Getting Schooled: Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Line Learns Zone Scheme

The baby faces are back to school learning the new zone blocking scheme. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Hit the books kids.  There’s a new craze that is hitting the county, and that’s going back to school to further educate oneself.  The Steelers and their offensive line are headed back to the classroom during the OTA’s and training camp this season to learn the outside zone blocking scheme.

The Steelers entire offense went back to school last season after new offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, came in and installed his new design of offense.  The change was met with some skepticism and grumbling, and the offense struggled at times – in part from having to adjust to the new ways of the offense.  The offensive line is hitting the books once again this offseason in preparation of nailing down new offensive line coach, Jack Bicknell Jr.’s, outside zone blocking scheme.

The offensive line consists of some of the youngest starters on the team.  David DeCastro (2nd year), Mike Adams (2nd year), Marcus Gilbert (3rd year), Maurkice Pouncey (4th year), and Ramon Foster (5th year) make up the starting line up for the Steelers line.  Add backup Kelvin Beachum (2nd year) to the mix, and the line looks like a bunch of toddlers coming out of daycare.  The young age of the offensive line has its advantages – the outside zone requires faster foot work and will help keep players fresh over the course of the game because it is of a ‘pound it down the middle’ style of a run game.  The young guys are faster than their older counterparts (usually) and this kind of scheme will increase the longevity of the offensive line (hopefully meaning less injuries mid to late in the season).  This young line also consists of some very intelligent athletes who haven’t been out of school for very long.  They are less set in their ways of ‘I’ve been doing this for years and know what I’m doing’ and more apt to be the sponges that Bicknell Jr. needs them to be.  That’s not to say that guys like Max Starks (or even Willie Colon), who signed with San Diego this past week, can’t learn a new scheme.  But, it certainly keeps us from saying, ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ (…. or did I just say it?)

Our baby faced O-line seems to be taking a liking to the new scheme in the early onset.  Pouncey is happy with the new zone blocking and wouldn’t mind throwing out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to their old scheme.  And who wouldn’t?  The outside zone allows a blocker to keep their defender upright and sweep them to the outside allowing for the ball carrier to make a quick cut and go.  With this scheme, there’s no longer the need for most of the line to power forward, lock up their guy, and continue to drive him back into the next level while everyone piles on.

The big question is whether the Steelers have a running back that can run with success in this kind of zone blocking.  Look down the depth chart and Arian Foster, who has made his career from the outside zone, is missing from the list.  Rashard Mendenhall is also gone, so it will be up to Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, and rookie back Le’Veon Bell.  Le’Veon Bell could be the back, but we’ve never seen him take on NFL talent in pads yet.  Steeler fans (and coaches) will have to wait until camp when the pads come on and we see how the blocking and backs gel as they move closer to full speed.

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