Aside simply from talent—and the man coaching the talent—the Pittsburgh Steelers’ greatest asset is easily their continuity, but that is something that has been missing for most of the summer. In each of the first two preseason games, for example, they have had at least two starters who did not play.
Center Maurkice Pouncey did not play in either of the first two preseason games, while Alejandro Villanueva missed the first game while he was in the concussion protocol. Ramon Foster was in the concussion protocol for Sunday’s game. While he did not miss either game, Marcus Gilbert has also missed practice time with injuries.
The only one to remain unscathed has been their most decorated member over the past two years, center David DeCastro, who has made the Pro Bowl and All-Pro list (once first-team) in both seasons. He got one veteran’s day off, but otherwise has been a consistent presence.
The Steelers are depending upon the entire offensive line being a consistent presence this season and building off of the significant growth that we saw from them last season, which including giving up just 21 sacks—four in a meaningless regular season finale—the second-fewest in the league.
According to reporters, the full group is expected to play tonight, and to log a decent amount of snaps in doing so. While they may be one of very few lines with the kind of continuity they currently boast, it has only really been this past week in which they have all gotten to work together.
“People will say, ‘It’s only preseason,’ but we need this”, Gilbert told Chris Adamski. “These reps are critical for the season”. Perhaps equally important is simply the fact that they all enjoy playing with one another.
“We’re a close-knit group, and that’s because we go to battle with each other and we play as one”, the right tackle added. And they did stay together for most of last season, although they did experience six of 19 games in which they were absent one starter. Foster missed two games, Pouncey sat out the regular season finale, and Gilbert miss three games.
Chris Hubbard stepped in for Gilbert at right tackle over that stretch and filled in well, while B.J. Finney handled the interior starts and held his own himself. Both figure to be the Steelers’ top two reserves again this season, but they hope they won’t be needed to start this time.
It’s great to have a good quarterback and skill position players, but there are few offenses that can function well with a deficient offensive line. The Steelers in the past were able to get enough out of the group to get by, but in recent years it has become a legitimate strength. And so it will remain, with four of the five still under contract for at least three more seasons.