Pittsburgh Steelers: Ouch! Replacing Max Starks No Easy Task
Replacing any injured starter is never easy for an NFL team. Replacing a left tackle adequately isn't simply never easy; it's rarely possible.
If you don't know how important the left tackle position is in the NFL, look up the video footage of Joe Theismann's leg-breaking, career-ending sack in 1985.
With Max Starks out the remainder of the season after being placed on injured reserve today, the Pittsburgh Steelers will have to search both within the organization and outside to come up with a solution so that Ben Roethlisberger doesn't end up like Theismann.
Here's a quick look at what options they have.
1. Move Flozell Adams to LT
Flozell Adams was a left tackle for his entire NFL career before coming to Pittsburgh. Since he arrived, the presence of Starks has left him at right tackle.
Adams has excelled in that position and has been one of the pleasant surprises for the Steelers.
He's old and not very quick anymore, however. Both bad signs for left tackles. There's a chance that he could go back to his old spot if the Steelers decide that's the best way to fill Starks' shoes.
Can Adams still play the protector on the blind side? He should at least be a serviceable option, but his lack of quickness and his eroding pass protection skills make this a likely fallback option for the team.
2. Start Jonathan Scott at LT
Jonathan Scott has been the primary backup at both tackle spots this season. He's played a lot in relief of both Flozell Adams and Max Starks so far. Now, he'll likely be called into a bigger role.
Scott is a serviceable backup and short term solution. He certainly could start at right tackle and be decent if Adams is moved, but starting him on the left side isn't a good choice.
Scott isn't the best pass blocker and can be beaten by a talented defensive lineman or linebacker. He's not the turnstile that you'd expect from a backup, but he's also not going to be a viable option for eight games.
He'll be important regardless because of his ability to play either spot. I don't see him starting, but I do see him playing more often to keep the starters fresh and injury-free.
3. Insert Someone Else Into the Lineup
Here's a couple of other internal options:
Ramon Foster, T
Foster is a natural tackle. I'd like to see him get the first shot at the job. He's a nasty lineman and played well in limited duty last season and during this year's preseason. He's comparable in size to Flozell Adams and he's got some speed and quickness that's valuable for the position. He may not be a long-term fix, but he could provide a steady hand in the remaining eight games.
Chris Scott, T
Scott is another natural tackle. He was just activated today to replace Starks on the roster, but he's coming off an injury of his own and has no time in this offense. He's a rookie and his injury occurred prior to camp. With that much inexperience, its hard to imagine him getting into a game for a few weeks, although he could play his way into the lineup by doing well if and when called upon.
Tony Hills, T
Hills is the other tackle on the roster. He's never lived up to his draft status (fourth round, 2008) and he's slightly undersized. He has the speed, but he's never been able to stop rushers from beating him. He could be a serviceable backup, but he's never seen much time in the NFL because he's simply not that good. They may need him now.
Trai Essex, G
Essex has been playing guard for most of the last two years. He's had experience at left tackle before, however. He was a decent relief option there in his first seasons before he became a starting guard and he knows the ins and outs of the position. With Doug Legursky emerging as an excellent player at guard, Essex may be expendable there and could be moved back to tackle.
4. Look Outside the Organization
There's only one problem: left tackles don't stay unemployed. The good ones start, the serviceable ones back-up or start on bad teams, and the bad ones fill out depth charts just in case.
The Steelers would be hard-pressed to find a decent free agent tackle who could do the job long term. They got lucky with Flozell Adams, but there are no other major free agents like that available.
Perhaps they could scour some practice squads, but there just doesn't seem to be any names jumping out that could be a potential help.
And the Winner?
Trai Essex makes the most sense.
He's had experience at the position before. He knows the offense. He's expendable as a right guard. They have a replacement for him at his current position anyway.
If he fails, then you go to Ramon Foster. After that, take a look at Jonathan Scott and Chris Scott.
Lastly, if you must, play Tony Hills.
The most important thing is that Flozell Adams and Essex get the relief they need. They should be rotated consistently throughout games to keep them both fresh and healthy. Another injury at the position would be completely devastating and nearly impossible to overcome.