The Pittsburgh Steelers have added five offensive linemen this offseason, either through free agency or through the draft, though only two of them realistically project to be starters or potential starters by the time the regular season begins.
While rebuilding the offensive line is a project that has been in the undertaking for years now, there is no secret about the fact that the presence of Kenny Pickett places an increased urgency on the mission. Their young second-year franchise quarterback drives everything that they do, especially in the offensive trenches.
“We’re excited about Kenny, obviously, the way he finished the season. One of the things you want to do is take care of a quarterback up front”, Steelers assistant general manager Andy Weidl told reporters on Friday. “Not just in the run game, but in the pass protection. Every great passing game, good passing game, starts with protection”.
While last season saw a modest improvement, there was still a good amount of ground to cover. The Steelers potentially have bridged quite a bit of that gap with the signing of veteran guard Isaac Seumalo and the drafting of tackle Broderick Jones with the 14th-overall pick.
But it’s not a one-and-done job. Just protecting the quarterback helps him stay on his feet longer, but if he has nobody to throw to, protection is going to break down at some point. To that end, they’ve also reinforced some of the weapons at his disposal, trading for veteran wide receiver Allen Robinson II and drafting big tight end Darnell Washington. Both of them could potentially be potent red-zone threats, a key area in need of improvement from a year ago.
“You want to protect the quarterback. You want to surround him with weapons. We’re going to do that”, Weidl said. “We’re going to bring in talent. We’re always going to try and help him out because we believe in him, the quarterback, the person, the leader he’s becoming. Any opportunity we have to help him out, we will”.
The 20th-overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Pickett sat on the bench for the first three games of his rookie season before head coach Mike Tomlin pulled Mitch Trubisky at halftime in week four. The only snaps he’s missed since then have been due to injury—concussions, specifically.
While his stat sheet doesn’t wow you, his on-field command of the offense steadily improved throughout the season. There is still much room for growth, but he displayed many of the intangible qualities that we often talk about that are associated with the game—clutch tendencies being one of them, with four game-winning drives in the second half of the season.
He did that behind a new-look offensive line, with new starters at center and right guard in free agents Mason Cole and James Daniels, respectively. The group also featured second-year Dan Moore Jr. at left tackle and third-year Kevin Dotson at left guard, in his first full season as starter (excluding his injury-shortened season the year before. It’s quite possible that both are replaced by Jones (the possibility) and Seumalo (the certainty) by the time the regular season begins.