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The Steelers have neglected offensive line for too long

It’s no secret the biggest area of need for the Steelers is the offensive line which has been for a couple of years.

Since the days of the “Goon Squad,” it’s only been a decline. Steelers have neglected the position and have “band-aided” the offensive line. They’ve done so little to improve the position, and now that mindset must change.

Let’s go back to the prime days of the Goon Squad. The best line in the league for years, filled with many pro bowlers and elite blockers. Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Alejandro Villanueva were all Pro Bowlers.

The help of Mike Munchak for years was a massive plus for the coaching staff. Mike Munchak left after the 2018 season and went to Denver for personal reasons. Since then, the Steelers have had four different Offensive Line coaches.

That surely doesn’t help the line improvement but what also doesn’t help was the Steelers’ lack of building the line back up. The Steelers ran the Goon Squad until the wheels fell off. There was an obvious decline in the prime linemen, but the Steelers stuck with the aging veterans.

It’s hard to predict the future, and the Steelers definitely didn’t see David DeCastro’s injuries and Maurkice Pouncey’s retirement coming so soon.

The Steelers offensive line after the Goon Squad

To fill the loss of Pouncey, the Steelers elected to draft Kendrick Green in the 3rd round in 2021; we all know how that turned out. They waited on an undersized, guard-converted center and passed on Creed Humphrey not once but twice! Green would be inactive every game in 2022. One of the worst draft picks in franchise history.

After DeCastro’s post-draft release in the offseason of 2021, Steelers signed Trai Turner, the best option available. However, it’s irresponsible of the Steelers not to look deeper into DeCastro’s health and fail to have a better backup plan.

Another underrated member of the Goon Squad was LG Ramon Foster. He retired after the 2020 season. To fill this gap, they relied on Matt Feiler, who started all 16 games in 2019 at RT, and transitioned him to LG, a position he was weaker at.

Feiler would later sign with the Chargers in the 2021 offseason, and the Steelers relied on Kevin Dotson, who was drafted in the 4th round of the 2020 Draft. Dotson started a few games in 2020 at RG due to injuries to David DeCastro.

Relying on young depth is understandable, especially draft picks, but it shows the Steelers didn’t try to build the line. They decided to go with depth guys and sign cheap vets to back up the backups.

Another sad example of this is the popular Zach Banner. Banner had great energy off the field. He’s charismatic and won the hearts of Steelers Nation, with the 72 is reported as eligible trend. But deciding on a player with just two career starts and having very little competition is the reason why tackle is still an issue.

The start of the 2020 training camp was a starting RT battle between Banner and former 3rd-round pick Chuks Okorafor. Banner would win, but sadly suffered a torn ACL injury in the week 1 matchup vs. the New York Giants. Chuks has been the starting RT ever since and is a decent lineman.

Keeping with the OT position, Alejandro Villanueva would leave for Baltimore in 2021. The Steelers remained certain with Zach Banner to start, this time at LT, and even elected to extend Banner over Mike Hilton. A massive blunder from the Steelers front office. Banner never fully recovered from his ACL injury and only played five snaps in 2021.

Because of this, 4th round rookie Dan Moore would be forced into the starting LT position way before he was even ready and has started every game since. Not his fault he was forced into the starting role so soon but even with a full offseason in 2022 to prepare for the starting role, Moore has shown very little progression and is best to remain as a backup moving forward.

The 2021 offensive line was just bad. Two mid-round rookies in Green and Moore, a rental at RG, and depending on unproven depth.

The Steelers would focus a little on the line, signing Center Mason Cole and RG James Daniels early into the offseason. But never did anything further to improve the line and relied on unproven depth, mid-round depth with Moore and Dotson.

Change has to come to the Steelers offensive line in 2023

I’m aware the rotating door of offensive line coaches didn’t help the progression of the young guys. The Steelers have finally found someone consistent in Pat Meyer, and an improvement in actual play on the field was shown a little toward the end of the 2022 season.

That doesn’t mean keeping the same starting five. Cole, Daniels, and Chuks will probably all return. They’ve gotten the least amount of criticism and seem to be jellying together. I can’t say the same about the former 4th round picks at LT and LG. They must remain on the bench, and the Steelers must strike big on the left side.

The left side is responsible for Kenny Pickett’s two concussions. If that doesn’t tell you to fix the left side, you’re insane. We’re not asking for the Goon Squad again. That was a fun time. Just give Kenny a solid line and let them work!

Left Tackle, in my opinion, is the biggest need. The Steelers need a franchise LT. There are not a lot of crazy names in free agency, and trade isn’t expected. LT has some great names in the draft, and I think it’s a no-brainer at 17, go the best available LT. LG can be fixed via free agency. But an early pick at LG shouldn’t be opposed, either.

I know the line is young, and getting younger probably isn’t ideal, but that’s why they need to attend OLine early in the draft. They haven’t drafted OL in the first round since 2012, that being David DeCastro. 2 years before? Maurkice Pouncey. Stop relying on mid-round history and unproven depth.

Omar Khan and Andy Weidl need to attack OLine this offseason. Weidl was responsible for most of the Eagles current roster, so that should give us hope.

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