Why Losing Legursky Could Leave Steelers Offensive Line in the Lurch

The Steelers are a franchise steeped in stability. Stability became the norm in Pittsburgh starting at the end of the Lyndon Johnson administration and permeates every facet of the franchise — except for the offensive line of late.

  • Unfortunately there’s reason to fear that offensive line instability will continue in 2013.

One of the most under reported stories of the Steelers 2013 off season has been the decision not to resign reserve/part time center-guard Doug Legursky.

As the Watch Tower pointed out, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Tribune Review both ignored the move which is a mistake because the Steelers could very well end up regretting letting Legursky leave.

Steelers Offensive Line Building in the Tomlin Era:  Plug and Patch

While Mike Tomlin may not be responsible, the offensive line’s chronic instability began on his watch. First the team was unable and/or unwilling to resign Alan Faneca. That started a cascade of offensive line strategy which can only be described as “Plug and Patch.”

Steel Curtain Rising has discussed this phenomenon at length, to the point where the day after Willie Colon signed his four year contract, La Toalla Terrible predicted the Steelers would Colon him in two years. And of course that’s exactly what happened.

The impact of the Steelers decisions to sign and cut lineman, almost seemingly willy-nilly, doesn’t arrive in full until you see it visually.

Steelers Offensive Tackle Signed and Released in the Mike Tomlin Era:

  • Jonathan Scott (signed for 3 in ’10, cut before ’12)
  • Max Starks (benched in ’07, transitioned in ’08, franchised then signed for four in ’09, cut in ’11, signed in ’11, signed in ’12 let to walk after starting 16 games in ’12)

Steelers Guards Signed and Released in the Mike Tomlin Era:

Steelers Guard/Tackles Signed and Released in the Mike Tomlin Era:

  • Willie Colon (signed in ’10, cut after ’12)
  • Trai Essex (signed in ’12 off season, cut in training camp)

Steelers Centers Signed and Released/traded in the Mike Tomlin Era:

  • Sean Mahan, (signed in ’07, traded to Tampa before ’08)
  • Justin Hartwig (signed in ’08, resigned in ’09, cut before ’10) 

There you have it. During the Mike Tomlin era the Pittsburgh Steelers have signed an entire offensive line and released them prior to their contract’s termination.

No other position area has suffered from such schizophrenia. A “close second” doesn’t even exist.

Building an Offensive Line via the Draft is a Start, but Only That

During Bill Cowher’s tenure, the Steelers almost seemed to have an unofficial policy of using a top-three pick on an offensive lineman in every draft. The tendency was strong during Tom Donahoe’s time, but it continued to a lesser extent after Kevin Colbert’s arrival in 2000.

But for three straight drafts, 2006, 2007, 2008, the Steelers never picked a lineman before round 4. One of those was Colon, the other Tony Hills. In the 2009 Draft the Steelers picked Kraig Urbik in the third, but never got any value out of him. He now starts in Buffalo.

  • The Plug and Patch offensive line personnel policy depicted above was a consequence of this cumulative neglect of the line in the draft. 

Realizing this wasn’t sustainable, Tomlin and Colbert dramatically altered course in selecting Markice Pouncey in the first round of the 2010 Draft, Marcus Gilbert in the second ground of the 2011 Draft, and David DeCastro and Mike Adams in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft.

For however wise and necessary the strategy shift was in on the part of the Steelers braintrust the move was ultimately not sufficient, as one statistic shows.

In simple English: The Steelers have shown the can pick good offensive lineman in the draft. Keep them healthy? That’s another question entire.

And that’s where the Steelers likely erred in letting Doug Legursky go.

Steelers Rolling the Dice on the Offensive Line

According to the Steelers Digest, Pittsburgh started six different offensive line combinations in 2010 and nine different combinations in 2011.

And that doesn’t count in-game juggling such as what occurred in the 2010 victory over Tampa, where Mike Tomlin himself admitted to not knowing who was cycling in and out of the game. That spectacle repeated itself several times since then.

  • During all of those shuffles, Doug Legursky started in four configurations as a right guard, two configurations as a left guard, and three configurations as a center for a total of 14 starts in 2010 and 2011.

In 2012 Legursky played in all sixteen games, starting in 3 at both a center and at guard.
Yet, in spite of an established track record and excellent “position flexibility” the Steelers let Legursky walk to the Bills.

  • Why? Steelers Nation can only ask.

Steel Curtain Rising already second guessed the Steelers decision to cut Willie Colon, but that decision had solid football and business merits behind it. Colon came with real liabilities, liabilities which Legrusky lacks.

In Doug Legursky the Steelers had an excellent 4th interior lineman who could and did step into the lineup at a moment’s notice. That type of ability and reliability is priceless, especially with the premium on protection Ben Roethlisberger.

In drafting Maurkice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams, and David DeCastro in resigning Ramon Foster the Steelers have (potentially) given themselves a solid starting foundation on offensive line.

  • But the Steelers experience of the last several seasons has shown that good starters are not enough. You need depth. You need quality back ups.

Kelven Beachum, were told in the only real news to come out of Steelers OTA’s, spent the time channeling his inner Trai Essex by practicing at not only guard and tackle and center. Good for him. His rookie season shows he’s probably up to the task.

But Beachum will only give the Steelers one quality backs up. History has shown the Steelers will likely need more. And they just let one go in Doug Legursky.

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