Surprise Contender at LT?

Trai Essex says he shouldn't be counted out of the left tackle derby quite yet.

Trai Essex is willing to admit that the media just may have been right all these years about Willie Colon's potential as a guard.

But Essex won't go that far when it comes to the media's recent pronouncement that rookie Mike Adams will be the starter at left tackle this season.

After all, Adams isn't even allowed to participate in spring workouts until his class at Ohio State graduates.

In the meantime, Essex and fellow veteran Jon Scott are learning the Steelers' new offense as the rotating left tackles this spring.

Of course, we've all seen Scott and his inconsistencies. But we haven't seen Essex – at least the new Essex – who was a left tackle coming out of Northwestern in 2005 but who's known more for his ability to play all five line positions as a reserve.

This year, Essex is determined to live up to the potential at left tackle that caused the Steelers to stamp him with a first-round grade, and he says he's going to make a real run at the starting job.

"Oh, yeah. I plan on it," said Essex. "You know, I got signed back because of my versatility. I'm well aware of that. But I've had talks with Koogs [line coach Sean Kugler] and talks with coach [Mike] Tomlin and I'm not coming in just to be the swing guy. I'm coming in and competing. I'm the lightest I've been in years. I feel like I'm the healthiest I've been in years."

The Steelers intended to move Marcus Gilbert over to left tackle from right tackle because right tackle Willie Colon was returning from injury. But the Steelers feel they drafted a true left tackle in Adams and told Gilbert he was staying put. The Steelers instead moved Colon to guard. That led to the general media conjecture that Adams would slide right into the left tackle spot this season.

"That's why I don't really listen to you guys that much," Essex said with a laugh.

"Look, he's not going to be handed the job. That's why we practice. That's why we have OTAs, minicamp and training camp. It will weed the people out. Coach Tomlin's not going to put a left tackle out there just because he's a second-round pick, or just because he's a first-round pick. He's going to put the best guy out there who can protect our quarterback's blindside. Coach Tomlin is a great coach for a reason. That's why he has the record he has. He doesn't make decisions just on perceived status. He's going to make the best choice for our line and our offense."

Essex said he was assured that competition would determine the starting job, and to that end the eighth-year veteran plans on reporting to training camp at his lightest weight since college. Essex looks better than ever, as if he rolled right into the weight room the day after the playoff loss in Denver.

"Well, you have to take a couple of weeks off after the end of the season," he said. "You can't just go straight to training because you'll wear yourself to a nub. I did take a couple of weeks off, but I started training a lot earlier and I watched my food, even when I was off those couple of weeks, because that's always been my biggest problem in gaining weight. I used to get ridiculous on the chicken wings and the French fries and the cheese and whatnot."

Essex cut out the fried foods, the fast foods, added more grains to his diet, and cut out sweetened drinks and alcohol.

"I'm at 334," he said. "I plan on coming to camp at 324, 323, the lightest I've been since college.

"And I plan on showcasing my best ball," he added. "Now, if my best ball isn't as good as Mike Adams' best ball, so be it. But I'm going to come in here and play my hardest."

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