By Jeremy Hritz
Sure, it’s early, and there are still three months to go until training camp kicks off, but that won’t stop us from discussing what position will be the greatest strength of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2013 season. While it is easy to say that quarterback is the best position on the team because of Ben Roethlisberger, the unit that will have the most potential to be dominant and to transform the team from 8-8 to Super Bowl contender is the offensive line.
In 2012, the offensive line struggled through a spate of injuries that disrupted any sense continuity. At some point or another during the season, every lineman of Max Starks and Ramon Foster missed at least one game, from David DeCastro, to Marcus Gilbert, to Maurkice Pouncey, to Willie Colon. While this hindered pass protection and a productive running game, it did provide opportunities for younger players such as Mike Adams and Kelvin Beachum to gain experience.
Now, heading into a fresh season, those younger players from a season ago have enough experience to compose an offensive line that can show great improvement.
Heading into next season, the young starting offensive line is shaping up as follows, from left to right: Marcus Gilbert (25), Ramon Foster (27), Maurkice Pouncey (23), David DeCastro (23), and Mike Adams (23). It was anticipated that Beachum would challenge for the starting left guard spot until Foster signed a new three year deal in March; however, his role this year will be the versatile plug and play lineman that will be the next man up in the event of an injury.
One question surrounding the offensive line is depth, being that there isn’t much at all outside of Beachum. Moving forward, the Steelers are hoping that John Malecki develops and that one of their undrafted rookie free agents emerges.
The greatest concern is that outside of Pouncey, none of these linemen are proven commodities just yet. Nevertheless, they have the potential to develop into outstanding players, as three of them (DeCastro, Adams, and Gilbert) were drafted no later than the second round, and Foster has demonstrated the adaptability to play both guard and tackle in a pinch. If they can live up to their potential and the promise that they had coming out of college, in addition to staying healthy, the offensive line could be the heart of the team.
For as long as Roethlisberger has been under center, outside of his first two seasons, he has not had the benefit of solid pass protection. Additionally, the running game has suffered over the past couple of seasons, yet this area too, bolstered by the addition of Le’Veon Bell, could experience a marked improvement as well. If those two areas progress as a result of the offensive line coalescing and operating at an optimal level, the Steelers will assuredly win more than eight games.
The key to the offensive line’s success will be avoiding the numerous injuries from a season ago, and if they can do that, they can stake their claim as one of the better offensive lines in football.
What do you think?