Rebuilding A Champion: Interior OL Depth Still A Question Mark

Hubbard Dieffenbach Dismukes Wallace

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 Steelers’ depth chart along the interior offensive line is somewhat of a work in progress, consisting of one veteran with limited starting experience, followed by an overabundance of former undrafted players, most of them rookies, with the only ‘veteran’ being incumbent Chris Hubbard, who played single-digit snaps in his first season on the 53-man roster.

As was the case on the outside, both the 2008 and 2010 runs that the Steelers went on that concluded in a Super Bowl appearance involved testing out the team’s depth inside. After Kendall Simmons went down early in the 2008 season, Darnell Stapleton had to fill in for the rest of the year. He was out of the league by 2010, for context.

The other interior reserve that season ended up being Trai Essex, who played very limited snaps. His most significant amount of work came during the season finale, and he graded out well.

By 2010, he entered the regular season as the starting right guard, but an injury suffered in the second game of the season resulted in a bit of a merry-go-round at the position. Doug Legursky replaced him until he returned around mid-season but after yet another injury two weeks later, it was Ramon Foster who would finish the year at the position, including the Super Bowl game.

Foster has been a starter more or less since then, while Legursky has started both in Pittsburgh and elsewhere since then. It proved that the Steelers had quality depth inside that year, perhaps more than they realized.

The current primary reserve is Cody Wallace, who was signed just prior to the 2013 season. He started the final three games of the regular season that year at center, his natural position, and played well, turning that performance into a three-year contract.

Last year, he was forced into the starting lineup at left guard for two games, and had a tougher go of it, although he faced some quality defensive lines. Still, he appears to be a capable reserve who brings with him some tenacity that you don’t often see from the second string.

We have not seen much of Hubbard yet, but he seems to be having a solid training camp as he looks to hold down his roster spot. He appears to have been gradually improving year to year, now in his third year since college. I for one will be looking forward to seeing his progress during the preseason.

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