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 pessimist’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?
The Pittsburgh Steelers initially drafted tackle Marcus Gilbert in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft partially on the advice of his college teammate, center Maurkice Pouncey, whom the Steelers drafted in the first round just the year before en route to a second-team All-Pro campaign.
It was unclear initially what his future might be, but it wouldn’t be long before it would be decided for him after Willie Colon suffered a season-ending injury in the opener in 2011. That game was the only one in his professional career for which he would not dress as a healthy scratch, and one of two he would ever fail to start as a healthy player, the other coming later his rookie season for disciplinary reasons.
Gilbert has been staunchly entrenched as the Steelers’ right tackle since then, but few perhaps would have predicted the steady growth that he has seen over the course of the past two seasons, with many within the organization believing that he was snubbed of a deserved Pro Bowl recognition for his play in 2015.
Might that Pro Bowl come in 2016? There is a notion that an athlete’s play is often recognized a year too late, either positively or negatively. If that theory holds true, then Gilbert should find himself in the Pro Bowl this season. But the world doesn’t always work that way, especially for right tackles.
The 28-year-old has undergone a bit of a physical and mental reinvention over the course of the past two years, rededicating himself to the game and slimming down significantly in order to increase his athleticism while maintaining his core strength, and that has helped translate into a very strong 2015 season, undoubtedly the finest of his career.
But how much further can he advance his craft that this point in his career? He has only two more seasons before he hits the age of 30, and he has already had two seasons under the tutelage of Mike Munchak. While his current performance is absolutely more than acceptable, he may be at his plateau now.
Beyond that, the Pro Bowl selection process is a convoluted one that doesn’t necessarily reward the most deserving performances. Gilbert is not a household name by any means. I believe his best chance of being recognized as a Pro Bowler is for the Steelers’ offense to do extraordinarily well overall, because when such success is achieved, there often follows a sweeping recognition of its contributors, deserved or not.