There was no hesitation in Todd Haley’s answer.
Speaking with Bob Labriola on Steelers’ Nation Radio Coordinator’s Corner, Haley called the Pittsburgh Steelers front five the best he’s ever had in Pittsburgh.
“Yeah, without a doubt. Best one and deepest of any year since I’ve been here. We’ve got guys who hopefully aren’t going to be playing much that can come in and play at a good level. Obviously, getting Pouncey back is huge. Again, it’s a group you’re talking about that’s been together for a significant amount of time. Just really excited to see them work together and show what they’re capable of.”
As Haley alluded to, the most of this group is very familiar to Pittsburgh. Ramon Foster is the eldest, entering as a UDFA in 2009, Maurkice Pouncey a first round pick in 2010, Marcus Gilbert a second rounder the following year, and David DeCastro the team’s top selection in 2012.
Foster, Pouncey, and Gilbert have all inked long-term deals with the team. DeCastro seems poised to join them with reports he and the Steelers are “close” to an extension.
Depth-wise, the team is as experienced as ever. Cody Wallace has 22 career starts, Ryan Harris 70, while Chris Hubbard has been in the system for three years.
With Pouncey back in the starting lineup, Haley touched on what that means to the offense.
“He’s such an energy bringer. When he walks in a room, the room lights up. Every light in there gets brighter. The energy in there, you can feel. He’s just a high, high energy guy that loves what he does. Loves the game of football. Practices with a passion, plays with a passion. He’s a smart guy. He’s obviously physically talented. When you put all of those together, it makes for a special, special player that’s fun to be around.”
Even during the offseason OTAs and minicamp, Pouncey had the vigor of the Super Bowl of getting to be back on the field. He spent all of 2015 on injured reserve and needed seven surgeries to recover from complications to repair his broken fibula. Here’s what he told Missi Matthews back in June.
“I go home now and I call my brother on the phone like, ‘bro, man, I missed it.’ I really did. I love this sport. We sit back and have small conversations. It’s just great to be back out there with the guys.”
Pouncey was very loosely managed during the preseason. He saw his normal slate of training camp reps, rarely getting the day off, and was curtailed only a bit in the preseason.
The only spot we haven’t discussed is left tackle. That’s in the hands of Alejandro Villanueva who has showed continued progression since stepping in for Kelvin Beachum last season. He is also someone who figures to spend the next couple seasons in Pittsburgh. Set to be an exclusive rights free agent after this season, his return is practically guaranteed.