For years the Achilles’ heels of the Pittsburgh Steelers have been their cornerbacks and offensive line.
Better drafting and coaching finally paid off as cornerback was the Steelers’ most improved unit in 2012. The corners kept them in the games their offense tried to give away. Pittsburgh now hopes its offensive line can mimic this trend in 2013.
Many blamed the offensive line for the Steelers’ lowly 26th ranking in points-scored last season. Not having a running back that could hold onto the ball and run for over 40 yards per game did not help, nor did the fact that only two of their starting linemen were healthy for more than five consecutive games.
The one positive of the constant line shuffle was the young lineman all gained game experience for 2013. And the Steelers need their greenest offensive line in decades to grow quickly.
The excitement of a first-round drafted guard in David DeCastro was squashed in August 2012 when right tackle Marcus Gilbert and his 330-pound backside landed on DeCastro’s knee in preseason. DeCastro was placed on the new injured reserve/designated to return list, and he returned to the starting lineup the day Gilbert left to go on IR.
Marcus Gilbert’s improvement prior to the injury allowed the Steelers to finally say goodbye to Max Starks. Gilbert may have the talent to start at left tackle, but he will not be handed the position. Gilbert must first come to camp in shape. He was consistently pushed into a congested backfield in 2012; he will need to stay fit and focused.Gilbert’s biggest competition to start at left tackle is another second round pick, 6-foot-8, 323-pound Mike Adams. Adams played right tackle in 10 games his rookie season, including six starts. He was good enough to earn Steelers Rookie of the Year honors.
The dark horse in the race for starting tackle is the former seventh rounder from 2012, Kelvin Beachum. Beachum is built like a guard at 6-3, 303, but played tackle for five starts last season. What he doesn’t have in size, he makes up for in technique.
Beachum made his first career start against the Ravens after both Gilbert and Adams went out with ankle injuries, later receiving praise from coach Mike Tomlin for his quick assimilation into the offense. According to general manager Kevin Colbert Beachum will “start off at the tackle position and probably will get work at guard” as well.
Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey and resigned free agent Ramon Foster round out the Steelers’ best six lineman. Pouncey played with a nagging knee injury for at least a third of 2012, making him unable to get down the field as well as he did in 2011. Foster is a solid guard who the team was happy to resign. What he lacks in speed, he tries to make up with strength and position flexibility.
Now that its former position coach Sean Kruger is off to coach at UTEP, the young line will be led by former Kansas City Chiefs offensive line coach Jack Bicknell, Jr. Bicknell worked with offensive coordinator Todd Haley while Haley was in Kansas City.
Let’s hope Bicknell is more like Kruger than former line coach Larry Zeirlein. The new coach’s ability to mesh his schemes and teach it to these young lineman is of great concern this offseason.
If he does not get the job done in 2013, the offensive line will again take the blame for the Steelers’ scoring woes.