Prior to the release of David Decastro, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line underwent a significant overhaul.
Veteran left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and left guard Matt Feiler were allowed to walk in free agency, while stalwart center Maurkice Pouncey retired, sending the Steelers down three starters from the last two seasons. To try and rebuild the offensive line on the fly, the Steelers re-signed right tackle Zach Banner, signed veteran free agent guard B.J. Finney, and drafted center Kendrick Green in the third round, while shifting Chukwuma Okorafor to left tackle to replace Villanueva.
On paper, it was an inexperienced group with Okorafor changing positions, Banner returning from 59 snaps as a starter before tearing his ACL in Week 1 of the 2020 season, and second-year guard Kevin Dotson penciled in as the starting left guard to replace Feiler.
What the Steelers didn’t anticipate when rebuilding on the fly was that Decastro would injure his ankle again and likely need a third surgery, resulting in his shocking release. With him went the most experience of anyone on the roster on the offensive line. In fact, Decastro had more experience than the entire group combined.
No doubt it was a big loss, but general manager Kevin Colbert did a great job grabbing veteran guard Trai Turner shortly after the release of Decastro, giving the Steelers an experienced offensive lineman to replace the former 2012 first-round pick.
Now, despite the lack of experience across the board on the projected starting five (just 113 career starts among the starting five, 89 of which are by Turner) the Steelers and new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm are hoping that a new emphasis on attitude and aggression will help the group overcome its inexperience for the 2021 season, according to a recent article by ESPN’s Brooke Pryor.
“I’m demanding of guys,” Klemm said “We laugh about it sometimes because I get after them. But I’m passionate about it. I love what I do. I take pride in what I do. They’re a reflection of me. We’re a reflection of each other. I’m not going to accept subpar performances or effort. We’re going to make mistakes sometimes, but one thing we’re not going to do is get pushed around. We’re going to get after it. We’re a physical group.”
So far, Klemm has shown the ability to project his own attitude towards the position onto his charges, which has certainly made an impact this offseason. Drafting a guy like Green to go next to Dotson will certainly help the nastiness up front, as will the development of Banner, who has the size and strength to be a mauler. Unlocking it will be the key, not just for Banner, but for everyone on the offensive line if the group wants to help re-establish the league’s worst rushing attack and improve on a 51.4% pass block win rate, which was 28th in the NFL last season.
“We call that necessary violence,” Banner said of Klemm’s coaching style. “… There’s that type of thug mentality that we have when we put our helmets on. It’s still professional, still structured, but when I look at my guys going out in the tunnel, I’m looking at them and saying, ‘Let’s F’ing go.’ We have that now as a coach.
“… That killer instinct doesn’t come naturally for some guys. Sometimes it has to be coached. So when you have that technician and he’s giving the overall job, he’s rewriting our bible that we live by, the technique, the fundamentals, things that we’re coming out and doing. That’s something he does. … Some people might cower from that type of pressure and coaching, but our room is full of guys who love that and work well with that.”
How successfully and quickly the group takes to Klemm’s personality and turns it into their own will go a long way in determining just how good the 2021 version of the black and gold will be. Games are won and lost in the trenches. Pittsburgh hopes that its attitude and aggression can make up for some inexperience and some lack of perceived talent.