The Overhaul of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Offensive Line

A sight that has been way too familiar in Pittsburgh.

For as good as the Pittsburgh Steelers have been over the past 20 years, it’s difficult to recall a time when they had a good offensive line.  The teams of the mid-1990′s had several good pieces in C Dirt Dawson and T’s John Jackson and Leon Searcy, but it is not a stretch to argue that the Steelers have had among the worst group of talent on the offensive line of any team in football the past decade.  It’s a major credit to the defense and offensive skill position personnel that these three groups of OL have made Super Bowls:

Alan Faneca, you've been missed.

2005: Marvel Smith-Alan Faneca-Jeff Hartings-Kendall Simmons-Max Starks

This group actually wasn’t terrible (at least compared to what came later), although both Faneca and especially Hartings were nearing the end and the rest of the guys on that line with the exception of Smith were journeymen.

2008: Max Starks-Chris Kemoeatu-Justin Hartwig-Darnell Stapleton-Willie Colon

I mean, really.  How did THIS offensive line win a Super Bowl?

2010: Jonathan Scott-Chris Kemoeatu-Maurkice Pouncey-Ramon Foster-Flozell Adams

Pouncey is the best offensive lineman the Steelers have had since Dirt Dawson’s prime, but the rest of this thing is a mess.  Other than Foster, who figures to be backup on the 2012 Steelers, none of the remainder of this line is currently on an NFL roster only 16 months after Super Bowl XLV.

The 2011 line was a disaster from training camp.  Max Starks was cut because he was expensive and fat, Flozell Adams went back into retirement, and Willie Colon broke three quarters into the season in the Opening Day debacle in Baltimore.  The line shuffled all season, with Starks ultimately being resigned to play LT, rookie Marcus Gilbert playing RT, and some combination of Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster, Chris Kemeoatu, and Trai Essex playing G.  The results were as bad as that collection would suggest that they would be.  Steelers’ QB’s were sacked 42 times, including one of Ben Roethlisberger late in the first half of the Cleveland game that resulting in a high-ankle sprain that in many ways ended the Steelers’ season.  The running game struggled to find consistency, and although the Steelers were a middle-of-the-pack running team (14th in the NFL), they could not run the ball late in games, and the Steelers had a RB crack 70 yards in only 5 games all season.

Your starting RG for the next, oh, decade, David DeCastro.

The 2012 Steelers’ offensive line, however, is going to be very, very different.  Starks and Kemoeatu are gone, Willie Colon has been moved to guard, and the Steelers invested their top two picks in the 2012 draft in G David DeCastro and T Mike Adams.  DeCastro has been described as the best OG prospect in a decade, and the Steelers were simply giddy to see him slide down to #24 in the draft.  DeCastro will start at RG from day one and will team with Pouncey to give the Steelers a great core in the interior line.  Gilbert, who was thrust into the starting lineup in Week 2 after Colon went down for the season, improved as the year went on and became a solid pass blocker by season’s end.

I would expect Week One’s starting OL (barring injury) to look like this:

Jonathan Scott-Colon-Pouncey-DeCastro-Gilbert

The backups will be Adams, Foster, Legursky, and Essex.

Adams, of course, is the wild card in this equation.  A first-round talent with all of the tools to be a very good LT, Adams slipped to the 2nd round because of inconsistent play his senior year at Ohio State and character questions that included a failed drug test.  The Steelers desperately hope that he will supplant Scott and be the LT this season (and for the next decade), as the team did not move Colon inside to free up a spot for Scott to start.  Colon is being paid way too much money to be a backup, so the team certainly expects him to beat out Foster to be the LG.  Colon is athletic and a good run blocker, and he certainly has the potential to be a very good OG.  Colon, however, has not played the position in the NFL and has missed all but 3 quarters of the past 2 seasons with a torn Achilles and torn tricep, respectively.

The 2012 Steelers’ offense is going to look a lot different than it did in 2011.  Bruce Arians was “retired” as the offensive coordinator and replaced by Todd Haley, a move that should inject life into an offense that was 21st in the NFL in scoring last season (provided that Roethlisberger can find the time to learn the playbook between sobbing over losing Arians).  RB Rashard Mendenhall is not expected to be ready to start the season after tearing his ACL in Week 17, thus Isaac Redman figures to be the feature back, at least at the start of the year.  Haley and Redman will have the benefit of a new, and almost certainly improved offensive line.

Once Adams assumes the LT position, the Steelers OL will have two #1 picks, two #2 picks, and Colon.  No excuses remain.