Cohesion key for success of Steelers' offensive line

Cohesion key for success of Steelers' offensive line

Postautor: Angel92 » 2 sie 2017, o 09:36

It was mentioned to Steelers guard Ramon Foster that during the heavy-hitting first training camp practice with pads Sunday, players from almost every position exited early because of injury or heat-related symptoms.
The offensive line, though, was spared.
“Let's knock on wood on that,” Foster said smiling.
A few hours later, Foster was standing on the sidelines in shorts watching the team's second padded practice. It likely was a precautionary day off for a ninth-year veteran coming back from offseason right knee surgery, but his absence was illustrative of the difficulty in keeping an offensive line intact if even for abbreviated periods of time.
Consider the Steelers this year will try to do something they have not accomplished since the 2005-06 seasons: start the same five offensive linemen in the season opener in successive years.
Be it because of injury, emerging draft picks or veterans departing via free agency, the last time the Steelers had all five returning starters on the line was the year after they won Super Bowl XL. Center Jeff Hartings was flanked by guards Kendall Simmons and Alan Faneca and tackles Marvel Smith and Max Starks.
Barring a training camp setback, the Steelers will start the same five linemen from the 2016 opener ­— center Maurkice Pouncey, guards David DeCastro and Foster, and tackles Marcus Gilbert and Alejandro Villanueva — when they play in Cleveland on Sept. 10.
The health of the offensive line was a big reason the Steelers had an 11-5 record and advanced to the AFC Championship game last year. The line had only five man-games lost to injury, two by Foster and three by Gilbert.
“For any offensive line, anyone knows that (cohesion) is the key,” offensive line coach Mike Munchak said. “Communication is so important in the NFL. The offense we run, with a lot of no-huddle with Ben (Roethlisberger), there are a lot of code words, a lot of adjustments during the game even within plays, it helps to have a veteran group that can handle things.
“It's not easy.”
Keeping Pouncey healthy is imperative. He hasn't played back-to-back seasons since 2011-12, missing all but a handful of snaps in 2013 and the entire season in 2015.
Gilbert started at least 12 games in each of the past four seasons. DeCastro has started all but one game the past four years. Foster has started at least 14 games in each of the past six seasons. Villanueva, the least-experienced regular on the line, has started 31 consecutive games (including playoffs) since moving into the starting lineup in the 2015 season.
“You don't have lines like this in the league,” Foster said. “You don't have lines that have been together for a while. There is a lot of turnover in this league. To have guys together for this long, even some of the backups, is an awesome thing.”
When Villanueva signed a four-year, $24 million contract last Thursday, it ensured all five linemen were under contract through at least 2018. DeCastro and Villanueva have deals that extend into the next decade, and Pouncey and Gilbert are signed for three more years apiece.
Even the backups are experienced playing in Munchak's system. Top reserves Chris Hubbard and B.J. Finney made starts last year, and 2016 fourth-round pick Jerald Hawkins spent his rookie season learning the system while on injured reserve.
“If you notice, Pittsburgh is already building for the lines behind us already,” Foster said. “That's what they've done for years and years and years. When the older guys were in front of me, they were building me up.”
Before this group gets pushed out, it would like to start in a Super Bowl. After coming up a game short last season, the Steelers linemen hope to build on the success attained in that campaign when they allowed the second-fewest sacks in the NFL and paved the way for running back Le'Veon Bell to rush for 1,268 yards in only 12 games.
“We have to take advantage of it,” DeCastro said. “We've got a very small window to really take advantage of it and play good football.”
Foster acknowledged it won't be easy, much Ronald Darby Youth Jersey like trying to start the same five linemen in successive years. But it helps the line includes a five-time Pro Bowl representative in Pouncey and a two-time recipient in DeCastro. Gilbert also is considered a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
“The longer we play together and the better and better we get, the bigger the bull's-eye is,” Foster said. “We have to make sure we're on top of our jobs.”
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