You may recall recently that I wrote about the need for the offensive line to continue to develop, to take the next step in their evolution, individually and collectively, in order to help take the Pittsburgh Steelers offense to a very good emerging offense to the type of championship-caliber performer that can withstand an average defensive effort.
It would appear that the line has the skill position pieces surrounding them to help facilitate that, with Pro Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger posting some of the best marks of his career, and first-team All-Pros, running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown, rewriting the Steelers’ record books. Heath Miller at tight end also remains a valuable two-way player.
No doubt the improvement of the offensive line last season went a long way toward the aforementioned players helping to redefine individual positional success within Steelers history, with Bell setting a new mark in yards from scrimmage, Roethlisberger blowing past his own yardage and accuracy marks, and Brown setting new team-highs in receptions, receiving yardage, and receiving touchdowns.
That’s all very well and good, but there’s still work to be done. And according to offensive line coach Mike Munchak, former Steelers offensive lineman Tunch Ilkin is the guy that can help him get the most out of his linemen in his second year on the job.
Locally, Ilkin himself has been considered a potential candidate for the offensive line coach position while it has been vacant a few times in recent years, though it’s unclear whether or not either he or the Steelers ever seriously considered the partnership. Ilkin already does quality work for the team both on the radio and on the Steelers’ website on occasion.
But he has kept his nose to the ground over the years, and has pitched in from time to time. Steelers left tackle Kelvin Beachum has worked with Ilkin on his handwork and technique for the past few offseasons. Ed Bouchette wrote last offseason that Ilkin trained with a martial arts expert during his career to improve his handwork, and that after his career was over, his services were in demand around the league.
A few days back, Bouchette noted in passing at the end of his notebook column that Munchak requested that Ilkin work with the offensive linemen this spring. Both Munchak and Ilkin were regarded as technicians during their careers, and their combined knowledge could go a long way toward making the little improvements in technique that will make a big difference in the long run.
Last season, right tackle Marcus Gilbert made significant strides in his technique work, according to Ilkin, during his first year under Munchak, and continued growth on that front will be key as the line looks to cut down on the number of sacks allowed off the edge from a year ago.
Hopefully Ilkin can also provide some advice about how to stay healthy as well. Gilbert in particular has dealt with chronic injuries throughout whole seasons during his career, which has affected his performance.