When the Pittsburgh Steelers had the chance to bring in Hall of Fame guard and accomplished offensive line coach Mike Munchak for that same position, they no doubt understood that they were entering a multi-year process, and that everything that ailed the unit was not going to be fixed overnight.
While the offensive line significantly cut down on the number of sacks that it gave up and rose to middle of the pack in terms of rushing yards per game—a figure that was actually hampered by a late-season drop off as the passing game vaulted the offense to four straight victories—I suspect that there was a sense all along that it would take more than just one season to establish himself.
It is worth noting, after all, that Munchak spent his entire professional career working with one organization, first as a player, then as a position coach, and then as head coach for three seasons before being released, so even coming to a new team was in itself a notable transition.
More important than his own personal adjustments, however, was the need to familiarize himself with an entirely new group of offensive linemen and explore their strengths and weaknesses, which is something that he talked about a number of times when he first took the job in Pittsburgh.
Speaking in June of last year during OTAs, Munchak talked about how so much of the offseason process was just about “getting to know the offensive line and the scheme that we’re going to be doing this year”.
“I’m getting to know what they’re good at”, he said, “what adjustments we can make, what each guy can handle mentally. You see a little bit of the physicality out here. The young guys, you move them around to see if they can handle two spots so you can get some versatility work in”.
This was just one example of the many instances in which Munchak referred to the process that it takes to learn the group, focusing first and foremost simply on what they can do well and worrying about breaking them down later when you have a better feel for their potential.
That time is now, and the linemen have reportedly felt this. Center Maurkice Pouncey talked about the changes in Munchak’s approach this offseason in comparison to last year in working with the offensive line.
He told Teresa Varley toward the end of OTAs this year that “he’s a lot harder on us now”, the reason for that being that “he knows us”. He has become tougher on his players, with Pouncey saying that “he knows what he can say to us, and he knows how to push us in the right way”.
Now that he has established not only a rapport for his players, but a feeling for what they’re capable of, his missions becomes broader than simply massaging out weak areas of their game. the objective this season is to build a dominant offensive line by maximizing the potential of each of his linemen.