Grading an offensive line is always a difficult task. To do it fairly, we need to know each offensive lineman’s assignment on each individual play. But we don’t have that information. So we have to do a bit of speculating, and that’s inherently unfair.
But having said that, we need to evaluate the performance of the Steelers offensive line this past season, so here we go.
The first thing that I should point out is that the Steelers ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing. Is that the fault of the offensive line, or the running backs? Or both? If you say that it’s the fault of the offensive line, then our offensive line had a terrible season.
But on the other hand, Ben Roethlisberger was only sacked 30 times this season. That’s the second lowest sack total of Roethlisberger’s career. So perhaps the offensive line didn’t do so badly.
Frankly, I don’t think it’s meaningful to look at macro-statistics like that. I think you really have to look at each offensive lineman individually. So let’s start with…….
Big Max was the only Steelers offensive lineman who started all 16 games this season. That’s a pretty impressive statistic for a lineman whom the Steelers have been trying to get rid of for years. Frankly, other than Ramon Foster, I’m not sure that any Steelers offensive lineman has more reason to feel unloved than Max Starks.
Max Starks will never be confused with Joe Thomas. He’s not a premier left tackle. But he does an acceptable job. I’ve always been a supporter of Max, although at times I think he’s often been paid more than he was worth. But that’s on the Steelers, not Max.
Now Max is an unrestricted free agent, and I doubt that he’ll be back. The rumor is that the Steelers are going to move to a zone blocking scheme, and that really doesn’t fit Max’s strengths. So goodbye, Max. Thanks for 9 good years.
As I mentioned above, Ramon Foster may be the only lineman who should feel more unloved than Max Starks. It seems as though each of Foster’s 4 seasons with the Steelers has been like deja vu. The Steelers always try to find someone else to start at guard, but Foster always seems to end up as a starter. And 2012 was no different.
Like Max Starks, Ramon Foster will never be confused with a Pro Bowl caliber player. But also like Starks, Foster was one of the most consistent offensive linemen the Steelers had. He always worked hard, and he was there when the Steelers had exhausted all other options (and believe me, they always exhausted every possible option before settling on Foster). He never complained, and he did his job reasonably well.
Foster is also an unrestricted free agent who doesn’t appear to fit well in a zone blocking scheme. He’s never been particularly mobile. So he’s probably seen his last days as a Pittsburgh Steeler. So long, Ramon.
In my opinion, Willie Colon is the biggest question mark on the Steelers offensive line. He’s under contract for one more season, but the question is, “should the Steelers bring him back?”
When he’s healthy, Steelers coaches have always said that Colon is one of their best offensive linemen. Unfortunately, Colon has had a difficult time remaining healthy. He missed 15 games in 2011, and another 5 games in 2012. That’s a lot of missed time at a position where consistency is key.
Colon actually played well last season when the team moved him to guard. But like Starks and Foster, he’s better in a man-to-man blocking scheme. He’s a traditional “road grader”. So despite having Colon under contract, the Steelers may choose to let him go to free up more salary cap space.
Because the Steelers will likely lose Starks and Foster to free agency, I don’t think they can afford to also lose Willie Colon. He brings experience and position flexibility that the Steelers are going to need until Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams prove that they can be mentally and physically reliable.
Pouncey is the Steelers’ resident offensive line superstar. He’s viewed by many to be the best in the NFL at his position. So there’s not much that we need to say about him.
My only concern with Pouncey is that he always seems to get hurt at the most inopportune times. But other than that, I hope he remains a Steeler for life.
We all know what DeCastro was expected to be when the Steelers drafted him. Unfortunately, that’s not what he delivered on the field. Not because he wasn’t capable of doing so, but because he got injured before the season even started.
DeCastro missed 12 games with an injury, so his rookie season has to be considered a mulligan. However, he does have the mobility that the Steelers will probably look for in a zone blocking scheme. So I’m very optimistic about DeCastro’s future.
Marcus Gilbert is turning into the new Willie Colon; he’s solid when he’s healthy, but he’s almost never healthy.
Gilbert missed 11 games in 2012 due to injury. He also missed 2 games due to injury during his rookie season.
If he can stay healthy, Gilbert is the leading candidate to be the Steelers’ starting left tackle next season. But staying healthy hasn’t proven to be an easy task for Gilbert.
Rather than write a review for Mike Adams, it might be easier to just write “See Marcus Gilbert”.
Like Gilbert, Adams was drafted with hopes that he might even win a starting job in his rookie season. But Adams struggled mentally, and then succumbed to injury (sound familiar?).
Adams was actually named the Steelers’ rookie of the year in 2012, but that’s mostly because they got so little from their rookies, that Adams won by default.
I’m going to give Adams a mulligan on his rookie season. But I expect to see much better production (and health) from him in 2013.
When the Steelers announced their draft picks last year, few expected 7th round pick Kelvin Beachum to make the team. And I’m sure nobody expected him to have a better season than David DeCastro or Mike Adams. But that’s actually what happened.
Beachum was healthy, played multiple positions, and started the last 5 games of the season. That’s not bad for a 7th round draft pick.
Legursky is a Steelers success story. He joined the team in 2009 as an undrafted rookie, and he went on to make the roster in each of his 4 seasons with the team. He has 17 starts during that time.
But Legursky’s key strength was his position flexibility, and the Steelers now have that from the younger (and cheaper) Kelvin Beachum.
Legursky is an unrestricted free agent this year, and I don’t expect to see him back next season.
Most fans are probably saying, “Who?”
Malecki had no playing time to evaluate, so he gets a pass. The only reason that he’s even worth mentioning is that his presence (along with Kelvin Beachum’s) likely makes Doug Legursky expendable.
So to summarize, the Steelers offense has the potential to be strong in 2013. Marcus Gilbert, Willie Colon, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Mike Adams would be a very solid line. The problem is that each one of them is an injury risk. So 2013 has a very high likelihood of looking like 2012….And 2011……And 2010…..And 2009. The offensive line may struggle with inconsistency, not because they lack solid players, but because those players can’t stay healthy. Consistency is critical for offensive lines, and the Steelers can never seem to find it.
Perhaps what the Steelers should be looking for in the 1st round of this year’s draft is a new trainer. Somebody has to keep these players healthy. That will help the team far more than a rookie running back, outside linebacker, or wide receiver can.