Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Will Steelers New Offensive Line Coach Be A Prayer Answered?

After Sean Kugler left to be the head coach of his alma mater, the University of Texas-El Paso, Pittsburgh Steelers fans prayed for an offensive line coach with experience and pedigree. Appropriately, those prayers were answered by someone used to playing that role. -

On Tuesday the Steelers announced that Jack Bicknell, jr. had been hired to fill that vacancy. -

He played for his father, head coach Jack Bicknell, Sr., at Boston College from 1981-1985. Bicknell played center during Doug Flutie's 1984 Heisman Trophy season and snapped the ball to him for the famous last-second "Hail Flutie" pass that beat the Miami Hurricanes.

Bicknell was the offensive line coach for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012 before they cleaned house at season's end. From 2009-2011 he was assistant offensive line coach for the New York Giants.

The Chiefs had a very good zone-blocking offensive line, as opposed to the Steelers' man-to-man and pulling styles, that enabled Jamaal Charles to finish the season with 1,509 yards. And as Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin accurately said, "the proof is in the pudding."

"They played the AFC North, and they ran the ball very well against all the teams in the AFC North," said Tomlin. "They ran the ball effectively against us when Jamaal Charles had a 100-yard game. That was attractive to me. The plan they were able to put together, the success they were able to have vs. some people we are going to see quite a bit was a selling feature." -

Those games against the AFC North that Tomlin spoke of included 142 rushing yards against the Steelers, 214 yards against the Baltimore Ravens, 180 yards against the Cleveland Browns and 113 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Despite Bob Labriola writing that success for the Steelers lies more 'in teaching than in a zone scheme', the young group of Mike Adams, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert and Kelvin Beachum ("Big Money?") should have their athleticism highlighted. -

On the other hand, the veterans are an uncertainty, especially with contracts and injuries causing a state of flux.

Max Starks' status is uncertain as he may look to free agency to get all that he can in one last multi-year contract. Willie Colon, who ended the season on the Injured Reserve again, will cost $6.45 million against the Steelers' salary cap in 2013 if nothing is done with his contract.

Though the easy answer would be to cut him, Ramon Foster is sure to explore free agency as well, and that might force them to keep Colon on for insurance if nothing else. -

What of the quarterback and running backs? Though he doesn't oversee them directly, what his line does, or doesn't do, naturally affects their play.

For No. 7, it's easy: keep the franchise upright. 'Nuff said.

As for the running backs, the Steelers don't exactly have the caliber of backs that Bicknell had in New York, nor do they have near the quality of running back that he had in Charles. Especially not with Rashard Mendenhall's future in Pittsburgh not looking too bright. -

Mendenhall has a lot of talent and speed, but he fumbled, per Steelers beat writer Mark Kaboly, "11 times in 1,006 career touches." That's one fumble every 91.45 touches (rushes and receptions), or one every 3-4 games.

As we wrote recently, Isaac Redman has lost five fumbles in three years. Yet, he believes he can be a feature running back. He recently said in an interview that he believes he "had a big game against" the New York Giants, but that he "just never got the opportunity to be the every-down back after that." -

Neither Steelers president Art Rooney II nor general manager Kevin Colbert spoke highly at all about any of the running backs on the roster, Mendenhall, Redman or Jonathan Dwyer. With Redman and Dwyer both being restricted free agents, therefore, expect both to be tendered at the lower level. Also expect them to have someone pushing them in Training Camp.

What Bicknell has in front of him is no small task. With the injuries suffered by the Steelers the last three years, especially on the OLine, any sort of stability and forward momentum would be welcomed. In fact, it'd be like a prayer being answered.