Between 2014 and 2019, the Pittsburgh Steelers had the most consistent and stable offensive line, including core starters along the interior in Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, and David DeCastro, who had been together since 2012. Marcus Gilbert as the primary right tackle from 2011 through 2017. Alejandro Villanueva has been affixed to the left side since 2015.
Foster has retired since then. Gilbert was traded last year. Villanueva is in the final year of his contract, and there’s a good chance he won’t be back in the black and gold next year. Pouncey and DeCastro are both over 30, and potentially winding down their careers. These facts are all very much in the minds of the linemen in the room, knowing what is on the horizon. But it’s not a fatalistic mentality. It’s about what they can do with the opportunities they have.
“We all know we’re old. It might be Al’s last year. Pouncey and I are getting old, too. I mean, who knows what’s going to happen? So, I think we’re all just trying to enjoy the most we can”, DeCastro told reporters yesterday when he spoke to the media.
More concerning than the end of the line for this group is the fact that they were coming off a season in which they struggled. DeCastro did get named to the Pro Bowl, something that has become and annual honor for him, but the line as a whole has to play.
“We take pride in the o-line. Obviously, I think we’re pretty good”, he said. “But it’s a team effort, and you’re right, maybe we are getting a little old, but I think we’ve still got some juice left in us. When you’re not good as a whole, everyone’s gonna look bad. That’s just the nature of it”.
“I’m not trying to put blame on anyone else. We had our bad play, that’s for sure”, he added. “Like I said, you kind of lose confidence a little bit and you just struggle, and it’s just so tough. It was a tough year, especially where you’re used to having great years, and obviously you lose a Hall of Fame quarterback”.
Needless to say, the 2019 season did not go well for the offense, and a lot of that did have to do with the quality of quarterback play after Ben Roethlisberger went down, with Mason Rudolph and then Devlin Hodges under center.
This year, it’s looking like Matt Feiler will be moving inside to left guard, and either Zach Banner or Chukwuma Okorafor will be starting at right tackle. Even among these three, two are entering the final year of their contracts before they hit unrestricted free agency, so even that threatens a lack of continuity.
It’s obvious that the Steelers need to start reinvesting in the offensive line, and they started that with Okorafor in 2018 and then Kevin Dotson this year. But maybe some of those first-round picks can start going somewhere other than the defense.