Starks' Contract Means Another Redshirt For Hills
So the thought was: Starks and Essex may leave in free agency while Hills moves into the starting lineup after a one-year apprenticeship. It was the same path that Willie Colon took as a 2005 fourth-round pick.
But here we are a year later and Starks is back (thanks to a new four-year deal) and Essex has re-upped for two years. All of a sudden Hills has no clear path to even the top backup job, and he may end up fighting for a roster spot this August.
Bringing Starks back was a clear sign that the Steelers don't believe Hills is anywhere near ready to be the team's left tackle. But re-signing Essex seems to send a message that Hills isn't ready to contribute even as a backup. On gameday, Pittsburgh usually dresses seven offensive linemen on gameday -- one tackle and one guard/center. Essex isn't a spectacular talent, but he can play four positions (both tackles and both guard spots) along the line in a pinch -- Hills is working on mastering left tackle. All of that means Essex is almost assured to be one of the two backups. Kraig Urbik (if he doesn't start) or Darnell Stapleton (if Urbik does start) will likely fill the other active roster spot.
So unless there's an injury at tackle or Hills shows a lot of improvement in training camp, Hills is likely looking at another year where he'll stop wearing his game jersey as soon as September arrives.