The Pittsburgh Steelers have lost a tremendous amount of experience over the course of the past three offseasons, especially this year alone. Marcus Gilbert, who recently retired, was traded away in 2019 after being drafted in 2011. Ramon Foster retired last year after an 11-year career. Now, Maurkice Pouncey, Alejandro Villanueva, and Matt Feiler are all gone.
The loss of Pouncey hurts in particular in terms of leadership. The longest-tenured Steeler other than Ben Roethlisberger, he was co-captain of the offense and had long been one of the team’s ‘energy-bringers’ and motivational touchpoints. The only established veteran remaining is David DeCastro at right guard, who is not the most outwardly vocal leader.
“We just have to adapt. My offensive lines of any team I’ve been on have been able to plug people in and still be able to do what they need to get done”, said Kevin Dotson, a second-year player expected to step in at left guard this year as one of several new starters, speaking to reporters earlier today after OTA practice. “We’re gonna miss the leadership of Pouncey and them, but we’re gonna have to adjust. We can’t hold on to it. We have to move on and start our own stuff”.
A fourth-round pick out of Louisiana-Lafayette, one thing that Dotson certainly does not lack is a personality or the ability to speak. He quickly became a fan favorite. Not just because he grew up a Steelers fan, but because of the manner in which he carries himself.
Dotson proceeded to back that up with his play on the field across four starts during his rookie season. He started two games early on, including in Week 2, while DeCastro was injured. Later in the year, he would also start two games at left guard for Feiler.
But while he may be able to step in and play, is he prepared to take on greater responsibilities as a leader? Who will take on that task? “Somebody’s gonna fall into that role. It’s not really known right now”, he admitted, though he thinks it will come sooner than later. “At least around game two or three, we will find out who really the leader of the O-line is”.
As of now, the expectation is that Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor will be the team’s two starting tackles. Okorafor has 18 starts in his career, all at right tackle, though he would be playing on the left side. Banner won the starting right tackle job in 2020, but suffered a torn ACL in the opener.
As for Pouncey’s center position, the favorite to win that job is Kendrick Green, the rookie third-round pick out of Illinois. He seems like another player who is ready-made for a role as a leader, at least down the road.
But while players like Dotson and Green may have the makeup of leadership, their primary task in front of their faces now is establishing themselves as players. Green hasn’t even taken a snap yet. Dotson has a bit of a resume, but it’s a different story when you’re starting an entire season.