While criticism has been levied against the Pittsburgh Steelers’ gradually improving pass defense toward the end of the season that they had the fortune of facing a string of backup quarterbacks, the same cannot be said for the level of competition that right tackle Marcus Gilbert faced with relative consistency last year, during which he allowed only one sack.
The sixth-year lineman made great strides in his performance in 2015, and while the motivation for doing so obviously is largely geared toward the goal of winning a championship, there is also inevitably a personal desire for individual success and recognition.
Gilbert is a player who is motivated to receive a Pro Bowl nomination, something that he told Mark Kaboly for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he “always dreamed about”. As Kaboly notes, Gilbert was passed up in favor of Branden Albert and Kyle Long when two tackles backed out of the Pro Bowl, which the lineman said “just provides a little motivation”.
Over the course of the past two years, the former second-round draft pick has undergone a physical transformation, becoming considerably leaner while maintaining his strength in order to improve his athleticism, conditioning, and durability, and the positive results have been obvious on the field.
The results have as of yet, however, not been enough to get him the recognition that he is seeking, and make no mistake, while he would surely love nothing more than to win the Super Bowl, he is very eager to join the fraternity of linemen who have made the Pro Bowl.
He plays alongside two of them now in Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro. He is coached by a Hall of Famer in Mike Munchak, and currently has a future Hall of Famer in former Steelers guard Alan Faneca helping out the linemen during the team’s spring drills heading into the break.
Gilbert has come a long way from the rookie who had to be prodded by his former college teammate Pouncey in order to get properly motivated. While he was thrust into the starting lineup due to injury, there was a game that season in which he was benched due to the team disciplining him from some incident stemming from a lack of dedication.
He has been night and day since then, a transformation that truly began two years ago, and he was rewarded for it with a $30 million extension. But he is still driven to improve, no matter how far he has come, even telling Kaboly, “there are a lot of areas that I need to improve on in the run and the pass”. Considering how well he played last year, any improvement is an inch closer to receiving that recognition that he seeks.
“Once you crack that egg” of getting into the Pro Bowl, he said, “I think it is easier for guys to get that notoriety” in the future, a fact that is well known, as Pro Bowlers are often viewed as incumbents and are voted on by prior recognition. Gilbert is not far from being there now, and I would not be against him getting there in 2016.