Last year, under the guidance of Hall of Fame guard and new offensive line coach Mike Munchak, the Steelers’ offensive line flourished, finally beginning to jell as a unit after years of criticism.
After years of ranking in the lower tier of the league in running the football, the team rose to 16th in the league, paving the way for an All-Pro season by second-year running back, Le’Veon Bell, to an AFC-best 1,361 yards on the ground. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also was at the controls of one of the league’s most deadly offenses, throwing for a career and NFL co-leading 4,952 yards and 32 touchdowns to just 9 interceptions. More importantly, the line kept it’s franchise QB upright, allowing only 33 sacks. The team ranked second in the league in both total offense and passing offense as well, proving the old adage “it all starts up front” played a major role in the success of the team last season.
Entering year two of the Munchak era, the unit looks to build upon last season, and ultimately help the team when it matters most, and that’s when the weather turns cold and playoff football is at it’s peak in January and, ultimately, February. With Bell missing the first few games of the season, the offensive line will need to be relied upon even more, as the focal point of the offense will likely be placed upon the shoulders of Big Ben and the passing game. With all five starters returning, it’s quite possible for this team to make the leap to the next level and find itself among the best in the business. We can identify each member of the starting five and the steps they’ll need to continue to make in order for the team to advance to the postseason for a second consecutive year.
LT Kelvin Beachum – According to Pro Football Focus, Beachum allowed seven sacks on Roethlisberger last season, a surprisingly low number considering some of the pass rushers on the schedule they faced. To say Beachum is a steal as a seventh-round pick out of SMU in 2012 is a massive understatement as he’s clearly outplayed his contract. Although he doesn’t possess the requisite size of the position at only 6-foot-3 and 303 pounds, Beachum is widely regarded as a technician. If Pittsburgh elects not to pay him, as 2015 is the final season of his rookie deal, then another team certainly will. Beachum is clearly a top-10 left tackle in the league, and those types don’t just grow on trees, regardless if he’s not the 6-foot-9, 350-pound Jonathan Ogden prototype.
LG Ramon Foster – The “old man” along the line at age 29, Foster provides a veteran leadership role. Despite his age, he may be re-signed after the coming season, but if not, there are some feisty up-and-comers who may possibly be ready to fill his shoes, including undrafted free agent find, B.J. Finney.
C Maurkice Pouncey – The undisputed linchpin of the unit, Pouncey returned to his usual All-Pro self following a horrific knee injury to begin the 2013 campaign. He is pivotal to the unit, as he makes all of the line calls. Soon to be 26, if Pouncey continues down his current path, it isn’t out of the question to one day find himself in the hallways of Canton, OH.
RG David DeCastro – In mine and the views of others, the most-underrated member of the unit of DeCastro. Viewed as the second coming of Steve Hutchinson entering the 2012 draft out of Stanford, DeCastro has lived up to his billing. He is another technician as a blocker although he offers some unique power to his game as well. Already recognized among league circles as one of the top up-and-coming guards, it should’ve been arguably in 2014 when he made his debut in the Pro Bowl. Perhaps 2015 will be the start of many.
RT Marcus Gilbert – In the eyes of many, the underachieving Gilbert is the Cortez Allen of the offensive line, and his struggles have been well documented. Before being abused by the Ravens in the playoff loss, he gave up seven sacks on the year, just like Beachum. In the middle of a new hefty contract, if the offense wants to go to uncharted heights even beyond their 2014 self, Gilbert will need to buckle down and do a better job of keeping the jersey of #7 clean.