It almost seems as though there hasn’t been a day that has gone by since Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak was hired by the team that he hasn’t been lavished with praise—even before he worked with the players. His reputation preceded him in that regard and was called the biggest acquisition of that offseason, even beyond their draft picks, which included Ryan Shazier.
Five years on, the truth is that that may not be wrong. Shazier proved to be everything draft experts thought he could be, becoming a Pro Bowler before he suffered a career-threatening spinal injury late last season. But Munchak helped to elevate the play of an entire position group, and one that needed it.
He has been widely credited with turning the offensive line into a top-five group in the league, and a lot of that has to do with his ability not just to teach veterans but to develop younger and less experienced talent. Not that he thinks it’s anything to brag about.
“That’s my job. In the league these days you can’t afford five first-rounders, which is what we’d like”, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “When I got here [Chris Hubbard] was on the practice squad. He’s the perfect example of a guy working his way up the system because you’re going to keep linemen around”.
Hubbard, a college free agent in 2013, spent his rookie year on the practice squad the year before Munchak came in. He made the roster a year later and improved steadily each year to the point at which he proved himself to be a solid starter in 2017, earning a contract in free agency attesting to that fact.
“It’s hard to find athletic, big young guys who can play O-line. Getting him and getting [B.J. Finney] and [Brian Mihalik] who we had for a few years … we’ve had some guys who have come in here and done a good job”, he went on. Mihalik was a defensive end moved to the offensive side, spending time on the Steelers’ practice squad before the Detroit Lions signed him. He started against the Steelers last season and held his own.
Munchak doesn’t take all the credit for what he has been able to deliver in players like Hubbard, Finney, and Feiler, however. He also credits the veterans for being the leaders and examples that they are, and for having a positive attitude about helping out the younger players.
“My starters are very good with them also”, Munchak said of the inexperienced linemen. “They’re great examples to young guys — the work ethic, what it takes. They’re coaching them up and getting them ready”.
Three of his starting offensive linemen have gone to the Pro Bowl, and two have been first-team All-Pros. At least one of them that I’m aware of has been a first-alternate for the Pro Bowl, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the other (Marcus Gilbert) has been as well. When your group is that good, you deserve some credit, no matter how much you’re given to work with.