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Rookie lineman Adams endures shaky debut

| Monday, Aug. 13, 2012, 8:22 p.m.
The Steelers' Mike Adams joins David DeCastro as rookies who could start on the offensive line. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Mike Adams might have been close to learning all about The Look.

Maybe NFL quarterbacks don't do it intentionally after being sacked, preferring not to single out a teammate. But that hasn't prevented many of them from glaring in disgust at an offensive lineman after being dumped on his backside.

Steelers offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert expects Adams, the rookie left tackle, to enjoy a lengthy career despite a preseason debut in which he gave up 2½ sacks in a span of nine plays Thursday against the Eagles. Even worse, Adams sprained his right knee, thus creating yet another Steelers shuffle along the offensive line — the latest but likely not the last this season.

“It creates situations,” still-healing left tackle Max Starks said. “Obviously we've been known for the last two years for shuffling guys around and having position flexibility.”

With a full week ahead of them before Sunday's preseason game against the Colts at Heinz Field, the Steelers are working with Gilbert, who started camp at right tackle, at left tackle. Left guard Willie Colon, center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro are unchanged, but Ramon Foster — who had been competing with DeCastro — is at right tackle. The Steelers were off Monday but will return to practice Tuesday in Latrobe.

When Adams returns within the next two weeks, Gilbert expects him to go into full-correction mode. Gilbert had a rough debut a season ago, yet bounced back to make it through a mostly stare-free season protecting Ben Roethlisberger.

“My first game, my first start wasn't pretty, neither. You just have to learn from it, correct the mistakes, and we know he can do that,” Gilbert said. “That's why we brought him in. He's a very capable guy. I think in the game he did a lot of good; he just gave up those sacks. He also did some impressive things that people don't realize because the sacks obviously stand out.”

Adams didn't need to watch a game video — or to look into Big Ben's eyes — to know what he did wrong.

“I kind of put myself in a bad position on some plays,” Adams said. “But it's nothing that can't be fixed. … It was a good learning experience, and it was great to have a chance to get out there.”

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley knew there would be a learning curve involved when rookies Adams and DeCastro, their top two draft picks, were plugged into the offensive line at the start of camp. If Haley was discouraged by their debut, he isn't showing it.

The Steelers made DeCastro their first-round pick with the intent of starting him immediately and, unless he experiences unforeseen problems in the final three preseason games, he will start against the Broncos on Sept. 9.

“David, I thought, did some good things in the run and pass game and had a pretty solid first night,” Haley said. “Again, encouraging signs from both guys.”

What DeCastro is quickly learning is that the offensive line is regularly in a state of fluidity. There should be more stability once Starks is ready to return after having surgery in January to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Starks believes he could be back by the end of August.

“We're shuffling guys around with injuries and making sure we get our evaluations right,” Haley said. “It is a fluid situation across the front, and the good thing is we've got good competition. We just need everybody there and healthy as much as we can.”

Once Adams returns, Gilbert can shift back to right tackle and Starks and Adams can compete at left tackle, with Foster available to fill in at nearly any position.

“Where I'm at right now I'm comfortable and all the other guys are comfortable shuffling around,” said Gilbert, who prefers left tackle to right tackle. “Come game time, we'll see where everybody is at.”

Maybe by then, none of the linemen will be wary of making eye contact with the quarterback.

Note: The Steelers signed veteran free agent tight end Justin Peelle to a one-year deal and placed fullback/tight end David Johnson on the waived/injured list.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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