Sticking to their board as always, the Steelers once again came out winners in the draft by stocking up on several talented players that are also great schematic fits. One of those players was first-round draft choice David DeCastro of Stanford. A fierce competitor, the Stanford product brings much-needed power, mobility and stability to the right guard position where he'll be a starter.
DeCastro was arguably one of the top five prospects in the 2012 NFL draft, yet fell to the Steelers' 24th-overall pick. DeCastro was rumored to go from the eighth pick in the draft to the 20th anywhere; however, the value of the guard position is not great in the eyes of NFL personnel men, which caused him to fall to the final third of the first round.
Guards have long been viewed as one of the few positions on the field that can be easily found in the middle to end of the draft or cheaply through free agency. Despite this belief, the position has grown in importance in recent years because of the evolution of defenses.
Teams like the division rival Cincinnati Bengals have been showing the illusion of pressure in the interior gaps, particularly the A gap, to cause issues in pass protection assignments before bailing at the snap. Consequently, this creates matchup advantages on the outside for edge-rushers against offensive tackles.
The same is being done through the use of creatively deigned Fire Zone blitz concepts, a 5-man pressure with six dropping in coverage in an exchange of responsibilities, that defensive coordinators have picked up from Pittsburgh's own Dick LeBeau.
Furthermore, defensive coordinators are moving around their defensive players, such as the New York Giants sliding defensive end Justin Tuck to the defensive tackle position or the Broncos blitzing Von Miller in the interior gaps, to create matchup advantages.
All of these things are likely to eventually raise the value of the guard position even more, which is why David DeCastro is a great selection for the Pittsburgh Steelers. DeCastro brings much-needed stability to the trenches, as well as very good run blocking and pulling ability that makes him a perfect schematic fit for the Steelers.
An example of his quality run blocking came against Notre Dame last season when DeCastro administered a slip-block in Stanford's zone run concept.
The Cardinals lined up in 21 personnel, which features two backs and one tight end, and DeCastro lined up at right guard uncovered to the closed side of the formation.
In zone blocking, a blocker being covered or uncovered is an important part of determining his assignment. If he is covered, then he is to block the defender across from him. However, if uncovered, DeCastro helps his teammate block the near defender.
Because he was uncovered, DeCastro helped the center, who had a nose tackle aligned head-up on him, form a combination block.
After helping his teammate block the nose tackle, DeCastro slipped off the block and headed up to the second level to block the Notre Dame linebacker. This is a difficult thing for some offensive linemen to accomplish because they lack the quick feet and balance that DeCastro possesses.
When he gets to the second level, he pins the linebacker to the back-side of the play, and in doing so, blocks another defender.
Another example of DeCastro's great blocking ability came in the same game against Notre Dame when he pulled to the left and helped create an alley for the tailback to run through when he blocked a defense end who was reading the play.
Stanford once again came out in 21 personnel on this play and ran a power concept.
On the play, DeCastro was quick getting off the line of scrimmage and pulling around the line to get to a moving target.
Once DeCastro spotted a moving target, he sealed the edge and created an alley to the left of him for the tailback to run through.
These two plays exhibit Decastro's excellent mobility and blocking ability that will be crucial in the Steelers' ground game as well.
The Steelers like to utilize a significant amount of the inside and outside zone as well as the counter-trap run concepts.
There's not a significant difference between the inside and outside zone concepts, as inside zone has the tailback reading the outside hip of the play-side guard while the tailback reads the outside hip on outside zone.
Moreover, the counter trap is a power, misdirection run concept that has a pulling guard from the back-side of the formation leading the way for the ball-carrier.
An example of the success of the counter trap run play came against the St. Louis Rams last season when Rashard Mendenhall broke a 52-yard run to the end zone.
The Steelers came out in a bunch set, as they often do, with tight end Heath Miller in a wing alignment against the Rams Under front.
At the snap, the right guard and wing pulled from right to left (left to right for the reader), while the rest of the offensive linemen executed combination blocks. Right guard Ramon Foster kicked out the defensive end, while Heath Miller blocked out the weak-side linebacker (57) to create an alley for Rashard Mendenhall to run through.
Along with the inside trap, the inside and outside zone concepts are the types of plays that newly-announced starting right guard and first-round pick David DeCastro will have to execute for the Steelers.
The offense, now under the direction of Todd Haley, will look to utilize DeCastro's mobility and get him in open space to give ball carriers, such as fifth-round pick Chris Rainey, more space to work with in effort to getting into the open field. His ability to get to the second level will create more opportunities for larger gains as well as overall improvement in the running game, where second-level blocking is a must in today's NFL.
I fully expect David DeCastro to become one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL in time because he is a great technician and possesses the physical ability to do anything that's asked of him.