While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.
No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.
With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.
Question: Are the Steelers properly insulated from injury along the interior offensive line?
Anybody who has followed the Steelers through the course of the previous decade knows that the team’s relative health along the offensive line was rather an aberration than the norm—and that was with two starters missing a combined six games.
Missing only six starts among the team’s offensive line starters—and fielding only three different starting offensive line combinations during the year—was certainly a departure over recent years. But perhaps that’s simply a reminder that the team should not be complacent about their standing.
One could argue that one of the team’s greatest strengths is the interior of its offensive line, which boasts a perennial All-Pro at center in Maurkice Pouncey and a budding Pro Bowler at right guard with David DeCastro. Ramon Foster, a solid veteran coming off a bit of a down season, rounds out the starting interior.
All three have dealt with their share of injuries in their career, though that seems to be winding down. Of the three, only Foster missed two games early in the season. He was replaced in the lineup by Cody Wallace, who was signed off waivers after the final roster cuts in 2013 and proved to be a capable injury replacement at center during the final quarter of that season.
He was not quite as successful filling in at guard—center is his natural position—but that didn’t stop the Steelers from running all over the Panthers during Week Three, for example. As an injury replacement, he did his job.
The Steelers also have an affinity for a young player, Chris Hubbard, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2013. He spent that season on the practice squad and made the 53-man roster outright a year ago. He only played eight snaps during the regular season—seven during the final drive of the blowout victory against the Panthers—but the coaches have liked what they’ve seen. Overall, the interior offensive line doesn’t appear to be an immediate need.