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 last two times the Steelers made it to the Super Bowl, they actually had a high level of play from the right tackle position. For as much as fans enjoyed complaining about Willie Colon, insisting that he was too small to play tackle—as they are currently doing with Kelvin Beachum—he was a three-year starter at right tackle for the Steelers and, outside of penalties, more than held his own.
The 2008 season was representative of who he was. He amassed a large number of penalties, and gave up a handful or so of sacks. But in terms of total pressure, he had the right side secured, and he was a strong run blocker, which is partly why the Steelers were so right-handed at the time.
Of course, in a couple of years the injuries would start to mount, starting in the offseason of 2010. Knowing that they had a chance to compete that year, the Steelers decided to sign Flozell Adams as a stopgap. Though he only played for the Steelers that one year, and clearly showed rust, as well as issues transitioning from left tackle to right tackle, he did enough to let the team compete, particularly as a run blocker.
But Colon’s injury, and the realization that Adams was a rental, prompted the Steelers to draft Marcus Gilbert in the second round in 2011. After Colon was lost for the season in the first game, Gilbert was thrust into the starting lineup in the second game of his career, and, barring injury, he’s been there since.
As a rookie, Gilbert went through the ups and downs that you might expect, including some growing up that he had left to do, after the coaching staff sat him for one start for missing a meeting, if I recall correctly.
He got off to a promising start in year two, but a severe ankle injury limited him to five games, eventually being up in injured reserve after the severity of the injury was realized. In 2013, Gilbert played through a number of injuries, but made every start.
Under Mike Munchak, the fourth-year tackle started making necessary strides, particularly in pass protection fundamentals, to take his game to the next level, and after a rough start, he settled down and started to look like the player they long expected him to be.
As is the story of his career, however, the year was once again marred by injuries, which limited him to 12 starts. As long as he stays healthy, he should continue in his maturation process as a player, and may perhaps be as good as Colon was at his height—with less penalties.