The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

August 27, 2013

Standing up front

Foster’s turn to shine at guard for Steelers

PITTSBURGH — After years of figuratively working behind the scenes on the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line, Ramon Foster – at last – is under the metaphorical bright lights.

Cameras from NFL Films shot Foster during training camp at Saint Vincent College earlier this month. Foster, a fifth-year guard, and rookie lineman Mike Golic, Jr., are starring in a series of webisodes sponsored by a deodorant company.

In the past, Foster was merely out to make a name for himself by working to impress enough to secure a roster spot or playing time. It’s fitting that as he enters his fifth season assured of a starting job for the first time, Foster’s star turn has arrived.

“That guy’s a celebrity, man,” affable Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey quipped, before turning serious. “He deserves it. That guy’s been working his butt off for years before and he didn’t get any (publicity) for it. Now he’s getting all of it.

“He deserves it all.”

Over the first four years of his career, Foster was used as little more than a spare part by the Steelers. Judging by the organization’s personnel decisions, Foster wasn’t just viewed as replaceable – worse, he was indeed replaced. Repeatedly.

But Foster kept rising to the top – of the depth chart – anyway. He’s started 42 of the 64 regular-season games Pittsburgh’s played since signing him as an undrafted free agent from Tennessee during the spring of 2009 and has finished the season in the starting lineup each of the last four years. Foster was in the lineup at right guard for each of the four postseason games the Steelers have played since he joined the team, including the Super Bowl.

All that playing time hardly guaranteed Foster job security. Foster went into the ensuing season’s training camp as anything more than penciled in as a backup. Until now.

“You like to see a great story like that, somebody who came up from being an undrafted free agent and busts his tail,” Steelers tackle Marcus Gilbert said. “He was a guy that (the organization) didn’t have much faith in, but I think that they’ve grown on Ramon. They can count on him and they know he’s one of the valuable guys on the team. And durable.”

Foster has avoided injury throughout his career, and his tenure has benefited via the injuries of others. During his rookie season, he stepped in for Chris Kemoeatu when the latter was injured. The following year, the Steelers turned to Foster twice – when Chris Kemoeatu and, later, Trai Essex went down.

In 2011, Foster started an early season game at left guard in place of an injured Kemoeatu and was in the lineup for the final 15 games (including playoffs) at right guard when Doug Legursky was out.

Last season, Foster likely wasn’t going to start until rookie first-round pick David DeCastro sustained a knee injury during a preseason game. By the time DeCastro was active again, veteran Willie Colon was out, so Foster stayed in.

Finally, after four years of being a reliable starter even when not officially a starter, Foster was rewarded in March when the Steelers signed him to a three-year, $6 million contract and, by extension, handed him the starting gig at left guard.

“It’s good that they trust me, but it goes along with the hard work I’ve put in also over the years,” Foster said. “So I don’t take it for granted whatsoever and I’ve got to continue to work each and every day at practice and in the games.”

That’s never been an issue for Foster, who was a three-year starter at Tennessee. But he mostly played tackle there, partially the reason he slipped through the cracks at the 2009 NFL draft.

Although he has filled in occasionally at tackle in Pittsburgh, Foster, at 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds, has clearly found a home at guard. And at 27, he’s the senior member of a projected starting offensive line that also includes Pouncey (24), Gilbert (25), DeCastro (23) and tackle Mike Adams (23).

Foster is a jovial, outgoing type, so his vocal leadership comes naturally. Teammates say his work ethic provides a solid example for younger players, too. He insists that part of his persona won’t leave – even now that he’s finally earned the respect of the organization in the form of a guaranteed spot in the lineup.

“Still got the chip on my shoulder, man,” he said. “That’s not going to leave. That’s just been my mentality and it’s been that way for the last four years. Going into this year, it hasn’t been much different.

“Just trying to stay consistent in that department.”

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