LATROBE, Pennsylvania — Kelvin Beachum hardly fits the profile of the guys usually put in charge of protecting a football team's most valuable asset.
Too short. Too little. Too nice.
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak, however, asks you to look closer. Notice how the 6-foot-3, 305-pound left tackle's deft footwork keeps taller, faster, more agile defensive ends from finding quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Marvel at Beachum's cerebral approach, switching tactics every few snaps to keep guys on the other side of the line of scrimmage guessing. Respect the way he's worked his way from seventh-round flier to being considered among the best at one of the most vital positions in the game.
"He's going to find a way to defeat you," said Munchak, a Hall of Fame guard for the Houston Oilers.
Simply by making it this far, Beachum's already won. Guys taken with the 248th overall pick usually are usually long gone by now. Yet Beachum is entering his fourth season and his second as the man primarily responsible for keep Roethlisberger's blind side drama-free.
Point out the odds of his unlikely rise to the cusp of what could be a very lucrative contract when his rookie deal expires at the end of the season and Beachum shows a brief flash of the on-field aggressiveness that belies his overwhelmingly polite off-field persona.
"I love adversity," he said. "I love challenges. I love the opportunity to go out and prove myself ... I love disproving stereotypes and assumptions that are put upon me."
It's something the Steelers latched onto almost immediately. Though Beachum played exclusively at tackle during his career at SMU, Pittsburgh viewed him as a project and a stopgap. He took snaps at all three line positions as a rookie, making the team out of training camp and even getting starting in a road game at Dallas, just 100 miles north of his childhood home in Mexia, Texas.
Beachum survived that first season, yet wasn't satisfied with simply sticking around. But the body he came into the NFL with wasn't exactly built to last, making things more difficult.
There were times Beachum couldn't complete portions of the strength training program his teammates cruised through so easily. He focused on adding definition to his frame, not so much dropping weight as rearranging it. He's no longer reluctant to take off his shirt in the locker room now that his formerly fleshy upper body has transformed into something considerably more formidable.
"I've come a long way," Beachum said.
So have the results. Pittsburgh streaked to an 11-5 record behind the strength of an offense that piled up the second-most yards in the league. The engine was the five guys in front of Roethlisberger, a group of former first and second round picks (Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert) and long shots in Beachum and undrafted free agent Ramon Foster.
Roethlisberger was sacked just 33 times a year ago despite a career high 608 pass attempts. Given time to do his thing, Roethlisberger tied for the league lead in yards passing and tossed 32 touchdowns. While much of the praise went to Munchak — who gave the line some stability and leadership after a revolving door at the position — he's been around long enough to know it was the guys in the huddle who did the work.
And there are few who work harder than Beachum, who doesn't play with a chip on his shoulder as much as a perpetual grudge.
"You've got to love it. It's the only way to play football, with something behind you that's pushing you," he said.
Doubters, of which there are many, push Beachum. The other 31 clubs passed him over and even the Steelers waited until the last second to keep him from signing a rookie free-agent deal elsewhere.
"He might not fit in every team because certain teams won't even look at a guy like that," Munchak said. "But you pay attention and you notice he is special."
And he's not always so low-key. Get Beachum on the field and he morphs in to — as he tongue-in-cheek posted on Twitter recently — #BeachMode. He'll trade words and more than a few pushes and shoves to get his point across, teammates included. During one drill at training camp on Thursday, Beachum leaned forward and gently head-butted outside linebacker Jarvis Jones after the whistle.
The self-confidence comes from a lifetime of having to prove himself. He knows a big payday is looming but is doing his best to block it out.
"The business people will take care of the business things," he said. "I'll be a business man after I'm done playing football."
Which, apparently, won't be anytime soon.