OTAs, or Organized Team Activities, are voluntary, yet it becomes a big deal when a prominent player is not there, whether right or wrong. The truth is, though, that some positions get more use out of them than others do, and that is considering all other factors being equal, including skill and experience level.
The offensive line is perhaps the position that is most critical to practice. No other group is so intricately dependent upon the fluid and cohesive work of five individuals performing complementary actions. Which is why, according to Marcus Gilbert, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak essentially demands that his players attend.
While Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell missed all or most of the Steelers’ 10 OTA sessions, all five of the Steelers’ starting offensive linemen—three of them Pro Bowlers, mind you, and two with All-Pro accolades—were in attendance and ready to go.
Not that they’re complaining, in part because they know they need it. “As offensive linemen you don’t want to miss too much time because technique is everything”, Gilbert told Kevin Gorman as OTAs wrapped up.
“You can lose technique in a snap of a finger, then you’re rusty as hell. The first week we came out, we were pretty rusty because we had so much down time”, he went on. “But knowing that we only have a little over a month going into camp after this minicamp, we need to be here for these extra reps”.
Gilbert is one of the more veteran members of the offensive line, actually situated in the middle of the five starters in terms of experience. He has been a full-time starter since the second game of his career in 2011 as a second-round draft pick, even if that job came courtesy of then-starter Willie Colon suffering a season-ending injury in the opener. Colon would move to guard the following year.
Those more experienced even than himself are center Maurkice Pouncey, who last season continued his streak of making the Pro Bowl in every season in which he has been healthy—up to six now—and Ramon Foster, who is entering his 10th season. He told reporters that he was a first alternate for the Pro Bowl in 2017, but he wanted to make it outright.
David DeCastro has become the Steelers’ best lineman as he enters his seventh season. He has been a Pro Bowler and All-Pro for three years running and is also the youngest of the linemen, while perhaps also being the most technically sound. Alejandro Villanueva is entering his fourth season, and first Pro Bowl appearance, though he will already be turning 30 later this year.
The time they put in together is what makes them one of the best offensive lines in football, so there are no complaints about this early spring work. “We work all five together. That just shows that we’re willing to work in unison”, Gilbert said. “We have a dedication”, he went on, but added, “it’s demanded of you. We know what is expected. It’s just what Coach Munch demands out of his room”.