The Pittsburgh Steelers spent much of the time between their last playoff victory and now replenishing their roster in preparation for their next chance to make a push for a championship. Last season showed signs that the team was on its way out of that transitional phase after posting a division-winning 11-5 record following back to back .500 seasons.
Still, the Steelers failed to make it out of the divisional round, and have lost their last three postseason contests, dating back to Super Bowl XLV. They followed up that 2010 run with a 12-4 wildcard campaign that saw a first-round exit, and subsequently failed to return to the playoffs the following two years.
So how close might they be to righting the ship and returning to that place that they have been more than any other franchise—that is, holding up the Lombardi Trophy? One way to attempt to measure that would be to compare how this season’s lineup projects against past teams.
For these purposes, it might be helpful to cite both the 2008 and 2010 teams, which are, respectively, the teams that have claimed their most recent Super Bowl championship and their most recent Super Bowl appearance.
The starting right guard for the 2008 Super Bowl champion Steelers team played 14 games in his career, starting 12, plus the three postseason games that year. He was an undrafted free agent in 2007, making the 53-man roster despite spending the season inactive, and never played a game after that Super Bowl season.
I am referring to former undrafted free agent Darnell Stapleton out of Rutgers, who was forced into the starting lineup following an Achilles tendon injury suffered by Kendall Simmons in the fourth game of the season, setting up a rather dire situation along the interior of the offensive line.
Not that there is anything negative to say about Stapleton personally, but there’s a reason he wasn’t in the starting lineup. He gave up consistent pressure in pass protection and was flagged for his fair share of penalties, playing some of his worst ball of the year during the postseason.
In 2010, Trai Essex initially won the starting job at right guard, but because of injuries, the job regularly cycled between Essex, Doug Legursky, and, ultimately, Ramon Foster, who commanded the position from Week 11 through the Super Bowl.
Foster was in just his second season at the time, long before he gained the type of consistency and presence about him that makes him such a valued commodity, but he finished off the regular season on a strong run. That didn’t quite carry over into the postseason.
Five years on, the Steelers now have a first-round draft pick manning the spot in David DeCastro, entering his fourth season. While he may not have quite yelled developed into the Pro Bowl player that many anticipate for him, he isn’t far from it.
DeCastro has displayed the potential for dominance during stretches in his relatively young career, but he still lacks the consistency that will take his game to the next level. One thing is clear, however, and that is that he is the most talented player to man the position for the Steelers since at least Simmons, if not before.