The Pittsburgh Steelers have failed to add a new offensive lineman through the draft that has actually stuck over the course of the past three years, but they did use major resources to revamp their offensive line over the course of the three drafts prior.
After largely neglecting the position for some time during the mid- to late 00s, the Steelers used two first-round draft picks and two second-round draft picks on offensive linemen, netting three starters from that group, while being fortunate to get a starting left tackle in the compensatory portion of the seventh round. The final starter along the offensive line was added as an undrafted free agent in 2009.
It has taken a while for the investment to pay off, but after incremental growth, we saw significantly improvement from the group during the 2014 season, during which its key starters stayed healthier than usual.
In addition to run-blocking for the AFC’s leading rusher and helping Le’Veon Bell set the Steelers single-season yards from scrimmage mark, the line’s pass protection helped allow quarterback Ben Roethlisberger lead the NFL in passing yards with nearly 5000 en route to tying his own franchise record for touchdown passes, while keeping his interception total low.
With as much growth as they have shown in recent years, especially last season with a healthy Maurkice Pouncey, it would be naïve to deny that the Steelers could further benefit from continued improvement from the group as the offensive side of the ball becomes increasingly important to the team’s overall success.
I would argue, in fact, that its further maturation is imperative in order for the offense to grow from a very good unit to an elite one that could carry the team to a championship run.
The Steelers have All-Pro offensive pieces in Bell, Pouncey, and of course Antonio Brown, but much of the rest of the offense is still full of developing pieces, particularly at wide receiver, and having a lot of inexperienced youth can result in errors on the playing field, costing valuable time that could be the difference between success and failure.
There is improvement yet to be made among the individual linemen, as well, with Pouncey perhaps the only player who can be said to be a finished product. While Kelvin Beachum’s technique and footwork in pass protection has developed nicely, for example, he needs to reduce the number of sacks that he gives up and add strength to gain push in the running game.
Likewise, David DeCastro at right guard is a borderline Pro Bowl player entering his fourth season, but there’s a reason he’s borderline, and that’s inconsistency. He, too, occasionally displays a lack of ideal strength, and can be beaten inside in pass protection.
The playoff loss to the Ravens showed that pressure can be generated around the edges, in part because of Roethlisberger’s tendency to hang on to the ball allowing that pressure time to get into the backfield. Will this be the year that the group as a whole finally reaches maturity?