The Optimist’s Take: O-Line Staying Healthy

The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.

Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the optimist’s take on the following question.

Question: Will the offensive line manage to stay healthy during the 2016 season?

It has been a recurring theme for a number of years that the Steelers’ offensive line has an awfully difficult time staying healthy. If you look at just last season, the team lost 26 starts due to injury between Maurkice Pouncey missing the entire season and Kelvin Beachum suffering a torn ACL six games into the year.

On the flip side, however, the rest of the line, including the replacement linemen, stayed more or less remarkably healthy, hardly coming off the field for more than a few snaps. More to the point, David DeCastro and Ramon Foster both played 100 percent of the team’s snaps, while Cody Wallace missed only two for no good reason when he was replaced to take a pair of kneel downs at the end of a game. Marcus Gilbert came off the field for just five snaps.

As for Beachum’s replacement, Alejandro Villanueva, the only primary starting lineman last year who did not start every game, once he was on the field, he only missed five or six snaps, if memory serves. That is notably impressive considering his lack of prior experience and his ability to maintain his composure after being thrown into the starting lineup without making a mistake that resulted in an injury to himself or somebody else.

As for Pouncey, we saw his injury, which took place during the preseason. It was purely a freak injury that has no likelihood of recurring, nor was it an injury that would likely result in the increased chances of future injury.

We’ve also seen Pouncey return from injury earlier in his career, during which he not only played at a remarkable level, he also stayed remarkably healthy. Pouncey played all but seven snaps in 2014, and those seen snaps were when he was taken out at the end of a blowout victory.

Part of the reason that the Steelers have, barring freak injuries, been able to stay healthier lately, particularly last season, is the fact that they have finally all grown together, and have learned to play in sync with one another. DeCastro and Pouncey have been working together for years, and Foster has proven to be highly adaptable to his surroundings.

One would be wise also to note the presence of offensive line coach Mike Munchak and his role in keeping the line not simply all on the same page, but playing with the proper technique that decreases the likelihood of injury. Of course, there is always a bit of luck involved, but with that luck, there is reason for optimism for the line to stay healthier than it has in a decade in 2016.

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