Updated: Jul 2, 2021
(Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The Steelers' offensive line will look drastically different in 2021. It's a complete overhaul, as they'll have four new starters on the offensive line this year. In a matter of just 18 months, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, Matt Feiler, Alejandro Villanueva, and David DeCastro have all departed via either retirement, free agency, or release. In addition, well-respected offensive line coach Mike Munchak went to the Broncos in a lateral move in January of 2019, and Marcus Gilbert got traded to the Cardinals in March of 2019.
It's now up to first-year offensive line coach Adrian Klemm to lead one of the youngest offensive lines in the league -- Chuks Okorafor is the longest-tenured starter and he's heading into just his fourth year. Along with being inexperienced, they're also being labeled as potentially the worst offensive line in the league, as there's just a lot of unknowns upfront.
Zach Banner has just one career start at the right tackle position and is coming off an ACL injury. The aforementioned Okorafor had a subpar season last year at right tackle and is now making the move to the left side to protect Ben Roethlisberger's blindside. Kevin Dotson had a promising rookie campaign, but he still has only four career starts under his belt. They signed five-time Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner shortly after releasing DeCastro last week and he'll be the plug-and-play replacement at right guard, but he's coming off a horrendous season with the Chargers. According to Pro Football Focus, Turner finished 79th out of a possible 80 guards in 2020. He's also regressed in his PFF grade every year since 2017, falling from 73.8 to 67.9 to 63.9 to 34.8. However, it should be noted that Turner was hampered by a groin injury last season, causing him to miss six games, and he just never looked healthy all year.
And then perhaps the biggest worry comes at the center position, as there will be a three-way battle for the starting spot between third-round pick Kendrick Green and veterans B.J. Finney and J.C. Hassenauer. Green played predominately at left guard at Illinois and made just four career starts at center, so it's not a given that he'll be a Day 1 starter, which means Finney or Hassenhauer could start at center, and that's not very comforting, to be honest.
The offensive line was just flat-out bad last season, especially when it came to run blocking. They looked old and tired. So the counterargument is that maybe a wave of new talent will bolster the offensive line, and can they really be that much worse than last year's unit? I agree with that assessment, but like anything, it will have to be proven on the field. The skepticism is warranted, however. Four new starters on the offensive line. First-year offensive line coach in the NFL, likewise for Matt Canada as the new offensive coordinator. A 39-year-old quarterback who lacks mobility. A first-year running back. There's just a ton of big question marks.
The onus is on Klemm to have this young offensive line play at a high level. The offense will go as far as they take them when it comes to opening holes for Najee Harris and protecting Roethlisberger so he can get the ball to his bevy of talented receivers.
"You can't stray away from it," Klemm said about implementing an aggressive mindset to the young offensive line via Mike Prisuta of Steelers.com. "You set the tone for what it's going to be and you create an environment in a room, carry that out to the field. You're demanding of it every, single day.
"It's not that we're trying to find ourselves; this is who we're gonna be. If you're gonna live in this world that's how we're gonna live. If you can't do it, you'll be at home or you'll be on the sideline with a hat on. It's not a democracy in our room; this is what it is."
The Steelers' offensive line is going through a changing of the guard, but it's up to Klemm to build a new era.