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.
Following the departure of Alan Faneca in free agency after the 2007 season, veteran reserve Chris Kemoeatu became a mainstay at left guard for the next few seasons, starting in a pair of Super Bowls until health issues forced him to call it a career following the 2011 season after seven years in the league.
Between 2008 and 2010, Kemoeatu started 43 games, missing seven due to injury, but he started all 16 games during the 2008 season and through the Steelers’ championship run as a first-time starter on a much-maligned offensive line.
In terms of on-field performance, Kemoeatu was always going to be a downgrade from an All-Pro such as Faneca, who has a shot at being enshrined in Canton someday. He turned out to be a fairly one-dimensional player, in the end, but that one dimension—run blocking—was solid.
Line him up in front of a defensive tackle and tell him to go forward and he could get some push off the line. He was a true road grader, but he presented an issue in pass protection, and, unsurprisingly, the line gave up a lot of sacks that season.
Kemoeatu missed four games during the 2009 season due to injury, replaced by a then-rookie undrafted free agent in Ramon Foster. Foster would go on to consistently find a place in the starting lineup due either to injury or ineffectiveness for the next few seasons until he was finally given a starting job of his own in 2013.
Foster may be nothing special on the field, but he has been a solid contributor throughout his career, doing just about everything at an at least adequate level. He has not been a liability over this length of time, even if last season was a bit of a down year.
Which brings us to an interesting point in speculating how much longer Foster might remain in the starting lineup, because if he’s not, then we currently haven’t a clue whom his successor might be. Could it be one of the four undrafted rookies that they brought in this spring? But that is a question for next season at the earliest.