The offensive line was already a bit of a concern when the Pittsburgh Steelers were sending starters to the Pro Bowl—for the present at the time and especially for the future. Well, the future is already here, and it’s not clear how much further there is to go.
The Steelers made their biggest steps toward improvement in a while when they signed two starters in free agency last year, including James Daniels. He plugged in at right guard immediately, alongside fellow free agent Mason Cole at center.
Dan Moore Jr. was a second-year player starting at left tackle with third-year Kevin Dotson next to him. Only Chukwuma Okorafor on the right side had much continuity. But not even he had that in terms of instructions due to the change at offensive line coach with the hiring of Pat Meyer. Daniels admits that was a hurdle for everyone in the room no matter how old or new they were to it.
“There was a lot of stuff for us to adjust to”, he told the team’s website in an article published yesterday by Teres Varley. “We had all the coaching changes with Coach Meyer in his first year. Just learning Coach Meyer’s technique and playing with each other”.
He also mentioned the expected things like playing with different players than he’d been used to, but the change from what Meyer was teaching how he wanted the linemen to block is notable because of the fact that it differed not only from how the Steelers’ linemen were being taught, but also how the others brought in via free agency learned as well.
That made it a collective project, with all of them learning things they weren’t necessarily used to, or at least particularly versed in. You can read a bit more about Meyer’s priorities in this article Alex Kozora wrote soon after the hiring.
The line did get better over time, but it certainly didn’t end the season as a finished product. How much that’s left to do is down to the personnel? Is Meyer the coach who can take this group to where it needs to be? Many do seem to believe that, and surely he will be given time to prove that. Time, after all, is the most critical ingredient.
“That’s why it’s always nice to show up to OTAs. That’s why it was great we worked together in the preseason”, Daniels said. “If we weren’t playing in the preseason, our first game in Cincinnati on the road, that’s tough for any player if you haven’t played in the preseason. I’ve done that before, not playing preseason. That’s very hard to do. It was nice that we were able to do that”.
Indeed, every starter played over 1000 snaps this season, and only one of them missed more than one snap. They were very fortunate on the health front, but likely can’t count on that being repeated very often. By the time that becomes a concern, however, they should have an even stronger foundation.