LATROBE, Pa. - Steelers rookie offensive linemen David DeCastro and Mike Adams have endured the grind of NFL training camp for two weeks, all along just waiting for the opportunity to “hit someone else.”
Well, worry not.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said they won’t have too long to do so come Thursday night.
Tomlin on Tuesday officially named DeCastro and Adams starters for Pittsburgh’s preseason opener in Philadelphia against the Eagles. DeCastro, the No. 24 overall draft pick, will start at right guard. Adams, the second-round pick, will be at left tackle.
“They’ve had good moments and some not-so-good moments,” Tomlin said. “That is the process that is team development and individual development. But both guys have worked extremely hard, both guys finish and they’re smart young men. We’ll see more about them, and of course we’ll know more about them by Thursday night.”
The Steelers (No. 7 in the AP NFL32) have high hopes for their top two draft picks and were open to either or both being in the lineup for the season opener Sept. 9 at Denver.
It’s uncharacteristic, however, for Pittsburgh to start rookies for the preseason opener. The team has started a rookie on the offensive line each of the past two seasons, but center Maurkice Pouncey wasn’t named a starter until the third preseason game in 2010 and Marcus Gilbert didn’t take over at right tackle last season until the second game of the regular season.
Gilbert was given the job when Willie Colon was put on injured reserve due to a torn triceps. It was an injury to Colon — this time, a more minor one — that opened up the start for DeCastro.
One of two Steelers ruled out already for the Eagles due to injury — defensive end Cameron Heyward the other — Colon injured an ankle Friday. Ramon Foster was moved over to Colon’s new left guard spot, leaving right guard open for DeCastro.
“It came up quick,” DeCastro said. “I’m excited to get ready to go and ready to hit someone else other than the Steelers. I just want to have fun, play the game and enjoy it.”
DeCastro protected No. 1 overall pick, quarterback Andrew Luck, at Stanford. The Steelers were elated he fell to them on draft day after many projections had DeCastro going much higher. Pittsburgh snared a similar perceived steal of Adams in Round 2. But that one was likely more due to the fact Adams’ stock plummeted after he tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Combine.
After years of middling offensive line play, the Steelers are on the verge of completing a remake that potentially could have them starting four players on the unit who have less than three years of experience.
“Those are my guys,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “I think we’ve got a great group of guys who are playing great right now. I think they’re as excited as anybody to get out and bang against other competition.”
Adams bypassed veteran Trai Essex on the depth chart late last week, but his hold on a starting job is far from certain. The incumbent at left tackle, Max Starks, sustained a torn ACL in the playoff loss to Denver in January. He was signed the week before camp began but remains on the physically unable to perform list.
Starks was also injured (neck) over the previous offseason. The Steelers waited until October to sign him, and four days later, he was starting at left tackle. He held the job the remainder of the season. Starks could be viewed as an insurance policy again this season should Adams not be able to nail down the job.
But for now, Adams, a 6-foot-3, 330-pound Ohio State product, has been impressive in practice.
“But when you get in a real atmosphere in a game situation and things like that, that’s definitely what (coaches) are looking for,” Adams said. “It’s definitely, I think, more of an evaluation.”
Tomlin agreed, pointing out that Pouncey truly began to stand out as a rookie once the preseason games started two years ago. Tomlin said he thought DeCastro and Adams were “at a similar state” as Pouncey.
“The reality is what happens out here in practice is one thing. What Maurkice showed us in the stadium was something that convinced us that he was ready to do the job,” Tomlin said. “So these guys have a significant opportunity on Thursday night.”
NOTES: Tomlin said the first-team offense and defense will play one or two series apiece against the Eagles. ... CB Keenan Lewis left practice early Tuesday with an undisclosed injury. ... P Jeremy Kapinos continues to miss practice because of a back injury. ... Tomlin said rookie RB Chris Rainey would get the first shot at being the team’s punt and kick returner. Rainey muffed one punt during practice Monday off his face mask. ... Others who will be given a look for return duties include rookie WR Marquis Maze and WR David Gilreath. ... Tomlin said fourth-string QB Jerrod Johnson would be given “an extended look” in the second half.