By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — Tony Hills is in his fourth season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and it would be fair to say that the former fourth-round pick during the 2008 NFL Draft has accomplished little to nothing to earn a roster spot.
That could change in the next week or so, as the Steelers let Hills play about a half-dozen snaps at right offensive guard — as opposed to his normal left tackle spot — late in the preseason opener Friday night at Washington. And he played both left and right guard during practice Sunday afternoon.
However, as the Steelers are searching for someone to secure the right guard position in camp, Hills said he will get the start there against the Philadelphia Eagles Thursday night at 8 at Heinz Field.
“It’s a little change-up for me, but it’s an opportunity that I’m going to take advantage of,” a confident Hills said after practice. “I walked into the room today and saw that I was at guard, and they told me they wanted to see me at guard this week. So, I have to be up to that challenge.”
Hills is listed at 6-foot-5 and 304 pounds, but he was relatively soft in blocking drills during his opening two NFL seasons. However, since the Steelers were extremely light at the tackle spot, Hills made the 53-man roster. Some believed he finally would be cut last season, but injuries to Willie Colon and Max Starks helped keep him around. Hills also played a little better, too.
Then, there was his performance against the Redskins. Hills played pretty well and helped stabilize the offensive line a little at a position that already has seen three players tried there.
That group includes last year’s season-ending starter, Ramon Foster; second-year pro Chris Scott, who also is a right tackle; and third-year pro Doug Legursky, who has been playing left guard for injured Chris Kemoeatu and is the backup center.
“I don’t know what the coaches are thinking, but whatever chance they give me I welcome the challenge and I’ll go all out,” Hills said. “That’s my M.O. So, this week I’ve got guard, and I’m going to learn as much as I can from the guys who have played there. I practiced some before, but never played in a game.
“No, I take that back. At Tennessee (in Week 2) when everybody played. (So), I’m going to learn as much as I can in the film room and get in my playbook, and I’ll go all out Thursday night. It’s a great opportunity for me against a great pass-rush team and penetrating defense. So, I’m really looking forward to it.”
Hills said that the aggression, hard play and effort will be there, but now he has to work on perfecting his technique. That’s an area that still needs work. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin also commented.
“We believe in a philosophy that the more you can do,” Tomlin said. “(So), guys are putting themselves in position to compete for spots and jobs, and being position-flexible is a bonus. We’re looking at all of them, and we’ll let them sort themselves out. The guys who show they are capable will get an opportunity.”
Notes: OG Chris Kemoeatu (knee) and CBs Bryant McFadden (hamstring), Curtis Brown (hamstring) and Cortez Allen (hamstring) all worked out with their position coaches, but did not participate in team drills. Tomlin also noted that PK Shaun Suisham (illness), DE Brett Keisel (right ankle), DE Aaron Smith (right knee) and WR Arnaz Battle (right knee) were all new injuries.
Tomlin added that CB Ike Taylor will have surgery on his left thumb Tuesday, and RB Baron Batch will have season-ending left knee surgery Wednesday.
More Practice Tidbits
While there weren’t a lot of positive aspects to the Steelers 16-7 loss to the Washington Redskins Friday night, the club was most disappointed with it’s tight end line blocking. Veteran John Gilmore, third-year player David Johnson and rookie Weslye Saunders all struggled at the line.
Johnson has been a devastating blocker, at times, from the slot or as an up-back, but not at the line. So, Miguel Chavis, a 6-5, 285-pound rookie defensive end from Clemson, got a lot of work there at practice Sunday.
Cameron Heyward and Jonathan Scott tussled for a while, but Maurkice Pouncey and others quickly stepped in to calm things down.
The first-team offensive line consisted of Jonathan Scott at left tackle, Doug Legursky at left guard, Maurkice Pouncey at center, Tony Hills at right guard and Willie Colon at right tackle.
The second-team offensive line had rookies Marcus Gilbert and Keith Williams and left tackle and guard, respectively, while Legursky was the center. Ramon Foster was the right guard, and Chris Scott was at right tackle.
Tight End Eugene Bright, the lone Steelers player remaining on the PUP list, was running pass patterns with wideout Emmanuel Sanders prior to practice. Assistant strength and conditioning coach Marcel Pastoor monitored them.