Maybe this one is a keeper.
The Steelers have transitioned from one offensive line combination to another since right guard David DeCastro arrived as a first-round pick two years ago. Some moves were made out of urgency when a player couldn’t get it done; some were made because of injury emergencies.
Ramon Foster went from right guard to left guard. Mike Adams went from right tackle to left tackle to the bench. Maurkice Pouncey got hurt, then Fernando Velasco did. Kelvin Beachum went from all-purpose backup to starting left tackle.
But now that Pouncey, the three-time Pro Bowl center, is back following his nearly season-long knee injury absence, the offensive line finally looks stable with Beachum, Foster, Pouncey, DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert lining up from left to right – with Adams, the former second-round pick, also pushing for snaps.
This is what the Steelers envisioned when they devoted four early-round draft picks to the offensive line from 2010-12. Now, all they have to do is to play like early-round picks are expected to play.
Especially the guy who is Pittsburgh’s other No. 66.
“It’s huge,” DeCastro said Tuesday of having his group back and intact. “Having Pouncey back, you can’t say enough about that. We get along really well. We know each other so well, we almost don’t need to make (line) calls because we know each other so well.”
There is one lineup addition: Mike Munchak, the longtime offensive line coach and former head coach of the Tennessee Titans. The Hall of Famer’s portfolio of work as a player and coach is deep and impressive, and one his players greatly respect.
“What he knows about the game, the little stuff (he shows his players) in technique, I can’t speak enough to him,” DeCastro said.
But of all the factors influencing this offensive line â” Munchak’s hiring, Beachum’s ongoing development, Pouncey’s long-awaited return â” it is DeCastro who could most determine how well this line plays.
Based on his development during his first full season as a starter last season â” his rookie year was reduced to a few late-season games because of a serious knee injury â” DeCastro could become the Steelers’ second Pro Bowl lineman.
“The jump from Year 1 to Year 2 is the biggest,” DeCastro said. “Now the rest is kind of fine-tuning things. Just being a rookie is great. Now you can kind of understand the game and build on top of that. Nothing’s a surprise anymore.”
It had better not be. The Steelers expect to have a much different look on offense, with LeGarrette Blount around to share carries with Le’Veon Bell, with Dri Archer’s speed giving them a variety of options as a runner and a receiver and with Martavis Bryant’s potential as a downfield threat.
It could be the most multidimensional offense the Steelers have had in Ben Roethlisberger’s 11 seasons on the job, but it will flow that much more smoothly if DeCastro progresses into their best guard since Alan Faneca.
Munchak said the Steelers âœhave young guys that are talented and want to compete. That means the Steelers are going to have a pretty good offensive line if we can push each other.â
Archer hasn’t moved beyond the early stages of learning this offense â” and learning about the players who are blocking for him â” but it didn’t take him long to realize what’s needed to make it all go.
âœThose front five, they know their jobs, and they take everyone else with them,â Archer said. âœThey’re the engine to our car, so once they get going, we all get going.â
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