Preseason Expectations: Interior Offensive Line

Five games. 18 practices. That’s the allotted time the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers will have to prove themselves before playing in a meaningful game. The preseason is unique in the sense that it’s the only time when the scoreboard doesn’t matter. 0-5, 5-0, it really isn’t going to matter. It’s the time for self-evaluation, seeing how players progress. And that’s what we’ll do here. For each player on the 90 man roster, we’ll give a short overview of what we’re looking for from them entering camp.

We’ll continue our look through the offensive line with the interior lineman.

Ramon Foster: In what could be his swan song in a Steelers uniform, but shouldn’t be considered as a slam-dunk occurance, there isn’t much left to learn about the seven year vet. A slightly better athlete than people give him credit for, he has enough movement skills to work to the second level on inside zone. But he’s not great in any one area on the field and that’s not going to suddenly change at 29.

As I noted in my sack recap, I would like – and expect – to see better verbalization between him and Kelvin Beachum in stunt pickup. Trouble area in 2014 though much better than two years ago.

Maurkice Pouncey: 2014 was as good of a year as he’s had, in my mind. Fully recovered from his torn ACL, Pouncey is an upper-echelon athlete who is uniquely used being able to pull from the pivot spot. Allowed just half a sack all year long, a very low number even for a center.

I don’t have many complaints and you’d be pretty crazy to be critical of his performance. Repeat what he did last year and he’ll be just fine.

David DeCastro: Still need to go through his sack breakdown before camp. Glanced over it last week and he came out better than I thought. Nothing egregious against him. Still, he could use some work in pass protection, anchoring vs bull rushes better and doing a bit better job laterally. Nothing against his athleticism but technique. Pushing off with your post foot, following the idea of “feet before hands.”

Cleaning up those minor issues will vault him into being truly worthy of consideration for the best guard in the NFL.

Cody Wallace: Another guy who is maxed out, Wallace brings value given the guarantee he’ll be active on Sunday and the first man up at center and guard. He’s a fine short-term option but gets exposed in the long-term with his lack of size, length, and athleticism.

For those guys, it’s usually a matter of “when” they get replaced by someone with better physical tools – remember Wallace bumped John Malecki off the roster – but for now, his job seems safe.

Chris Hubbard: I remember coming away from the preseason feeling unhappy with his player. Really didn’t imagine he’d make the roster. And that’s my fault for not looking closely enough, failing to give him a fair shake. It doesn’t mean I’m going to add him to my pre-camp 53 man roster prediction but I don’t want to make the same mistake twice.

Last year, I didn’t think he was a good enough athlete so that’ll be on area I want to double-check. It’d be nice for him to continue to show versatility, especially when you know several players behind him will definitely have the opportunity to move around.

B.J. Finney: He is one of my favorites going into camp but like any rookie, the college tape only gets you into the door, not to live in the house. I would love to see him get work at all three interior spots. We already know he’s seen time at center and right guard.

Like any other player without good length, I want to see him use his leverage and keep his lower half moving to mirror and anchor against the larger defensive lineman he’ll routinely be pitted against. I need to see more bend from him in pass protection. Too often in pass protection, he’d get stiff and upright, making him vulnerable to getting walked into the pocket at the NFL level.

Miles Dieffenbach: Frankly, Dieffenbach wasn’t a player I got familiar with though part of that is due to his torn ACL that caused him to miss half his senior season. So I’ll be coming in with a blank slate with him. Injury is well behind him so that shouldn’t be a hindrance or an excuse. He’s got good size and I expect him to throw his weight around a little bit in practice and games.

Reese Dismukes: First and foremost, we better see him getting work at somewhere other than center. That was the only position he played at Auburn and being a one-trick pony along the offensive line isn’t getting you a helmet. He’s undersized without a ton of strength and needs to generate a push in the run game. Worried he’ll be a fish of what in either scheme, executing zone or power blocks.

Collin Rahrig: Again, I’m hopeful, and really expect, Rahrig to see time at all three spots, considering his college background. He showed an impressive burst off the snap when asked to pull, and I think we’ll see that in the preseason.

His biggest negatives are a lack of length and overall size in addition to being top-heavy in pass protection. Needs to play with a better base or he’ll struggle in the NFL. Rahrig also noted to me in a recent interview that he’s alone in the position of potentially being behind the rest, since he didn’t arrive to Pittsburgh until the end of minicamp. He only has five practices under his belt.

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