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 Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert be able to take his game a step even further to the Pro Bowl in 2016?
Ever since the Steelers selected former Gators lineman Marcus Gilbert in the second round of the 2011 draft, he has faced an inordinate amount of scrutiny, at least up until recently, following his successfully turning in his best and most complete season of his professional career in 2015.
It is no coincidence, however, that 2015 also happened to coincide with, by far, the healthiest season of his career. It is, in fact, the only season in which he has managed to stay even remotely healthy for the duration of the season, even if it is the second time in five seasons that he has started 16 games.
This past year, Gilbert played 1070 of 1075 snaps. He did start 16 games in 2013 as well, but as mentioned, he often was not healthy, and in fact played through injury for most of the season. There was even a game against the Ravens in which he missed the majority. By the end of the season, he missed nearly 10 percent of the team’s snaps, and most of the snaps he did play were through injury.
But, of course, he has also made major strides purely in his game the past two seasons under offensive line coach Mike Munchak, during which span he has also undergone a physical transformation, losing a good deal of weight to become more athletic while maintaining his functional strength. While he started out and finished the 2014 season a bit slow, he was consistently impressive, if not necessarily overtly noticeable a year ago.
There are many within the organization who believed that his 2015 season merited Pro Bowl recognition. He should get that recognition in 2016 as he continues to develop, and it will not hurt that he has continued to develop a working relationship with David DeCastro next to him, who himself advanced to first-team All-Pro status last year.
Gilbert’s newfound determination to put his best into everything that he does professionally will only continue to drive him forward, and not settle into a complacency with his craft. Yearly, it seems, he becomes a more passionate individual who takes a greater sense of ownership in his team and their success, and in the line’s success in particular.
This all helps lead to the reasonable conclusion that we have not yet seen the best of Marcus Gilbert at age 28. And if the Steelers offense truly has the season that it is capable of putting together, we may see the team put three linemen into the Pro Bowl—in name only, of course, since they will have a game to play the following week.