On the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense, no area suffered more turnover from 2020 to 2021 than the secondary. And on the team’s offense, no area will feature as many new faces in key roles as the offensive line.
As many as four positions will feature entirely new starters or players in new positions in 2021. The group assembled by Pittsburgh and projected to start is very short on experience. But they possess all the physicality a team could hope for in an aggressive, mauling O-Line. New offensive coordinator Matt Canada addressed his new-look line on Tuesday, and the need for them to be much more physical than they were under prior OC Randy Fichtner the past seasons.
“I think up front, the mindset of what we’re trying to do, again the charge from Mr. Rooney [president Art Rooney II] to be more physical, to run the football, as an offensive lineman, you’re going to like that. We’re going to come off the ball and do that. Doesn’t mean we’re going to run it a million times or anything like that, but giving them an opportunity to be more aggressive,” Canada said during a minicamp media session.
A lot has changed since Canada served as quarterbacks coach last season. The starting left tackle from 2020, Alejandro Villanueva: Signed with Baltimore as a free agent. Starting left guard Matt Feiler: Signed with the L.A. Chargers as a free agent. Starting center Maurkice Pouncey: Retired. Only David DeCastro at right guard and Chukwuma Okorafor at right tackle are back from the team’s primary line last season, and Okorafor is kicking over to the other side to play left tackle.
Okorafor is one of four players spending their first season as a full-time starter at their projected position in 2021. Kevin Dotson steps up to left guard, Zach Banner gets a second chance to be the starter at right tackle after a Week 1 injury in 2020, and one of rookie Kendrick Green, veteran B.J. Finney, and depth lineman J.C. Hassenauer will start at center. DeCastro, a two-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler the last six seasons, is the only holdover staying in his position.
In charge of getting that line ready to set the tone in Canada’s new offense is new Head OL Coach Adrian Klemm, and Assistant OL Coach Chris Morgan.
“I feel great about the strides our offensive line’s making. Klemm and Coach Morgan have done a great job with that unit. Obviously we’ve got some change. There’s no doubt about that. When you talk about the guys, with Pouncey leaving, and the history he’s had here and the tremendous player, leader, I’m obviously a huge Pouncey fan. So we have to fill those roles,” Canada said.
DeCastro in his 10th season can fill Pouncey’s leadership void. One of Green/Finney/Hassenauer will have a major mountain to climb replacing Pouncey, a Pro Bowler 10 of his 12 seasons. Green, already wearing Pouncey’s former No. 53, is the favorite to do so with his combination of athleticism and aggressiveness at the center spot.
Getting to know each other at OTAs and throughout the offseason since April’s draft, Pittsburgh’s new offensive line finally gets a chance to see how they gel together so far in minicamp, when they’ll finally be tested by Pittsburgh’s defensive line — one of the best in the NFL.
“All the way across the board all the guys are working really hard, and because of the situation we haven’t gone against our defense at all yet. So that’ll be interesting with minicamp, and there will be some growing pains as we all know. But to get to go against our D-Line every day makes us better, and I feel really good about where the product will be in the fall when it matters,” Canada said.