Steelers encouraged by strong play of offensive line
PITTSBURGH – The offensive line has been a sore spot for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the past few years.
However, the group has been injury-free through training camp, and the high draft picks appear to be jelling in their third season together.
The proof is in the pristine condition of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s jersey. Through four series of play during the first two weeks of the preseason, Roethlisberger’s No. 7 is squeaky clean.
“I think they’re doing a good job,” Roethlisberger said. “I think the cohesiveness of that group, they’re going to be hard on themselves. (But) I thought they did a good job, because I didn’t have a grass stain on me, which is usually a good thing from my perspective.”
Roethlisberger isn’t getting ahead of himself. He’s spent most of his career playing behind a patchwork line ravaged by injuries. It’s an issue that’s only gotten more widespread recently.
The five players – center Maurkice Pouncey, guards David DeCastro and Ramon Foster and tackles Kelvin Beachum and Kevin Gilbert – have missed a combined 63 games since the start of the 2012 season.
“Sure, we’ve been together for a few years now, but we haven’t always been healthy together,” said Pouncey, who tore two ligaments in the 2013 opener against Tennessee and missed the rest of the year. “Hopefully, we’ll continue to stay (healthy.)”
Despite the mishmash nature of the line, the Steelers are committed to the group. Pittsburgh signed Pouncey to a six-year extension in June and signed Gilbert to a six-year deal on Tuesday.
Any offensive success the Steelers have enjoyed during the preseason has related directly to Roethlisberger’s commitment to getting rid of the ball quicker. He threw a pair of touchdown passes in a win over Buffalo last Saturday, one on a quick slant that Antonio Brown turned into a 76-yard score the other on a 16-yard pass to Markus Wheaton.
Roethlisberger didn’t need much time to get it to Brown. Wheaton’s touchdown took longer to develop, yet Roethlisberger had plenty of time to throw against one of the NFL’s best defensive fronts.
“It’s still the preseason, so we have to take pride in that,” Foster said. “But we have to keep working hard, because we can’t have him on the ground. He makes a lot of plays when he’s standing up, so we have to make sure we keep him that way all the time.”
Beachum did an excellent job guarding Roethlisberger last year, and he’s off to a great start this season.
“Well, we’ve had some success, but we can’t think about that,” Beachum said. “I need to keep working at it to continue to improve, and each of us feels that way we’re going to continue to get better as an offensive line.”
Foster believed the line has improved its cohesiveness through excellent communication. According to DeCastro, there are other factors as well.
“I’m in the best shape that I’ve been in for the past three years, and I think the same can be said for the entire O-line,” DeCastro said. “I think we’re all feeling good about how things have gone.
“We’re improving all the time, communicating really well and are very cohesive. But we’re not satisfied. So, we’ll keep working hard each day to try to take our game to an even higher level.”
Notes: The Steelers will be minus several players on Thursday when they visit Philadelphia. … TE Eric Waters (concussion) OL Bryant Browning (dislocated shoulder), CB Shaquille Richardson (knee injury), center Cody Wallace, (fractured finger), LS Greg Warren, (torn meniscus) and LB Jordan Zumwalt (groin) are out. Safety Will Allen (hamstring), RB Tauren Poole, (hamstring), CB Devin Smith (hamstring) and FB Will Johnson (hamstring) are questionable.