The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season ended a few weeks earlier that they had planned it to, but now that their 2015 campaign has drawn to a conclusion, it’s time to wrap things up and take stock of where they are and how they got there. Part of that process involves holding player exit meetings at the conclusion of each season.
Of course, we’re not privy to the specifics that go on in each of these meetings between head coach and player, and whomever else might be involved in any particular discussion, but if we were conducting them, it might go something like this.
Player: Marcus Gilbert
Position: Offensive Tackle
Experience: 5 Years
Given the way the season ended up unfolding, I figured it would be better to begin the offensive line segment of this series working my way from the right side to the left side, so that means that we will be starting with right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who is coming off the best season of his five-year career, which many internally believed was deserving of a Pro Bowl nod.
Nobody has been a greater beneficiary of having the ability to work under Hall of Fame offensive lineman Mike Munchak as the Steelers’ offensive line coach than has Gilbert, who over the course of the past two seasons has slowly earned himself recognition as one of the more underrated linemen in the NFL.
The former second-round draft pick is playing up to his draft stock and then some these days after suffering through a barrage of criticism tied largely to his second and third seasons, which was badly pockmarked by injuries, and then sacks.
His 2014 season began with a flurry of sacks in the first few games before he settled down significantly over the course of the rest of the season, and he continued that trend into this year, during which he only gave up a couple of sacks through the postseason.
Most important is the fact that he had by far the healthiest season of his career, starting 18 games including the postseason, and only missing five snaps along the way, two of which came in kneel down situations.
Even during the 2013 season when he managed to start every game, he played through a significant ankle injury that limited his play and caused him to miss time in several games. A knee injury caused him to miss several starts last year, and he almost missed most of the 2012 season.
This is obviously something that the coaching staff and the front office saw coming when they agreed to extend him a five-year contract offer during the 2014 preseason that would tie him to the Steelers through the 2019 season.
Not only has he undergone a transformation on the field, he has also done so off the field, dedicating himself to his fitness and slimming down immensely, to the point where he nearly looks like a very bulky tight end out on the field now. It has greatly helped his mobility while maintaining strength against bull rushes with improved fundamentals. His was one of the most positive developments of the 2015 season.