With the conclusion of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 season, it is now time to look ahead to the 2017 off-season. The offensive line, a unit that is usually an issue, had a relatively positive year. Keeping Ben Roethlisberger off the ground and creating space for Le’Veon Bell were the two big successes of the year. In this edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 Positional Overviews, we look at the offensive line.
Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 Positional Overview: Offensive Line
The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to keep a core group of linemen healthy for the majority of the season. However, strong backups were able to fill in and prove the staff has some depth to it. The main starters included left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, left guard Ramon Foster, center Maurkice Pouncey, right guard David DeCastro, and right tackle Marcus Gilbert. Two of which, Pouncey and DeCastro, were selected to the Pro Bowl. In addition to the regulars, backups B.J. Finney and Chris Hubbard particularly stood out in the 2016 season.
The main issues in the past with the offensive line have come via the pass protection. Keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright and providing him time to make plays have been a struggle throughout the franchise quarterback’s career. However, 2016 proved to be a year in which the line was able to protect him. Roethlisberger missed just one game due to injury this season (an injury that you can hardly blame on the offensive line.) In addition to keeping him healthy, the line gave up just 21 sacks in 2016, the second lowest total in the league.
Another accomplishment of the 2016 season for the offensive line was creating space for running back Le’Veon Bell to run. Bell gained attention across the league this season for his unconventional, patient running style. This style is only successful however, if the offensive line can create and maintain running lanes. The line did a superb job this season, allowing Bell to gain 1,268 yards. This was good enough to finish fifth in the league, despite missing a quarter of the season.
With no free agents entering the 2017 season, the offensive line will stay intact. This means the group will have another year to grow together and should continue to get even stronger. Pouncey will continue to be the star of the group, if he is able to stay healthy as he did in 2016. If Villanueva is able to cut down on penalties in 2017, he too may be able to represent the Steelers in the Pro Bowl next season.
Since there are no free agents, the Steelers will return all 14 current offensive lineman on the roster unless subtractions are made. With glaring needs at other positions, Pittsburgh will most likely not pursue any big time free agents or draft prospects on the offensive line. The group entering the 2017 off-season looks strong. If they are able to stay healthy, they will be one of the best offensive line units in the league. They will continue to be the nucleus of an offense that should only get better next year.