Steelers' rookie Gilbert tackles starting spot
For the second year in a row, the Steelers are entrusting a position on the offensive line to a rookie from the University of Florida.
This time, though, the Steelers don't have much of a choice.
Marcus Gilbert will start at right tackle Sunday against the visiting Seattle Seahawks — and for the foreseeable future — following a season-ending injury to Willie Colon.
Colon had surgery Tuesday morning to repair a torn triceps, and the Steelers placed the sixth-year veteran on injured reserve Tuesday.
Gilbert, a second-round draft pick in April, moves from left to right tackle, and coach Mike Tomlin admitted that there is some risk involved given his inexperience.
"Not a lot of tape (on Gilbert) but not a lot of opportunities for a young guy," Tomlin said at his weekly news conference. "We do believe he's talented. He has done a nice job with the opportunities given to him at this point. It's enough for us to feel comfortable moving forward."
Colon, who signed a five-year, $29 million contract in late July, suffered a season-ending injury for the second time in as many years in the Steelers' 35-7 loss to the Ravens.
The Steelers signed Flozell Adams after Colon ruptured his Achilles tendon in June of 2010, and the veteran left tackle proved to be a pleasant surprise after moving to right tackle. He was the only Steelers' offensive lineman to start every game last season, but the team released Adams in July in a cost-cutting move.
The Steelers spoke with Adams' agent, Jordan Woy, on Monday, but it appears that money prevented talks from getting serious.
Instead the Steelers signed journeyman Jamon Meredith to add depth along the offensive line.
Meredith, who worked out for the Steelers on Tuesday along with Ray Willis, started four games at right tackle for the Buffalo Bills in 2009. The 6-5, 304-pounder played in five games last season while spending time with the Bills, Detroit Lions and New York Giants.
Meredith is listed third on the Steelers' depth chart at left tackle, behind starter Jonathan Scott and Trai Essex.
Gilbert, meanwhile, will become the first Steelers rookie to start at tackle since Colon in 2006.
If Gilbert comes within a zip code of playing as well as center Maurkice Pouncey, his former college teammate and close friend, did a year ago the Steelers will be happy.
Pouncey beat out incumbent Justin Hartwig in training camp, and he became the first Steelers offensive lineman to make the Pro Bowl as a rookie since 1955.
Unlike Pouncey, the Steelers have to thrust the 6-6, 330-pound Gilbert into action, after only a week of practice at right tackle.
At Florida, Gilbert started 14 games at right tackle in 2009 and 13 at left tackle last season. He has made steady progress since a slow start to training camp.
"We like his pedigree," Tomlin said. "He's shown that he's not a fish out of water and knows the area since he's been here in terms of being position flexible."