This was supposed to be the year that the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line improves. David DeCastro and Mike Adams were taken in the first two rounds, and Willie Colon moved from tackle to guard.
Even though it would take time, on paper the offensive line looked to have the potential to be one of the better units on the team this season.
Then DeCastro went down with a knee injury in a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills, forcing Ramon Foster back into the starting lineup. Mike Adams also did not earn the starting job at left tackle, which means the Steelers had to go back to Max Starks.
While the results may not show on paper, the offensive line is visibly better than last season, but they still have a long way to go.
In the opener against the Denver Broncos, Ben Roethlisberger was able to consistently lead the team on long drives in part because of the protection that he was receiving.
However, the box score shows five sacks.
Five sacks are unacceptable, but the line lost Marcus Gilbert and Ramon Foster. Enter Adams and Doug Legursky and the line began to struggle.
Even with backups on the field, the Broncos only had two sacks until they picked up sacks on three of Pittsburgh’s final four offensive plays.
The run blocking wasn’t particularly good as the Steelers only gained 75 yards on 26 carries, but much of this was due to the play of the backups.
Against the New York Jets, the line continued to show improvements.
With the starting unit back intact, Roethlisberger was only sacked three times, and he had enough time to make plays in the passing game.
One of the reasons for the improvement is the implementation of a quick passing game by Todd Haley.
Roethlisberger has gotten the ball out of his hands rather quickly, using not only his receivers, but also the backs and tight ends and it has paid off.
The Steelers have been able to put together long, sustainable drives, and they are now beginning to put points on the board.
But while the pass protection has looked better, there seems to be a long way to go for the ground game to get into gear.
Despite being built for run blocking, the Steelers offensive linemen continued to struggle this past week. They were only able to pile up 66 yards on 28 carries.
Averaging less than 3.0 yards per carry over the first two games is not what Haley and the rest of the Steelers coaches had in mind when they put such an emphasis on the ground game during training camp.
Part of the low average has been the play calling.
On two carries to the outside, the running backs lost 13 yards. Redman lost seven yards on his first carry of the game around the left end while Jonathan Dwyer was stopped for a six-yard loss on a run to the left tackle.
There were other missed opportunities due to failures on the offensive line.
Colon had the opportunity to seal off two holes, which certainly would have resulted in big gains, but he missed his blocks. He is clearly still adjusting to playing on the inside.
But the season is only two games old, and there are signs that the line could still develop into an above average unit—especially if DeCastro can return from injury.
They have a long way to go, but the offensive line is already playing better than last season, and that will only mean good things for the offense as the season progresses.