Get Them in the Friggin' Game

Mike Prisuta went to the mountaintop for words of wisdom from some veteran NFL offensive line coaches on handling rookies.

The occasion was the second annual Joe Moore O-Line camp last weekend at West Allegheny High School.

But the discussion was about rookie offensive linemen starting in the NFL, and NFL offensive line coaches Russ Grimm (Arizona), Paul Dunn (Atlanta) and Tony Wise (retired, formerly of Dallas, Chicago, Carolina, Miami and the New York Jets) were willing participants.

Q: How did the Steelers do on rounds one and two of the NFL Draft?

Grimm: "They got two good offensive linemen in Mike Adams and David DeCastro. Both those guys were rated high on the list. I know Adams; some people had off-the-field issues with him. I talked to the kid at the combine. I thought Mike was a good guy and I think he's going to straighten out.

"They're two good football players that can come in and help right now."

Q: How serious did you perceive the off-the-field baggage to be in Adams's case?

Grimm: "We had him on our board. It's a big deal because paying that type of money to that high of a draft pick you want to make sure you're not making a mistake. But kids are going to make mistakes; that's proven. There's a certain percent that turn it around and there's a certain percent that keep making mistakes. I think this kid's going to turn it around and have a hell of a career."

Q: Is it unsettling starting a rookie offensive lineman in the NFL?

Dunn: "Not if you've done your homework and you feel like the individual can come out. Now, if you had a plethora of rookies you'd obviously be a little concerned.

"Look at the guy running this camp, Russ Grimm. Russ Grimm, Joe Jacoby and Mark May were three rookies that came to the Washington Redskins (in 1981) and they ended up as ‘The Hogs,' if I'm not mistaken. So it can be done, there's no question about it.

"My first year with the Falcons we drafted Sam Baker out of USC on the first round (21st overall in 2008) and he started at left tackle and played the whole year for us. And he's been our starter at left tackle ever since. We took Matt Ryan in the first round (third overall in 2008) and then our general manager and scouting department were bound and determined, ‘Well, we have a No. 1 QB. Now we have to get somebody to protect him off his blind side.'"

Q: Have you ever started two rookies on the same offensive line?

Wise: "Oh, yeah, D'Brickashaw Ferguson (fourth overall, 2006) and Nick Mangold (29th overall, 2006). You know the drill. They said ‘These guys are starting' and I said ‘Yes, sir' and we just moved on. I'm not saying we had anybody that was any better than they were but it was, ‘You're the guy, make sure your book is open and you have a pencil and let's get going.' Everybody knew it was going to happen. The minute they chose D'Brickashaw the entire staff knew, ‘OK, this is the plan, we're going.'

"D'Brickashaw is such a good athlete. He did fine. We helped him in certain pass protections, things like that. But he did well and he got better as the season went on.

"Nick ended up playing very well. It worked out because we were a first-year staff and it was probably the best thing to do. (Coach Eric) Mangini figured he was probably going to be there so let's go ahead and start these guys and then in five years we'll have two guys who have started for five years."

Q: Might that not necessarily be the best thing to do for the staff of a team that has Super Bowl aspirations such as the Steelers?

Wise: "That's a whole different ball of wax. They know what they're doing so I'm betting my money on the fact they know DeCastro, toughness-wise and maturity-wise and intelligence-wise, is up to the task. And they proved it with (Maurkice) Pouncey so they've proven they're betting on the right guys.

"With the Steelers the maturity thing is definitely part of it. With Adams, does he prove through training camp that he's a mature guy that, if we have him fan to this outside linebacker he's going to get it done and Ben (Roethlisberger) will feel confident, ‘Yeah, I'll step up (in the pocket) and nobody's coming free.'"

Q: Is it especially risky starting a rookie at left tackle?

Grimm: "You have to have a certain mindset. That player has to understand there's going to be a couple of times where he's going to get beat. Is he mentally tough enough to come back up there and go again or is he going to let it affect his play for the rest of the game?

"In Washington I had Chris Samuels (third overall in 2000) and he was a good player for me down there. You don't like to do it. You're always nervous about it. But some of these rookies are better than some of the vets you have so you have to play the best players you have."

Q: Is it difficult to insert a rookie into a veteran group?

Dunn: "If you're talking about one individual I think it's easy because the four guys pretty much carry that individual into the group. If the individual puts it on cruise control and lets those other four individuals take him under their wing and develop him then usually there's a pretty smooth transition there. If you need more than one or two then that mixture kind of becomes a little more complicated.

"Of course, there's always competition there. Some of the older veteran guys, they look behind them and they see a first-round pick or a second-round pick and they understand they better pick it up a little bit. There's a delicate balance. But if you need one guy and you know that he's the guy that's been drafted to come in and replace so and so, then it makes it a little easier because you put peer pressure on the group and they kind of take it over from there."

Q: Ever regret not playing a rookie offensive lineman sooner than you had?

Wise: "Mark Stepnoski (third round, 1989) didn't start right away (in Dallas) but in early December Jimmy (Johnson) came to me and said, ‘We've gone as long as we can. Put ‘Step' in there and we're going to live with whatever happens.'

"Step could have played earlier. He was up to the challenge. He could have played much earlier. We probably kept Olin Kreutz (third round, 1988) out too long (in Chicago).

"First year of his contract, get him in there. Like Jimmy said, ‘We didn't draft this guy for me to stand on the sideline and look down and see him standing next to you. Let's get him in the friggin' game.'"

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