Q. Why not left guard for DeCastro?

CW. Well, he's very familiar with right guard. That's what he's played all through Stanford. He's very comfortable there, so they go with him in that position. Also, what I like is his ability to pull. It gives you the ability to pull to the left as well, so that balances out the running attack you've used. Over the last several years they've become right-handed with the left guard pulling right.

Q. So those are the two building blocks. At left guard, can they count on Willie Colon again?

CW. This is a difficult decision because Willie has had three season-ending surgeries. He's a productive player when he plays, but obviously when you get so many soft-tissue injuries you have to get your best medical minds available and work on it. Number one for Willie, what I would say, is drop some weight because I think he can be quicker. At tackle you can have the weight up, but inside I think he needs to really emphasize his footwork and his ability to move. He's a terrifically strong player, a guy who really could play physically if he tapered his technique and tapered his footwork.

Q. What about a guy like Marcus Gilbert to guard?

CW. Marcus is too much of an upright player for my liking on the inside. I think he's best suited for tackle. Right now I'm very interested in seeing what Mike Adams can produce coming through an entire off-season and training-camp situation. I think he's a very talented young man, but he's also got to prove that he's NFL capable right now on a week-in, week-out basis.

Q. You're saying Adams and Gilbert are your tackles?

CW. I would think in terms of Gilbert at right tackle and Adams at left tackle. That's how I look at it. I think Mike Adams has got the feet, the athleticism. I think he needs to have a good period of time settling in there to see if he's got the confidence level to play at that position. That's like playing the hot corner in baseball. You've got the hot rushers all coming at you. Can you sustain that sort of performance week-in and week-out when the pressure's on you? Because you are the blind-sider, the guy who draws the hottest of the hot rushers. You've got to be able to handle that.

Q. What has he shown to make you believe he can do that?

CW. The pass-blocking has been a problem. I think one of the great things we'd see if my compadre [Ilkin] has the opportunity to work with Mike Adams is his hands. Tunch had an ability to time his hands and feet like nobody I've ever seen. Larry Brown was stronger. Jon Kolb was stronger. They both had very good footwork. But when you want to talk about a guy who was more skilled at the art of close-quarter combat out on an island, that was Tunch. So in some way shape or form I would say, Mike Adams, find Tunch and work with him.

Q. So that makes Max the casualty?

CW. Max could be the casualty. But how many times have we said that and Max has resurrected himself? I love Max. I think he's a terrific guy. If he was able to shape up just a little bit – it's hard when you're in your thirties. You've got to control that weight and that's a hard thing. But, one thing for sure about Max, he's the one guy who's been healthy all year and has played every snap.

Q. He has proven himself and now he's a year beyond the neck injury that scared teams off previously. Someone's going to pay him the money in free agency.

CW. I would think so. He's had a good year. He's been durable. He's gotten over that fear marker of ‘Will that neck hold up?' He's had two years.

Q. OK, assistant to the assistant coach Wolfley, you agree that Max will make more money than the front office will pay and you say Mike Adams goes to left tackle. That's a jump. There's not going to be a fallback to Max this time.

CW. No, there isn't.

Q. So, from left to right it's Adams, Colon, Pouncey, DeCastro and Gilbert. Is Kelvin Beachum the swing tackle? Or does he begin learning left guard?

CW. This is the curious part now, finding where Kelvin Beachum fits in. I'm wondering if he fits at left guard. That's where I would look at him. I would be anxious to see that.

Q. Ramon Foster and Doug Legursky are free agents, and Ramon, like Max, could get a fatter offer than the Steelers have in mind. What are your thoughts there?

CW. I love Legursk as the backup center. And I think he can be an emergency guard. Now you're talking about what Ramon Foster pulls in the open market. That's a question I don't know if anyone can answer right now.


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