PITTSBURGH – When Maurkice Pouncey became a starter on the Steelers offensive line as a rookie in 2010, he was the exception, not the norm.
Since then, having rookie offensive line starters has become an everyday occurrence for the Steelers. In their past 30 games, the Steelers have started a rookie offensive lineman 22 times.
On Sunday in Dallas, the Steelers (7-6) will break more new ground when they have two rookies manning the right side of their offensive line in David DeCastro and Kelvin Beachum against the Cowboys (7-6).
It might be overwhelming to some, but the Steelers veterans have been impressed with the three rookie linemen drafted this year. DeCastro was a first-round selection, while tackles Mike Adams and Beachum were taken in the second and seventh rounds, respectively.
“This is the best group of rookie linemen we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Ramon Foster, who will shift from right to left guard to replace the injured Willie Colon so DeCastro can make his first career start at his more natural right guard spot.
“They’ve handled everything like professionals. The game hasn’t been too big for them.”
They haven’t had a lot of choice.
Though DeCastro was slotted to start at right guard until suffering a severe knee injury in the third preseason game, Adams and Beachum were forced into the starting lineup because of injuries.
Adams replaced right tackle Marcus Gilbert when he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 6. Beachum was pressed into action the past two weeks after Adams suffered an ankle injury.
Normally, the Steelers might have some major concerns about having two rookie linemen starting side-by-side. Because DeCastro and Beachum worked so often together in the offseason, they don’t feel it will be an issue.
“Those guys that come in the same class tend to have good rapport right out of the gate,” said Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley. “Obviously, they’re going to have to count on Pouncey. But they’re both smart guys, and Beachum has been in there now for a couple weeks. I don’t know who will be helping who, but I know they’ll be communicating and they’ll be ready to go mentally and physically.”
For DeCastro, his first starting assignment in the NFL has been a long time coming.
The Steelers placed him on injured reserve following his injury, which included a dislocated kneecap. Thanks to a new rule this season, the Steelers were able to bring him back to the active roster after eight weeks.
He has dressed for the past two games, but only saw action as a blocker for PATs and field goals last week against San Diego.
“It’s just nice to get back out there,” said DeCastro, who admitted to being more excited this week. “That’s the goal when you get injured. I’m lucky they had that IR rule; it gave me an opportunity to come back.”
Considering the Steelers’ injury problems on the line, it’s a good thing.
This week, that right side of the line will be tested by Dallas pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, who have combined for 19½ sacks this season. The Cowboys move Ware and Spencer around the line and figure to test both rookies.
Even the prospect of facing a pair of premiere NFL pass rushers doesn’t faze DeCastro.
“I am extremely eager,” DeCastro said. “That is what I have been working the past couple of months for. I have been injured, doing rehab, and you set a goal like this to get back out there and play.”
Odds and end zones
In addition to Adams and Colon, cornerback Ike Taylor is out for Sunday’s game. Linebacker James Harrison, wide receiver Antonio Brown, linebacker Stevenson Sylvester and long snapper Greg Warren each missed time for the Steelers this week with the flu, but are probable to play.