I wrote fairly negatively about the Pro Bowl yesterday, or at least the diluted pageant show that it has gradually become over the years, but the truth is that, to many players, it does really mean something. And I’m not talking about economic factors, hitting incentive escalators in contract or providing leverage in negotiations.
I’m talking about the old-fashioned sort of meaning in which an individual feels a sense of accomplishment for achieving something, perhaps a goal, of which he can be proud for the rest of his life. And to the right sort of player, in the right sort of circumstance, earning a Pro Bowl nomination still means an awful lot.
If I were to guess, I would certainly say that Pittsburgh Steelers right guard David DeCastro seems to be just that sort of player. The fourth-year former first-round draft pick earned the first Pro Bowl nomination of his career, and in spite of the fact that he is due to have a clean-up procedure done on his ankle, he is instead down in Honolulu set to participate in the Pro Bowl game, as well as the entire week’s experience.
In spite of the fact that his two fellow offensive teammates who were also elected to the Pro Bowl—quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown—have stepped out of the game due, respectively, to a shoulder injury and a recent concussion, DeCastro is on his own as the lone representative for his team in the Pro Bowl game.
While regarded as the top interior lineman in his class, the fourth-year player slid in the first round of the 2012 draft all the way to the 24th spot, where the Steelers were more than happy to scoop him up, regarding him as one of the handful of special players that they identify in each draft class.
But his career did not exactly get off to the perennial All-Pro start that many were hoping and predicting for him as the heir apparent to Alan Faneca, the Hall of Fame finalist in his first year of eligibility this year, who had previously donned the number 66.
DeCastro struggled to adjust to the speed of the game early on in his rookie training camp, and then during the Steelers’ third preseason game, suffered a torn MCL in his right knee after he and Marcus Gilbert were both run into the back of each other.
He missed the first 13 games of the year, but came back to start the final three games of the season, where he looked every bit the part of a rookie trying to jump into the fray 13 games into the season. And he still found himself adjusting to the game in his second year, albeit with some flashes of what was to come.
In 2014, he began to level off, beginning to polish the shaky aspects of his game, but remained plagued with inconsistency. This season, it all came together, combining the highlight plays with consistency, as well as health, and it culminated not only with the Pro Bowl, but also a first-team All-Pro bid—which was the first time, by the way, that Faneca had each of those firsts in his career as well.