Chalk it up to whatever you want, but the position of offensive line coach has been a revolving door of sorts since Mike Tomlin assumed the head coaching position back in 2007.
After Russ Grimm was an absolute rock for the franchise during his stint of six seasons as the offensive line coach (2001-2006), the Pittsburgh Steelers have been through three offensive line coaches since Grimm left town.
Larry Zierlein had little success with his units from the moment he replaced Grimm. Although Willie Parker was on pace to lead the NFL in rushing yards before his leg injury back in 2007, Zierlein had the misfortune of replacing veteran center Jeff Hartings during first season. Hall of Fame guard Alan Faneca left for the New York Jets before the 2008 campaign, while veteran left tackle Marvel Smith and right guard Kendall Simmons suffered essentially career-ending injuries early in that season as well.
Worst of all for Zierlein and Pittsburgh, injuries and a lack of effective personnel reared their ugly heads when Ben Roethlisberger or any of the Steelers’ signal-callers dropped back to pass. During his three seasons on the job, Pittsburgh surrendered a total of 146 sacks, including 50 in Zierlein’s last season in 2009. To his credit, Zierlein still helped an offensive line consisting of Justin Hartwig, Darnell Stapleton, Willie Colon, Max Starks and Chris Kemoeatu win a Super Bowl title in 2008.
Unfortunately for Zierlein, he was fired by the team and replaced by Sean Kugler before the 2010 season started. Just like his predecessor however, Kugler had numerous injury and personnel issues to deal with during his three-year stint with the team.
Colon was lost during the spring of 2010 to an Achilles injury, missed all but one game of the 2011 season with a torn triceps and was hobbled by knee issues for a large portion of the 2012 campaign. Even when Colon was replaced at right tackle in 2012, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams and Kelvin Beachum all took snaps due to injuries.
The left tackle position was also problematic as well, Starks’ back and neck prevented him from playing in most of the 2010 season, and this in turn led to Johnathan Scott filling in on the blind-side. When Scott bombed in 2011, Starks was inked off of the street that fall to take his place. Heck, he even manned the starting spot in 2012 when the team had no solution at the position after the preseason concluded.
The guard spots were also revolving doors during Kugler’s stint, and guys like Kemoeatu, Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster and David DeCastro all shuffled in and out of the starting lineup. Only center Maurkice Pouncey, the team’s first round pick in 2010, provided any sort of stability along Pittsburgh’s offensive line during that stretch and the team actually won an AFC title in Kugler’s first season.
Protecting Roethlisberger and the rest of Pittsburgh’s quarterbacks also proved to be a challenge early for Kugler’s unit, and the Steelers surrendered a combined 85 sacks during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Things however turned around for Kugler and the Steelers in 2012 when only 37 sacks were allowed. Despite the aforementioned issues and the improvement shown in 2012, Kugler took the head coaching job at his alma mater (UTEP) before the 2013 campaign began and the Steelers hired Bicknell, Jr. in his place.
Will the fourth time be a charm for Pittsburgh’s brass?
The Steelers had better find a solution to their offensive line coach problems, because the amount of turnover which has existed at that specific job is an enormous issue. Guys like Pouncey will be on the third offensive line coach of their young career, and someone like Ramon Foster will be on the fourth one of his stint (2009-present) in Pittsburgh.
Continuity is key when developing an offensive line, and it would be nice to see the franchise find someone who can coach their young yet promising unit for the foreseeable future.
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