When it comes to the offensive line group, Pittsburgh Steelers position coach Mike Munchak realizes that there is not a whole lot that can get done during May and June, given that so much of the learning of such a physical position must take place in padded practices.
Of course, there is a lot more that he can do for the young players than for the veterans, and as always he is working with more than a dozen linemen, including some rookie undrafted free agents, in whom he has to instill not only the fundamentals of the position, but also the basic structure of their offense. So he does have his hands full with them at least.
“This is as much for the young guys, probably more so than anybody”, he told Missi Matthews recently in a sit-down interview for the team’s website. “We have 15 guys right now, which we usually go to training camp with, so we want to make sure those guys have a great understanding of our offense so they can compete when we get to Latrobe”.
Practically speaking, such young players are going to have a very difficult time making the 53-man roster, but there will always be spots available on the practice squad. Assuming the Steelers keep eight offensive linemen, there should be two spots there.
And we don’t have to look far back to find success stories of linemen making it up from there. Chris Hubbard and B.J. Finney have both done it in the past four years. Doug Legursky did it several years ago as well, and started plenty of games for Pittsburgh and elsewhere.
Of course, there are things for Munchak to work on with his starters as well. “Really for the veteran guys it’s just more or less—we’ve added some things—it’s more of an evaluation”, he said. An evaluation “of what we did last year well, what we didn’t do well, the technique we need to work on, so we’re doing some things now, kind of locking in those areas where we feel we can be better at”.
He added that “there’s only so much you can get done out here physically, so really it’s a lot of mental work right now, and keeping everybody healthy as we are right now, going into August”. Health will certainly be the key for the offensive line this year, aside from improved consistency.
Last season, Marcus Gilbert missed three starts and Ramon Foster missed two. That is good by Pittsburgh’s standards. Foster is currently rehabbing his knee after having microscopic surgery on it recently and barely participated during OTAs.
But, as Munchak said, it’s mostly mental work right now. The heart of the offensive line’s growth from year to year won’t begin in earnest until the pads come on in Latrobe.