This was once considered a young offense. Outside of rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, who literally just turned 21, that can’t be said anymore. And that’s not to say by any means that it’s a bad thing. The vast majority of the offense is now a bunch of guys that are pretty much right in the heart of the prime of their playing careers.
And they have also been around long enough to know how things go. This is especially true of the offensive line, which despite having just one of its five members of the starting group 30 years or older, is a unit of seasoned and battle-tested veterans that have played quite a bit together.
Of course, that was not an accident. While two of their starters are actually former undrafted free agents that they sort of stumbled upon, their three most-widely recognized starters along the offensive line are all former high draft picks, taken in consecutive drafts from 2010 to 2012, starting with center Maurkice Pouncey, then Marcus Gilbert at right tackle, and finally David DeCastro in 2012.
While Pouncey might be the heart and soul of that group—and Ramon Foster the public mouthpiece and conscience—I would say that DeCastro is something of the mind of the group, the deepest thinker when it comes to football matters—and usually the one most frequently tasked with more complicated assignments.
Now in his sixth season, he is working on his third consecutive All-Pro campaign, and there is little that he has not seen. He has experienced significant injury—in his rookie season—, he has caused significant injury—a year after that—, he has seen long winning streaks and long losing streaks, explosive offensive outputs as well as utter futility.
Through it all, he has maintained a largely stoic disposition that has only become more so over the years as he has seen more and more. And that can be said for the rest of the veteran offensive group as well. There is little that they haven’t seen.
And so they can abide by one of Mike Tomlin’s favorite clichés, which is to avoid riding the emotional roller coaster. They know not to do that. They’ve had four-game losing streaks in recent years. They have a seven-game winning streak and have a five-game one now, and counting. Things come and go, both good and bad.
After the Steelers put up 40 points on Thursday, which is 11 points more than their previous high on the season, DeCastro was asked about the outpouring in the locker room. “I’ve stopped getting excited or down about games”, he told Mike Prisuta.
Instead, he was more interested in the practical. “What can you do better?”, he asked. “I don’t think anyone’s satisfied. It wasn’t perfect”.
That’s the attitude of a seasoned group that has been through everything—everything but the experience of winning a championship. When they need that dose of youthful levity to live in the moment, they have some JuJu for that. But they know what work is to be done to be caught up in the now in sacrifice of the bigger picture.