By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — With college football programs becoming more sophisticated on both sides of the ball, more rookies have started in the NFL in recent years, including five at quarterback to open this season.
Offensive linemen are another story, as that’s one position where more seasoning is beneficial. Due to several injuries, the Pittsburgh Steelers are forced to start two rookies on their offensive line against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday at 4:25 p.m. in Arlington, Texas.
No. 1 pick David DeCastro, who saw his first game action on the field-goal unit last week, missed the first half of the season after knee surgery during the preseason. He gets the start at right guard. Seventh-rounder Kelvin Beachum has started the past two games at right tackle.
“I think both those guys, David and Kelvin, we expect a lot from them,” Veteran left tackle Max Starks said. “Kelvin had a great Baltimore game, and we all had a rough San Diego game. But Kelvin is a kid who’s very strong mentally, so it won’t affect him. And I think he’ll have a great bounce-back week.
“David, he was a first-round pick, and he has a lot of talent. I think he was on the rise until he got hurt in the preseason at Buffalo. But he’s been working very hard in practice the past couple weeks, so it’ll be interesting to see how that translates onto the field. I think we have a good tandem on our right side.”
DeCastro was named the started at right guard prior to the preseason opener at Philadelphia, and No. 2 pick Mike Adams started at left tackle because Starks was coming back from offseason knee surgery. DeCastro suffered a serious knee injury in the third preseason game and wasn’t activated until Nov. 26.
Adams was pressed into a starting role at right tackle when Marcus Gilbert was injured. Adams started six straight games, but was injured at Cleveland and replaced by Beachum. Adams isn’t wearing a boot on his sprained ankle now, but Beachum still could finish the season as the starter.
“We’ve been great together this week,” DeCastro said. “He’s obviously a smart guy, and I think we’re work well together. So, I’m looking forward to starting next to Kelvin this week. It’s great to see a guy like Kelvin step into the right tackle spot on this O-line and have some success after just a couple games.
“It’s great to see a rookie do that, and seeing how well he’s fit in certainly gives me more confidence as well. I’ve waited a long time for this game (first start), but that’s life. Adversity comes along, but how well you can deal with it is the key to success. And I think I’ve dealt with it pretty well so far.”
Beachum almost went undrafted this past spring, but he already has learned a lot during his rookie season.
“You learn pretty quick that in the NFL, you need to be ready to play every week,” Beachum said. “You can’t take any player or any team for granted, and that’s the way I look at it. The guys across from me get paid like I get played, although they might get paid a little more than me, but you get the idea.
“The difference for me was the intensity. I knew it would be intense, but every single play is a battle. People are playing for their livelihoods, their families and their health, so they want to get the best of me every time. So, you need to go out there and put your best foot forward on every snap or you’ll get beat.”
And what about being among two rookie starters on the O-line for the Steelers?
“We’re making history,” Beachum said. “That’s one thing that’s cool. We’re both blessed to be here, but we’re going to prepare this week to have a great game Sunday. And we’re definitely going to put our best foot forward.
“We have to trust our preparation, our coaches and our teammates, and after that we can have some fun. But no matter who’s out there on the O-line or who’s out there across from us, we’re going to play Steelers football.”
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