Marcus Gilbert has been the primary starting right tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers in each of his first four seasons. While there are many who still question his physical abilities on the field in light of his prolonged starting experience, we did see him take strides last season under the tutelage of new offensive line coach Mike Munchak.
Some of the mechanical and technical issues that existed in his game had been tweaked and minimized over time, although he did get off to a rough start, giving up a few sacks within the first few games before finally settling down in pass protection.
The front office was content with the steps forward that they had seen him take under Munchak, such that they worked out a five-year contract extension with him during the preseason, locking him in through the 2019 season.
But even if we choose to ignore those who are skeptical about his on-field abilities as a starting tackle, however, there still remains one serious issue in Gilbert that we have seen in every season at the professional level, and for which there has been as of yet no assurances of a positive trend going forward.
The issue at hand, as you might have guessed if you have followed his career trajectory, is his ability to stay healthy, or a lack thereof. He has missed starts due to injury in three of his four seasons, and he played most of that fourth season injured to a degree in which it most certainly influenced his performance on the field.
That one ‘healthy’ season came in 2013, during which he did make 16 starts, but he missed snaps due to injury in four different games, including a significant one against the Ravens in which he played just eight of 59 snaps to start the game. He missed 22 snaps in another game, although he still came out with a season total of 965 snaps.
The year before, of course, Gilbert missed the majority of his second season after suffering a significant ankle injury in the fifth game of the season. He had played well up to that point, building off of a promising rookie season.
Last year was supposed to be the year in which everything came together, and after his initial struggles, that is indeed was began to happen until the injuries crept back in, causing him to miss four starts and the bulk of a fifth game.
Of course, he also missed time due to injury during his rookie season as well. Suffice it to say that he has yet to show that he can make it through a season relatively healthy.
I am of the belief that Gilbert has answered most of the questions necessary to determine he is capable of being a starting NFL lineman. Others may certainly disagree with that assessment. But while he may have the physical abilities to play, and continues to improve on that front, the fact that he is four years into a career marred by repeated injuries is noteworthy, and is something that needs to change. Perhaps 2015 is the year that happens.