Steelers' tackle rotation gets players' attention

Steelers offensive tackles Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams try to block the Bears' Shea McClellin in front of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Steelers offensive tackles Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams try to block the Bears' Shea McClellin in front of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Photo by Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
| Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, 10:36 p.m.

Marcus Gilbert was embarrassed. And Mike Adams said it was a terrible feeling.

To Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, it was mission accomplished.

Tomlin's unorthodox and rarely, if ever, used practice of rotating a backup offensive lineman into both tackle spots on alternating series during the first half of last week's loss to the Bears got the attention of the underachieving former second-round picks.

“Obviously, (Tomlin) is sending out a message to us,” Gilbert said. “I know for me, I am not going to allow that to happen again.”

For the people who made last week's personnel decisions (Tomlin, offensive coordinator Todd Haley and offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr.), it's time to see how their bookend tackles respond.

“Let's face it, that's what this business is all about — competition,” Bicknell said. “To me, it is positive — let's find out who is playing the best out of you three, and everybody is motivated in the process.”

That's why the carousel at tackle is expected to continue Sunday when the Steelers play the Vikings at London's Wembley Stadium. Gilbert and Adams will start, but Beachum, a seventh-round pick last year, will find his way into the game.

The Steelers are hoping they find a winning combination.

“It is about figuring out who gives us the best chance to win,” Haley said. “They all have the abilities to be NFL tackles, but we need to speed that development along as best we can. We would rather not make it a trial. We need to find out fast. We don't have a lot of time to waste.”

The Steelers are 0-3 for the first time since 2000, and while there is a lot of blame to go around, a large part of it is because of the offensive line and especially the tackles.

According to Pro Football Focus, Adams has allowed the third -most hurries (11) and quarterback hits (four) among tackles through three weeks. Gilbert has allowed the third-most sacks (three).

Gilbert acknowledges his play has been unacceptable.

“We have to get the job done, and that's why they took us in the second round,” Gilbert said. “When you don't get the job done, then that comes with consequences.”

The Steelers' run game also has suffered gaining a franchise-low 75 yards through three games, thus forcing the Steelers down an unbeaten path when it comes to personnel use. They rushed for 80 yards last week.

“We want to determine the five best guys and get the right guys in there,” Bicknell said. “To me, it is a positive. I always liked playing extra linemen if there is no drop-off. We wanted to find out if we improve, and a lot of times it is hard to tell in practice so you need to get them out there. We feel that Kelvin Beachum deserves a chance to play.”

That was a change in philosophy from a couple months ago. Back then, the Steelers only would welcome back veteran tackle Max Starks — a year after he played every snap at left tackle — if he would accept a backup role.

Starks declined and left for San Diego (he's now with St. Louis), and the Steelers anointed Adams and Gilbert their starting tackles without any real competition behind them. They came into the year with 24 starts between them.

“I think that goes back to the whole thing about being competitors and see how we respond and stuff like that,” Adams said. “It's about competition. If you don't like to compete, you won't rise up. If you don't rise up, you won't play.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib

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