The ruptured right Achilles tendon sustained this week by Pittsburgh right tackle Willie Colon robbed the Steelers (who have surrendered an average of 48.7 sacks the past three seasons) of their best and most consistent blocker for the entire 2010 campaign.
But beyond leaving the Pittsburgh line in disarray, with the club now likely to have two new starters on an already-suspect unit, the injury emphasized the fact the right tackle spot is becoming increasingly important around the league. And it further reinforced the reality that there are a lot of NFL teams that figure to enter training camp at the end of this month with unsettled situations at right tackle.
At least 15 teams will go to camp with new right tackles, or with competition at the spot. Not that long ago -- when right tackles took a definite backseat to their left side counterparts in terms of significance and, thus, compensation -- such uncertainty might not have been so critical.
Right tackles were largely viewed as slow-footed power blockers, 330-pound behemoths who manned the strong side of the formation. They principally were responsible for knocking defenders off the line of scrimmage and drive-blocking for the running game. But the game has changed dramatically in recent years, and so has the job description.
Left tackle remains the more premium position, of course, but the gap is closing.
"The days of just being a run-blocker now [at right tackle] are over," said New Orleans seven-year veteran Jonathan Stinchcomb, who was chosen for his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2009. "You'd better be able to pass-block pretty well, too."
There were 18 defensive ends in the league last season with at least seven sacks each, and eight of them lined up primarily on the left side, usually matching up with offensive right tackles. Left ends like Julius Peppers (Chicago), Robert Mathis (Indianapolis) and Ray Edwards (Minnesota) are excellent pass-rushers. With the defensive emphasis on attacking the pocket from every angle, offenses can't afford now to have just a power-blocker on the right side.
As reflected by the Pro Bowl balloting -- with left tackles seemingly monopolizing the six all-star spots for several seasons -- it seems there has been a dearth of quality right tackles for a while. But teams and coaches are rapidly realizing that they need more than just a grunt at the position.
Recent drafts bear that out. In the past five years, there were 19 tackles chosen in the first round, and 10 of them were blockers who either projected to the right side or played right tackle early in their careers. Guys like Levi Brown (Arizona) and Michael Oher (Baltimore) will move to the left side this season, but began their careers at right tackle.
In addition to that pair, the past few seasons have produced very good young right tackles, such as Winston Justice (Philadelphia), Jeff Otah (Carolina), Jeremy Trueblood (Tampa Bay), Phil Loadholt (Minnesota), Eric Winston (Houston), Sebastian Vollmer (New England) and Eben Britton (Jacksonville), among others. The Washington Redskins, who have rebuilt their line for 2010, haven't determined yet if first-round pick Trent Williams or two-time Pro Bowl performer Jammal Brown, recently acquired from the Saints in a trade, will start on the right side.
No matter what the Redskins decide, they'll have a high-profile and well-paid blocker lining up at right tackle, and that's become increasingly true around the league.