By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Now that first-round draft pick Maurkice Pouncey and veteran Flozell Adams are under contract and practicing, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line should be drastically different on the right side.
Adams, a 13-year pro and five-time Pro Bowler with the Dallas Cowboys, opened at right tackle with the first-team offense, while rookie Pouncey is pushing incumbent starter Trai Essex for the top spot at right guard.
Adams was not re-signed by the team that drafted him in the first round in 1998 and visited Pittsburgh in the spring. He did not sign then, but was an 11th-hour signee Thursday with the Steelers set to report Friday. He is 6-foot-7, 338 pounds and with bookend left tackle Max Starks at 6-8, 345 pounds, the Steelers could start the largest tackle combo in their history.
“I leave it all up to Coach and Kevin Colbert, who we sign, but we’re very pleased to have a veteran like Flozell Adams in here,” Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said.
“(And) he did a heckuva job out there for not even knowing the snap count. He got a bunch of information last night, and Trai Essex really helped him out in that starting lineup.”
The only thing keeping Pouncey from starting is Essex’s intelligence and experience. The former Northwestern star has been with the Steelers six years now and makes few mistakes. However, Pouncey is extremely talented and athletic and is expected to supplant Essex sooner rather than later this year.
“I’m not even worrying about starting right now,” Pouncey said. “I’m just going to go out to practice every day, work hard and try to get better. … I just want to come in here and perform and get better. The playbook, I pretty much got that down pat by the end of the spring, and the same thing with playing guard.”
The left side of the Steelers O-line remained intact with Starks at tackle, Chris Kemoeatu at guard and Justin Hartwig at center.
Third-year pro Tony Hills was the backup left tackle, while second-year player Ramon Foster was the left guard. Doug Legursky is at center, while Pouncey and fourth-year pro Jonathan Scott are at right guard and tackle, respectively.
Beleaguered quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took the majority of the snaps with the first-team offense, while Byron Leftwich — the expected starter during Roethlisberger’s suspension for 4-6 games — only got a few reps with the first-team O-line. But Steelers coach Mike Tomlin noted that he will not go with a prescribed quarterback rotation throughout camp.
“It’s irregular, and it’s unique,” Tomlin said. “But such is life in the National Football League. You’re always presented with challenges to that end. So, we’ll communicate with all parties involved and handle it thoughtfully, and we’ll proceed from there.
“(And) we want to make sure at the end of this thing that Ben has had a productive camp, but as we proceed at this juncture our focus is on who is going to be playing quarterback for us the week of the opener. And I like where those guys are at right now.”
Other positions of interest include cornerback, where Bryant McFadden returned to his old starting spot opposite Ike Taylor, and wideout where Antwaan Randle El was the slot receiver with veteran Hines Ward and second-year pro Mike Wallace on the outside.
Rashard Mendenhall took all the first-team reps at running back, while Mewelde Moore and Frank “The Tank” Summers had supporting roles. Larry Foote was the backup to James Farrior and Lawrence at both inside linebacker spots.
McFadden racked Ward at the conclusion of the latter’s pass route and rang his bell a bit. Isaac Redman is pushing for playing time at running back, which is not taking anything away from Mendenhall, who appears to have worked very hard in the offseason to be ready to carry the load for the Steelers’ running game.
Leftwich beat the coverage underneath and deep with a nice toss to David Johnson, as he ran a post pattern for 25 yards, but the second-year tight end allowed it to carom off his hands and then hit the ground.
Rookie offensive tackle Chris Scott (right foot) and outside linebacker Andre Frazier (right knee) opened camp on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list. Their status for the season is unknown.
It appears that first-year wide receivers coach Scottie Montgomery has replaced former special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky as the team’s top screamer in residence, Ligashesky, who was fired after last season, was quite loud and animated during practice. Montgomery’s voice was unmistakable shortly after the Steelers took the field Saturday.