To say that the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line has been a weakness in recent years would be a vast understatement. Since 2006, Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked more than any other quarterback in the NFL.
The hits haven't been limited to the past six seasons. In his eight-year career, Roethlisberger has been sacked 314 times, not to mention all of the hits he has taken. They have taken a toll on Roethlisberger's body.
Over the years, Roethlisberger has suffered from many injuries, including concussions, a broken nose and sprained ankles, just to name a few. He is a tough player, but he is a much better player when healthy than when banged up.
While Roethlisberger's playground style of football contributes to the hits and sacks that he takes, so do starting undrafted free agents Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster at guard. Or how about starting Jonathan Scott at left tackle?
Let that sink it—Scott at left tackle.
If you just shuddered a little, imagine how Roethlisberger feels every time he takes a snap.
But the times have changed, and the past three years the Steelers have invested a lot in the offensive line via the draft.
Pittsburgh selected Maurkice Pouncey in the first round of the 2010 draft and Marcus Gilbert in the second round in 2011. The Steelers made a big splash in the draft this year by taking David DeCastro in the first round and Mike Adams in the second round.
In addition to the high draft choices spent on offensive linemen, the Steelers also moved Willie Colon from tackle to guard, meaning that the line will have quite a makeover this year.
The development of the offensive line will be one of the most intriguing areas to watch in training camp this year. Here is a preview of the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line.
Sean Kugler is an excellent offensive line coach, but he's a teacher, not a miracle worker.
A miracle would have been the only way to get the Steelers offensive line to perform at a high level over the past few years.
Kugler simply had a lack of talent to work with. A guy like Ramon Foster is a quality player, but has limited upside. Doug Legursky and Trai Essex can start, but are better in reserve roles. Jonathan Scott is a player who should probably not see the field.
But these are the linemen with whom Kugler had to work and from whom he had to choose to start.
Now he has a depth chart with a number of high-pedigree players sitting at the top, including Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, Willie Colon and Mike Adams.
The interior of the line is set with Colon, Pouncey and DeCastro. This trio will provide plenty of protection from the inside rush and will generate a push for Isaac Redman as the Steelers attempt to improve the running game.
It cannot be stated enough how important the line is in revitalizing the ground attack, particularly in the red zone. If the Steelers can run the ball, expect the success rate in the red zone to increase.
While the inside of the line is set, the tackle positions depend on the development of one player—Adams.
Adams will compete for the starting job at left tackle. That is a difficult task for any player, let alone a rookie who may lack the strength to immediately succeed in the NFL. At the combine, Adams only had 19 reps in the 225-pound bench press, but workout numbers do not always translate on the field.
He could prove that he is strong enough and come out and win the starting job. However, he will have to earn it.
On the surface, it may not be difficult for Adams to win a starting job given that his top competition will come from Scott and Essex. But are these two realistic options? I doubt it.
If Adams is not ready to start at left tackle, Gilbert will move from the right side to the left and the best of the remaining tackles will start on the right side.
Of course, the Steelers also could re-sign Max Starks once he is cleared to play. He is capable of playing both tackle positions and—at the very least—would be an excellent backup.
Pouncey should bounce back from an injury-plagued season now that his ankle is healthy. He is the most athletic lineman on the roster and should re-establish himself as one of the best in the league.
He will benefit from playing next to DeCastro and Colon.
A quality backup at both guard and center who has started in a Super Bowl, Legursky is one of the most intelligent linemen on the roster. He will be one of the first off of the bench if an interior sub is needed.
With Colon's size, he seems to be a better fit for guard than tackle. Powerful style and mobility should make him a good fit at left guard. Will need to prove he can make the transition and stay healthy.
The top guard prospect in the draft will start the season at right guard.
Played in a pro-style offense in college and is excellent at run- and pass-blocking. Will help solidify the line and should excel playing next to Pouncey.
Developed into a solid right guard and can play against big defensive lines, but does not have a shot at beating out DeCastro. Will be a valuable backup at both guard and tackle.
An intriguing late-round prospect who played left tackle in college, but will have to move inside to guard in the NFL. Position flexibility makes him a candidate to make the roster as a backup, but will have a tough time beating out experienced veterans.
A candidate for the practice squad.
At 6'2" and 298 pounds, is relatively undersized compared to his teammates. Can play all interior positions, but is too far down the depth chart to make the roster.
Had every opportunity to start at right guard last season, but had a horrible camp and preseason.
Will really have to improve play to make the roster. Could be an early cut.
Is a small-school prospect with some upside given his strength and mobility. Can play guard and center, and will need to use this versatility to have a shot at the roster.
Could be a practice squad player.
Played well as a rookie last season and should be even better this year. He could end up on the left or right side—depending on how Adams develops.
No matter where he plays, is a solid tackle with room to grow and improve.
Has a high upside and could play left or right tackle. Needs to demonstrate a strong work ethic and prove he is strong enough to start in the pros. Better run-blocker than pass-blocker.
Will not be handed a starting job.
The ultimate backup, as he can play any position on the line. Will compete to start at left tackle and should be one of the top reserves on the roster.
Will compete for the starting job at left tackle despite struggling as a starter. Will be in a back-up role for either tackle position, but should not be the first option off the bench.
Is a liability when on the field.
Will the third training camp be the charm for Jolly? Probably not.
1. Will Mike Adams earn a starting job?
When it comes down to it, this may be the important question of training camp.
Adams' progress will determine who protects Roethlisberger's blind side.
If Adams is good enough, he will be on the left side of the line. If not, it will be Gilbert at left tackle with Adams at right tackle or on the bench as a backup.
The play of Adams will dictate the final starting offensive line.
2. How good is David DeCastro?
Steelers fans know their team, and they know their team well. That is why many fans felt the selection of DeCastro was the most exciting draft choice since Pittsburgh took Roethlisberger in 2004.
DeCastro was recognized as the best guard prospect since Steve Hutchinson by multiple draft experts, including ESPN’s John Clayton. DeCastro has an opportunity to earn a Pro Bowl berth as a rookie and establish himself as one of the best guards in the game.
Can he live up to this billing? It will be a lot of pressure, but the talent is there.
3. How will Willie Colon transition to guard?
Willie Colon to guard is a move that had been talked about for years, and now that it has finally happened, it seems as though it was overdue.
The move was so anticipated that even Colon was waiting for it.
"I knew it was coming," Colon told Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "You hear it enough, it's coming from somewhere."
Colon is already a physical player, and he should be a perfect fit for the inside. But even if it seems as though the Steelers are plugging a round peg into a round hole, Colon still must prove that he can make the transition.
4. How long will it take the line to come together?
An offensive line is made of five individuals, and the Steelers have five pretty good ones who will start this season.
However, as good as they may be individually, it may not be enough. Colon told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that it will take more than just talent to succeed this year.
"I'm not a fan of what could be or potential," Colon said. "We have to be able to jell together and work together and do what we have to do to be a great line. We obviously have the potential, but, if we don't get it done, it doesn't mean anything."
Colon could not have said it better. It will take time for the offensive line to jell, so the sooner that the Steelers coaching staff sets the starting line, the better.