Kevin Gorman: Steelers place a premium value on versatility of B.J. Finney on O-line
B.J. Finney doesn’t describe himself as a starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers, even if his offensive linemates include him when talking about their top six instead of front five.
Then again, Finney doesn’t even describe himself as a center or a guard. Why bother when there is a chance that he could play any of the three interior positions?
“You can’t really focus on it,” said Finney, who started two games at right guard last season but played in all 16. “When you’re not a starter, the more things you can do the better chance you are of having a job. So you do everything that’s asked of you and then some to try and make sure if an opportunity comes out of left field, you’re ready for that opportunity.”
Instead, Finney just describes himself like this: ready to roll. He takes pride in being a player who won’t hold the Steelers back, one who prevents a drastic drop-off when a starter goes out. And there is a chance Finney could start in a pinch at center, left guard or right guard sometime this season.
“Right now, he’s our backup center, and he’s a utility guard, And, in my opinion, we’ve got the best center in the world (in Maurkice Pouncey), so it’s kind of hard to sit back and say he should be starting,” Steelers offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett said. “B.J. Finney’s great. He’s done everything we’ve asked. He works his (rear end) off. He does everything, probably could go start for another team maybe. But with that being said, he knows his role, and he’s not a guy who’s going to sit there and (complain) about it. He just goes and competes every day.”
To say the Steelers value versatility on the offensive line is an understatement, especially with the shuffling that went on with the starters during Tuesday’s practice at Saint Vincent.
You needed a numerical roster to keep up with the line.
Finney took first-team reps at center in place of Pouncey. Matt Feiler played left guard in place of Ramon Foster, and Chuks Okorafor took Feiler’s place at right tackle. When Alejandro Villanueva left practice, Jerald Hawkins stepped in at left tackle. And when David DeCastro sat out a team drill late in practice, Fred Johnson slid in at right guard.
So the Steelers essentially had five reserves at their positions protecting Ben Roethlisberger against the first-team defense. Good thing Big Ben is off-limits to contact, huh? That the Steelers didn’t really skip a beat speaks volumes about their backup plan on the offensive line.
“I think that just comes with the territory,” coach Mike Tomlin said, noting the ability to play multiple positions and on either side has become a must. “Versatility is big on the offensive line. It has to be.”
Difference is, the Steelers put a price tag on how much they value the versatility of the 6-foot-4, 318-pound Finney, who called it “humbling, awesome” that they offered a second-round tender worth $3.095 million to the restricted free agent — especially considering he was an undrafted free agent out of Kansas State in 2015.
But the Steelers also prevented Foster from testing free agency with a two-year deal and signed Pouncey to a two-year contract extension. That made Finney a high-priced backup, one who has the seventh-highest base salary on the team and the 16th-highest cap hit, between wide receiver Donte Moncrief and cornerback Artie Burns.
Finney counts more than double against the cap this season than a pair of third-year players who were Pro Bowl picks: running back James Conner and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. That gives you an idea of how much the Steelers respect Finney and how high of a priority they placed on protecting Roethlisberger.
“I know there’s value there because others tell me that I’ve done a really good job to bring that value, but it’s not something that I’m focused on,” Finney said.
“I’m focused on what can help this team win and what I can do in all aspects of life to make sure we’re getting better.”
Finney is focused on getting better until he’s a starter, the kind whose role doesn’t require any further explanation. That could come as soon as next season, whether it’s with the Steelers or for another NFL team through free agency.
“I’m just biding my time,” Finney said. “I know the opportunity’s coming, and I want to keep working for it so when it does pop up I want to capitalize on it.”
Until then, Finney remains ready to roll.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .