Sunday, January 5, 2014

After Firing Bicknell, Steelers Already Have New OLine Coach In Mind

In Biblical times, two male goats were obtained from the assembled sons of Israel by the high priest for use on the annual Day of Atonement (now called Yom Kippur). One goat was designated for sacrifice as a sin offering, while the high priest symbolically laid the sins of the people on the other and it was led away to escape "into the wilderness.” - Leviticus 16:8,10,26.

On Friday, the Pittsburgh Steelers announced the firing of offensive line coach Jack Bicknell, jr., essentially making him this year's scapegoat. Bicknell came aboard last year after Sean Kugler left to become the head coach at his alma mater UTEP.

We say scapegoat because of the good job he'd done and that 'somebody had to be blamed for the Steelers 8-8 season' mentality among much of the Steelers fan base.

The Steelers lost starting center Maurkice Pouncey and backup Fernando Velasco to season-ending injuries, and because of injury or inept play they had at least six different starting units and between 12-16 different combinations.

Despite those mole hills, they allowed just seven sacks in the final seven weeks. They also ran for 461 yards and a yards-per-carry average of over four (4.01) in the last four games of the season. Within that, featured running back Le'Veon Bell also broke the Steelers 22-game drought of 100-yard rushers, including running for 214 yards in the final two games with a 4.65 YPC average.

So, it's no wonder that players like tackles Marcus Gilbert and Kelvin Beachum said they felt they had grown and improved as a unit. - http://tinyurl.com/ksjm8tm

Nonetheless...

“I have decided to go in a different direction with respect to the coaching of our offensive line,” coach Mike Tomlin said in a statement on Steelers.com. “I want to thank Jack for his contributions during the 2013 season, and I wish him well in the future.”

With no clue or sense of rhyme or reason as to why this would happen, If It Ain't Steel capitulated to a superior intellect and insight in the form of Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Trib Total Media.

"Where Bicknell struggled, I’m...told, is in the area of individual instruction. ... And while Bicknell was loved by the players as a person, there’s also a sense I get that he might have lost them as a coach - fair or not - when times were toughest." - http://tinyurl.com/msh75do

That being the case, the Steelers are now looking for their third OLine coach in as many years. They already seemed to have set their sights one as well.

Jason Cole of the National Football Post has reported that the "Steelers have expressed interest in Carolina assistant offensive line coach Ray Brown to fill the vacancy created after the team fired offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. on Friday. For the time being, the Panthers have declined to let Brown interview, but are expected to let him talk to the Steelers about the job after the playoffs have concluded."

Brown spent 20 years in the NFL as a player for the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals, Washington Redskins, San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions. He was a part of the Redskins' 1991 Super Bowl winning team, and his best season was 2001 when he went to the Pro Bowl and was named to that year's All-Pro 2nd Team.

He has spent the last seven years working his way up through the coaching ranks. Notably, he was an assistant offensive line coach for the Buffalo Bills starting in 2008, was hired as offensive line coach for the San Francisco 49ers for the 2010 season, and then was hired as the assistant line coach for the Carolina Panthers in January of 2011.

Considering what Kovacevic wrote and the aforementioned road grading the OLine was finally doing in the final quarter of the season, maybe Tomlin felt that they could be the mauling blockers that Steelers teams in the past had. Possibly he then realized that they didn't need to switch to a zone blocking scheme after all, thus making Bicknell expendable.

Regardless, in a few weeks we'll all see if Brown is the next foreman of this group of hard hat-wearing road pavers.