When Stanford guard David DeCastro slid all the way down to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 24th overall slot in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin were elated, replete with the usual platitudes that coincide with the selection of a first-round draft pick.
It took him a bit to get going in his rookie training camp, but before long, he was plugged into the starting lineup, and it was only a friendly fire knee injury that resulted in an MCL tear that kept him from joining Maurkice Pouncey as the only rookie linemen to start the season opener in some time.
It took him most of the season to get back from the injury, going on the short-term injured reserve list, and he most his first NFL start in Week 15, after Willie Colon was placed on injured reserve and the Steeler shifted Ramon Foster over to right tackle.
He looked every bit the part of a rookie coming back from injury with no playing experience going up against a Pro Bowl defensive tackle in Geno Atkins when Pittsburgh played the Bengals that year, but compared to his most recent showing in Cincinnati, the man has come a long way.
In fact, he made major strides in his second season, and ended that year as something line a third alternate for the Pro Bowl, coming into the public consciousness with some key pull blocks in a primetime game against Cincinnati.
The element that he has lacked for the majority of his career entering this season was consistency. DeCastro is a technician who is athletic enough to do about anything you ask of him, but there were still too many snaps every game in which he was outmatched, no matter the highlights.
Under the tutelage of Mike Munchak, he has begun to play more cleanly on a play-to-play basis this season, and his work in pass protection has finally become more balanced in comparison to his usual quality run blocking. In fact, his improvement as a pass protector has a lot to do with why Ben Roethlisberger is being sacked less frequently than ever this year.
It is for this reason chiefly that I was not too surprised to learn yesterday that DeCastro was nominated to participate in the first Pro Bowl of his career, though of course his preference would be to be playing the following week, during the Super Bowl.
Truthfully, I don’t know that his play this season merited a Pro Bowl, though he no doubt has had two huge factors playing to his advantage. For starters, he plays for one of the best and most explosive offenses in the league, both on the ground and in the air, and his performance factors into that equation.
But he has also stayed healthy this year. He has played in all 958 offensive snaps this season for Pittsburgh thus far, after playing every snap last year. He missed a start and played through injuries in 2013, and it affected his performance. All these factors combined help explain why his first Pro Bowl nod came now, in year four.