Unless some unfortunate offseason injury or other off the field event occurs between now and September, the Pittsburgh Steelers figure to start the same five offensive linemen on opening day for the first time in a while.
In fact, you would have to go all the way back to 2006 to find out when the Steelers last started the same offensive linemen on opening day that they did the previous year, which just goes to show how many difficulties the team has had in fielding a stable lineup for the better part of a decade.
With All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey as its nucleus and budding talented players around him, the offensive line finally began to take strides last season, as it helped put their quarterback, running back, and top wide receiver in the Pro Bowl, with the latter two joining Pouncey on the first-team All-Pro list.
But there is still room to grow, to be sure, at just about every position but center. And improving the offensive line will also go a long way toward improving the offense as a whole, particularly in the red zone, where the Steelers are hesitant to run the ball, as they air it out 62 percent of the time inside the 20-yard line.
Kelvin Beachum, for example, is entering just his second season as a full-time starter at left tackle, and he began to take major strides in pass protection last year, even if the number of sacks that he gave up doesn’t accurately portray that.
But if he can increase his functional strength, he can improve the Steelers’ ability to run the football off the left edge without relying on a convoy of pulling lead blockers. While run-blocking ability has never been the hallmark of a left tackle, for the Steelers or in general, Beachum can certainly stand to get a bit stronger.
Marcus Gilbert over at right tackle has been the primary starting right tackle for his entire career, ever since Willie Colon was lost for the season in the opener during his rookie year. He struggled early giving up sacks, but began to play quite well before injuries crept up and he finished slow. It is imperative that he continues the upward trajectory that began last season.
The key here will be Mike Munchak, the Steelers’ offensive line coach, and what he can get out of his players on his second year on the job. During his first season with the team, he spent the majority of time feeling out his players and looking for subtle ways to improve their craft. Nobody gained from his more than Gilbert.
In 2015, perhaps, Munchak can begin to work on a more global level, viewing the line as a unit and what they can do together, installing more group concepts and implementing more aspects of the outside zone that has been talked about for a while now. There is a solid foundation in place on the line for the first time in nearly a decade, and now is just a matter of fine tuning.