B.J. Finney can prove he’s more than just a fill-in for Steelers
No matter how long B.J. Finney needs to serve as a first-team guard during training camp, no matter how many games he might have to start this season or how many years he might serve more significant roles for the Steelers, one simple guiding principle will drive him.
“For me, it’s my mentality that I don’t want the other guys to suffer from me coming in,” the third-year interior offensive lineman said Sunday, less than 24 hours after starting left guard Ramon Foster (right knee) went down. “So my mentality is to always make sure I’m not going to ... bring everybody down or hold anybody up.”
In his fourth training camp at Saint Vincent (Finney spent his 2015 rookie season on the practice squad), Finney, for the time being, has been thrust into a starting role.
While the prognosis on Foster is better than some feared after he went down during Saturday’s practice, Finney has at least a four- to five-week timetable to hold down the proverbial fort until the 10-year veteran Foster is cleared to return.
“B.J.’s got experience, which is key in this league, to say you’ve done it,” starting right guard David DeCastro said. “He’s played some big snaps for us, so that’s key. So he will be a placeholder for Ramon while he’s gone.”
If there is a silver lining to the Foster injury, it could be argued no other position had a backup with the combination of experience and proven track record and is still in his prime like Finney.
He made four starts last season: two in place of Foster, one at center and another officially at tight end (an extra tackle in a formation the Steelers used). Finney started two 2016 games -- and played the majority of another -- as Foster’s injury replacement in addition to the season finale at center.
The Steelers are 7-0 in the games he starts, including 4-0 and averaging 31 points in games when he starts in place of Foster. According to the NFL’s official statistical service, Finney in 2017 ranked second among all Steelers offensive players in net yards over average per play (0.92) and net yards over average per rushing play (0.97).
By comparison, Foster had the worst numbers of any Steelers starter overall (0.29) and was second-worst among starters on rushing plays (-0.30).
Does this mean Finney is better than Foster? Probably not. His play is a small sample size, and this is only one metric. However, it does suggest Finney, if need be, is a viable option to fill in over a longer term on the Steelers interior offensive line.
“I know that I can play at this level, and I can do a good job filling in when I have to fill in,” Finney said. “So I’m not worried about my mentality in the slightest.”
By appearance alone, Finney looks to be in better shape than he has been over his previous three NFL seasons.
Still, as Finney readily admits, no one ever will confuse him with the NFL’s most athletic linemen.
“Tough and smart would describe me, yes, I would hope so,” Finney said when told coach Mike Tomlin used those adjectives for him. “I’m not the best athlete, and I know that.”
So Finney instead relies on savvy, technique and hand strength. A walk-on in college who became a four-year starter at Kansas State, Finney is attempting to pull off a similar trick by becoming an undrafted player who can be a longtime starter in the NFL.
With the good news on Foster, that still might not happen this season. But with Foster in the final year of his contract, Finney being 18 months from unrestricted free agency and an opportunity in front of him to further show what he can do over a period of several weeks of working with the first-team offense, Finney could prove he is ready.
“One thing I was told from guys from my school is just always be consistent,” Finney said. “Be Mr. Consistency, and that will keep you around a long time. (Coaches) don’t want guys that go up and down, up and down like on a roller coaster ride. They want the same guy every day, every block, every play. That’s what I take pride in trying to do.”