The Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive line has been a grave area of concern over the last few seasons. Despite the fact that the team has spent numerous high draft choices on the offensive front, the line still ranked among the worst in the league.
But the Steelers line did show promise at the end of last season. And, even more importantly, the young unit will now have a true leader at the helm.
Former Tennessee Titans head coach and Pennsylvania native Mike Munchak was signed this offseason to coach the Steelers' offensive front. It's no small task, but Munchak does have some talent to work with along this front. It's just rather undeveloped at this point.
So what can we expect with Munchak now in the fold in Pittsburgh? Will this Steelers line make a drastic leap in 2014, or will it be a slow and belabored process? And what will change schematically for Pittsburgh?
The Zone-Blocking Scheme
This is a scheme the Steelers tried to install all last offseason. But following a deplorable Week 1 performance (against Munchak's Titans), Pittsburgh abandoned the scheme and returned to the old style.
Munchak will, and should, bring that scheme back into the fold this offseason. Because Pittsburgh is set up to run it.
The Steelers are very athletic up front. Center Maurkice Pouncey and guard David DeCastro can move with the best of them, and Kelvin Beachum should be able to play both tackle and guard in this scheme. This line should be able to run defenders out horizontally and leave holes for their backs.
It also works out for starting running back Le'Veon Bell, who ran behind a zone-blocking scheme at Michigan State. Bell had massive numbers as a Spartan, mostly because he has great vision and is able to find the holes up front and make plays. He should be able to recreate that in this system.
Mike Adams Back to Right Tackle
I honestly have no idea what Mike Tomlin or Jack Bicknell Jr. were thinking when they swapped Mike Adams to left tackle and Marcus Gilbert to the right side. More outrageously, they were surprised when Adams failed as a pass protector.
Adams is a road-grade blocker who excels in the run game. He's the kind of lineman Munchak is going to love having on his line, just not on the quarterback's blind side.
The suits Gilbert, who has quicker feet and hands, much better.
I can't make any promises, but odds are that Munchak will take one look at Adams and send him off to the right side of the line where he belongs.
More Le'Veon Bell Production
Munchak was never an offensive coordinator in his time with Tennessee/Houston, but he did know how to make running backs successful. In his time with the Titans/Oilers franchise, Munchak piloted offensive lines that blocked for three 1,000-yard rushers in Eddie George, Chris Brown and Chris Johnson.
I've always said that Bell reminds me a lot of George. Munchak will, hopefully, make that connection as well. They are both tall and sleek carriers who tend to run upright but with good power and vision.
Munchak set up the lines that opened holes for a wide variety of backs (George is not Johnson) and I expect the same here. If Munchak can re-create what the Titans did for George, expect big things from Bell in 2014.
As an offensive lineman, how could you not want to play for one of the game's all-time greats? Munchak is a Hall of Fame offensive lineman himself and has been around the NFL for more than three decades. He's seen it all and put together some of the best line units we've seen in his time.
Munchak has consistently gotten his linemen to play for him and, despite the fact the Titans had another disappointing season, management didn't see it as his fault. In fact, they offered to extend him.
But his loyalty to his staff forced him to turn down the offer and move on.
If Munchak can't get these guys to play for him, nobody will. Then it is time to move on and start looking for some new players.
A Quick Turnaround
I really don't expect that it's going to take too long for Munchak to turn this line into a better-than-average unit and potentially even a good one. There is talent here; it just hasn't been utilized correctly.
Adams, Gilbert, Pouncey and DeCastro were all first- or second-round picks by the Steelers. Pouncey has been a Pro Bowler, and DeCastro turned it on at the end of 2013, so there is some promise there.
But I truly think Munchak can get this line over the top.
There's still a long way to go in the 2014 offseason, and Pittsburgh will most likely add more names into this fold. But right now, I love where this line stands with a new leader at the helm, and I firmly believe in Mike Munchak.