Pittsburgh Steelers All-Time Profiles: Making the (Offensive) Tackles


Nov 17, 2014; Nashville, TN, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (77) defends against Tennessee Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan (91) at LP Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When thinking of the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ M.O. over the course of history it’s always been about running the football. In order to achieve success in that area, the Black and Gold always focused on having the best men available up front.

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That is, manning the offensive line. There have been some great ones and to point a finger at the two best ever is nearly impossible given how many players have excelled at the position. Without trying to name who may have been the best to play up front over the course of Pittsburgh’s history, some of the best are profiled below and we leave it up to you to vote on who was the best.

Jon Kolb: Right off the bat the image of Kolb and his massive biceps protruding from his short sleeved jersey when he was manning the tackle position for the Steelers from 1969 through 1981 comes to mind. It’s surprising that he isn’t in the Pro Football Hall of Fame having been a member of the Pittsburgh’s four Super Bowl winning teams during the 1970s.

Like many of his teammates that shared the line with him back then, Kolb and the others would be way undersized for today’s o-linemen as during his playing days, Kolb weighed in at around just 262 pounds. But for that era, he was one of the league’s best and strongest. In fact, the Steelers had a group of players who unofficially created their own “500 Club.” That was four of the Steelers who would gather in what was the Red Bull Inn and later became Curinga’s Restaurant to conduct bench press routines of 500 pounds or more. Kolb was a member of that group. He was joined by Steve Furness, Mike Webster, and Steve Courson.

Unfortunately, Courson wold pass away young years later and before he died, he confessed to using steroids. Many of the Steelers of Kolb’s era were accused of doing the same. Regardless, Kolb was a vital member of the Steelers offensive line’s from their dynasty years. Kolb was also a winner of the NFL’s Strongest Man Contest in 1978. In 1980, the show “Strongest Man in Football” ran on national television and Jon Kolb finished second to his teammate Mike Webster.

Leon Searcy: In 1992 with the 11th pick overall in the first round of the NFL draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers with with offensive tackle Leon Searcy. Weighing 51 pounds heavier than Jon Kolb, Searcy became a force on the line for the Steelers for the the four seasons he played up front until he joined the Jacksonville Jaguars, Baltimore Ravens, and finally the Miami Dolphins in 2002.

Jamain Stephens: For those who are familiar with the name Jamain Stephens, the question might arise as to why he’s being profiled? Stephens appears here for the sole reason that as a number one draft pick in 1997, Stephens has the onus on him as being one of if not the biggest bust in Pittsburgh draft history. The tackled out of North Carolina A&T last just two seasons with the Steelers and was cut after running drills in training camp by Bill Cowher in his sophomore season.

Max Starks: One of the tallest offensive tackles in the history of the Steelers was Max Starks. At 6’8”, 345 pounds, Starks had some excellent seasons in Pittsburgh but was also plagued with inconsistent play and troubles in pass protection. Starks lasted from the time he was a third round draft selection in 2000 until he and the Steelers parted ways in 2012. In 2013 he found his way onto the rosters of the San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams before splashing down the practice squad of the Arizona Cardinals last season.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers /

Pittsburgh Steelers

Larry Brown: For those who remember Larry Brown the offensive tackle who played for Pittsburgh from 1971 until his retirement in 1984, Brown was not playing the front line when his career first began. Larry Brown began as a tight end and if Chuck Noll had not turned him into an offensive lineman, he probably would have been one of the NFL’s best tight ends of that era. Up until he switched positions in 1976, Brown had caught 48 passes for 636 yards averaging 13.3 yards-per-reception. Brown scored five times as well.

When Chuck Noll made the decision to move Brown inside in 1976, in his own words, Brown provided the reason: “In hindsight it worked out well – it extended my career. The year I switched I had a knee injury I was still recovering from. I wasn’t able to due to the running and cutting you needed to do to play tight end. That was anticipated by Chuck.

We met in his office and he told me that because I couldn’t run due to the injury he was going to have me learn the tackle position. That once I got healthy he’d move me back to tight end. In the meantime, before that, they drafted Bennie Cunningham and signed Randy Grossman. They saw themselves as being in a good position at tight end and had great need at tackle at the same time, so they never moved me back. Then they traded away tackle Gordon Gravelle, so I stayed at the position for eight years and won two more Super Bowls.”

Wayne Gandy: The 6’5, 315 pound Gandy began his career in Los Angeles where he was a first round draft pick of the Rams. After five solid seasons in L.A., Gandy moved over to the Steelers where he established himself on the Steelers line for four more seasons. From 2002 until his retirement in 2008, Gandy would play for the Saints and Falcons before hanging up the cleats.

Trai Essex: Another big man up front for Pittsburgh was Trai Essex all 325 pounds of him. Essex spent his entire career minus 2012 when he played for the Indianapolis Colts with the Black and Gold. A basketball player in high school turned excellent football player, Essex manned the line for two Super Bowl winners in Pittsburgh, Super Bowl XL and XLIII.

Ray Pinney: Ray Pinney played in the 1970s and 80s when offensive lineman weren’t the mammoth players they are today. Weighing in at 251 pounds, Pinney was a steady and solid tackle for Pittsburgh. He was fortunate to play for two of the Steelers Super Bowl winning teams during his playing days and then did what many other NFLers did at that time, moved to the new United States Football League (USFL). Pinney played for the Michigan Panthers and the Oakland Invaders before returning to the Steelers to finish out his career from 1985 to 1987,

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  • Justin Strzelczyk: There have been many tragedies to befell Steelers players throughout the team’s history, such as Steve Courson dying at the hands of a fallen tree. Mike Webster passing before his time after suffering from mental issues, addiction to pain killers, among other issues. Then there is the bizarre story of Justin Strzelcyzk. A superb offensive tackle for his entire NFL career all with the Steelers from 1990 to 1998. In 2004, at just 36 years of age, Strzelczyk was scheduled to appear at a fund raiser in Orchard Park, New York. In his car, he was carrying $2,600 in cash and for a reason unknown, crucifixes. He had not brought his cell phone with him and in the process of driving 90 miles per hour, Strzelczyk drove against traffic evading the police and smashed into a tank truck taking his life immediately.

    As a player, Justin Strzelczyk was an All-Pro. He played his college ball at the University of Maine and lasted until the 11th round of the 1990 draft before being taken with the 293rd pick overall. He played on Pittsburgh’s 1994 AFC championship team and the subsequent Super Bowl XXX.

    Gordon Gravelle: Another lineman from the 70s Super Bowl era was Gordon Gravelle. Gravelle started all 14 games in 1975 as the Steelers would win 15 games while losing only two and win that season’s Super Bowl. Gravelle would eventually leave the Steelers in 1976 and finish his career with the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams.

    John Jackson: From 1998 to 1997, John Jackson became one of the best offensive tackles in Pro Football. He did not get the recognition he deserved but he was outstanding on Pittsburgh’s offensive line. For his career, Jackson would start in 166 of 203 games played, some of those with the San Diego Chargers and then the Cincinnati Bengals where he finished his career in 2001. Born in Camp Kwe, Japan, Jackson was a 10th round pick of Pittsburgh in the 1988 draft.

    Marvel Smith: Another large tackle was Smith who at 6’5”, 325 pounds, manned Pittsburgh’s front line from 200 to 2008 before trying to stay active with the San Francisco 49ers in 2009 where could only land a practice squad spot. While with the Steelers he established himself as a consistent and solid lineman.

    Mike Adams/Ramon Foster/Marcus Gilbert: Wrapping up the offensive tackles brings us to the current crop of tackles that is comprised of these three young players. Gilbert was a second round choice in 2011 and is becoming a force on the Black and Gold o-line. Ramon Foster might be a better story as an undrafted rookie in 2009 he has exceeded expectations of this coaching staff. Mike Adams on the other hand has struggled since following Gilbert a year later in the same round but coming out of Ohio State. Including some legal problems off the field experienced by Adams, he has yet to do enough to be a full time starter.

    Next: Not blaming Jim Rutherford for 'letting Devils off easy'

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