When you are transitioning from a veteran offensive line that has, in the past, played at or near an elite level, both individually and collectively, you would generally prefer to make that transition gradually. One player retires here, another walks away there. The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t really have that luxury in 2021 for a variety of reasons, pretty much ripping the band-aid right off.
Not one single player who has started this season along the offensive line had ever started a game for the Steelers before as an intended, non-injury-replacement starter, entering this year. Granted, the starting five consists of two rookies, a second-year guy, and a veteran free agent, so that’s not exactly a shock, but there’s a reason there’s been a learning curve this year, something head coach Mike Tomlin and the team was fully expecting.
“They’re young, and they may lack experience, but not talent. We have to be patient with their individual and collective growth and development, and we have been”, he said on Saturday on the Mike Tomlin Show. “But it’s also reasonable to expect those guys to improve in a hurry, and for their talents to show up more consistently in play, and thankfully, that’s where we are right now. Their talents are showing up, some of the negative things are being minimized”.
There has been particular attention paid to the two rookie starters, left tackle Dan Moore Jr. and center Kendrick Green, understandably. Both of them have shown growth, but they still have a long way to go, including in the realm of yellow laundry.
“I will say we still have to clean up certain elements of our game from a penalty standpoint”, Tomlin said. “That’s still slowing down progress. I think it’s reasonable for us to be at zero in terms of pre-snap penalties. We’re not there yet. Illegal formations, guys not aligned on the line of scrimmage, etc., has been a bugaboo for us some, and that’s slowing progress, and so we still have some work ahead of us”.
Every starter along the offensive line has been penalized at least twice so far this season, with Moore having the fewest at two. Trai Turner has been flagged three times, Kevin Dotson four, Green six, and Chukwuma Okorafor a team-leading seven times, including three false starts. Green has been flagged for holding five times.
For as much progress as they have indeed made, there is still a lot of work left to do. Nobody is going to mistake this for the Steelers’ offensive lines that were sending three players to the Pro Bowl at the same time. And we have to see how many one-year starters are here as well. This group of five isn’t going to be the same five that starts in 2022.