Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The Curious Case of Rashad Butler and Offensive Line Roster Machinations

We're just curious: What in the name of Levi Brown happened with offensive tackle Rashad Butler? Is he a Steeler or not?*

Ray Mansfield: Where's a guy like the
Ol' Ranger when you need him?
You remember Levi Brown, don't you?  The Steelers actually traded for Brown in early October after it had become clear that Mike Adams wasn't up to the job of starting left tackle, never mind that Brown himself was about to be cut by the Arizona Cardinals after having proved that he wasn't up to the job of starting left tackle for the team coached by Bruce Arians, the former Steelers' offensive coordinator who is once again in the running for NFL Coach of the Year, an award he won last year. And how's that for a run-on sentence?

You'll recall that a few days after joining the Steelers, Brown reported triceps discomfort in warm-ups immediately before the Jets game and was subsequently placed on injured reserve -- without having played a snap for the Steelers. Joey Porter's Pit Bulls suspect that Brown was injured before he even arrived in Pittsburgh, and that the team should have never allowed him to pass a physical. We have no way of knowing that, of course; it just seems an eminently possible scenario, and we have a suspicious nature borne of life experience.

Flash forward to the loss in Baltimore on Thanksgiving night, when the team lost half its offensive line to injuries of varying severity. Four of the eight offensive linemen on the active roster went down with injuries that game: tackle Mike Adams (ankle), guard David DeCastro (foot), tackle Kelvin Beachum (sprained knee) and, most seriously, center Fernando Velasco (Achilles), whose season ended.

That left us with Cody Wallace, Guy Whimper, Marcus Gilbert and Ramon Foster as the only "healthy" offensive linemen on the active roster.

Right Tackle Charlie Bradshaw, 1967
In the wake of all that, the Steelers last Saturday signed two players who had been sitting around waiting for calls: Rashad Butler, a journeyman tackle whom the Browns released on Nov. 5, for crying out loud, and Eric Olsen, a center waived by New Orleans at the end of training camp.

Over the weekend, then, Butler showed up (or did he?) and almost immediately left the team "for personal reasons."

In the wake of Butler's departure, the Steelers had to sign another tackle, right? Maybe promote Joe Long from the practice squad?

Apparently not. Despite the injuries to Beachum (in a walking boot and listed as "questionable" for Sunday's game, which means "probably not") and Adams, the Steelers opted to sign yet another center, David Snow, who was cut by the Buffalo Bills at the end of training camp.

Let's see: Cody Wallace is a center. Eric Olsen is a center. David Snow is a center. Do the Steelers have enough centers? Probably not.

Presumably these guys have "positional flexibility." Still, Wallace has been in the NFL for nearly six full seasons and on Sunday will make his first start. Counting his 40 snaps this year with the Steelers, Wallace has been on the field for all of 58 plays. That means, what? ... that Cody Wallace is good enough to make an NFL roster but not good enough to play? That seems to be what his coaches have thought. Or not.

Guard Larry Gagner, 1968
We will find out on Sunday, when Wallace starts in place of the injured Fernando Velasco, who was starting, and playing well, in place of the injured Maurkice Pouncey. Presumably the newly signed Eric Olsen will also suit up on Sunday and David Snow will be on the inactive list. Presumably.

More about David Snow: In 2012, the Bills signed Snow as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Texas. He was on Buffalo's practice squad, promoted to the active roster, and appeared in five games for the Bills during the 2012 season. The Bills let him loose at the end of the 2013 training camp.

Anyway, it appears the Steelers are counting on either (or both) Beachum and Adams to be available to play left tackle.  Otherwise, you would think, the Steelers would have signed somebody with tackle experience to at least be in uniform in case either Beachum or Adams get hurt again on Sunday.

Why not promote the practice squad players?
These roster machinations are always a mystery. Joey Porter's Pit Bulls wish somebody would answer a simple question: With two offensive linemen on the practice squad -- tackle Joe Long and guard Chris Hubbard, why did the Steelers go outside the organization to add guys like Butler, Olsen and Snow? Presumably the answer would be the Steelers believe the newly acquired players are better than the guys on the practice squad and would provide more help immediately. Huh.

Which brings us to our final question of the day: Why does the NFL even require a certain number of game-day inactives?  What purpose does that serve?

*As for Rashad Butler, the Post-Gazette reports he remains under contract but is now on the "exempt" list after the Steelers received a roster exemption. What the real story is, we'll likely never know.

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