One of the most important yet least-understood aspects of football is blocking, and blocking as a unit. It’s generally understood by everyone in the game that having a good offensive line is paramount to good offensive football. You won’t have much success running the ball, and your quarterback won’t have time to throw, if your line can’t do its job.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were blessed not only with quite a bit of talent along the offensive line, but also a top-flight instructor, when Mike Munchak fell into their laps in 2014. It was the first year of his professional football life that he had ever spent outside of the Oilers/Titans organization.
Munchak spent five years turning the Steelers’ line into the best in football, seeing three of his linemen go to the Pro Bowl multiple times during that span, and turning multiple undrafted free agents into starters, some of whom went on to start for other teams.
They lost him last offseason, replaced by his assistant, Shaun Sarrett. Because of the variables of the season, particularly Ben Roethlisberger’s injury but others as well, it’s hard to really quantify the differences in the overall success of the line under Munchak versus this past season.
One thing we do know is that Sarrett long had his players’ support before he ever got the job. To a man, they all said that they didn’t feel there will be much difference because Sarrett did everything with them that Munchak did.
Matt Feiler recently sat down with Missi Matthews for an interview on the team’s website, and she asked him about Sarrett’s first season as the offensive line coach. “I thought he did well”, he said. “I don’t know too much about coaching, so I can’t really say too much on it, but I think he did learn a lot from Munch, and it kind of showed this whole season”.
The only notable change to the offensive line, really, in years was the team’s decision last offseason to trade former starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert following several years of dealing with injuries. Already, Feiler started 10 games in 2018 and played well, so his moving full-time into the starting lineup wasn’t seen as overly notable.
The rest of the offensive line has been in place and stable since 2015 when Alejandro Villanueva broke into the starting lineup midseason. The left tackle is flanked by Ramon Foster, followed by Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro. The latter two are multiple-time All-Pros, while Foster is the longest-tenured player on the team short of Roethlisberger.
Foster could be on his way out this offseason, however. At 34, he is on the final year of his contract, with B.J. Finney, his backup, also needing to be re-signed, a player they have long described as a ‘starter in waiting’. We’ll know more about a month or so from now.