Forrest Gregg, Norm Van Brocklin, Jack Del Rio... Not all great NFL players turn out to become great NFL coaches. The Pittsburgh Steelers, however, seem to have a knack for finding the ones that do.
New offensive line coach Mike Munchak played 12 years in the NFL, was a 10-time All Pro and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001. Credentials laudable enough to create for him a "very high" degree of deference.
“He understands each player is different. He understands how to cater to everyone,” Ramon Foster said of Munchak. “The respect factor is very high. … It's a joy right now to be taking advice and coaching from him.” - http://tinyurl.com/qyu2mq7
As the Tribune-Review's Alan Robinson points out further in his article, his 'understanding that each player is different' is because he "adjusts to them rather than being one who insists the linemen adjust to him," especially because he is still learning about his group.
Munchak believes that "starters Beachum, Ramon Foster, Pouncey, DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert and backups Mike Adams, Cody Wallace, Guy Whimper, Wesley Johnson and others" have the chance to be a special group.
Munchak does, after all, have two first rounders and two second rounders amongst those starters. He not only has Pouncey, one-time First-team All Pro, coming back from ACL surgery, but also guard David DeCastro, whom he should be able to take to the next level. DDC started road-grading his opponents in the second half of last season, and has the chance to become one of the best guards in the NFL via Munchak’s tutelage.
Left tackle protection picked up appreciably in the second half of the season, also, when Kelvin Beachum was installed, but Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert are of greater interest.
The Steelers invested high draft picks in both of them and neither has been great, although Gilbert has been serviceable. They will be Munchak's biggest challenge in helping this group to pick up where they left off in 2013.
Wallace, Whimper and this year's fifth-round draft pick Wesley Johnson rate high on the list of those who'll be the most likely backups.
In reverse order, the fifth-round draft pick out of Vanderbilt, Johnson, has nice height (6'5"), but he's not even three bills (297 LBs), which indicates he'll need to get bigger and stronger to survive in the NFL. Being that he played all positions on a zone-blocking offensive line in college, Johnson will likely be moved into the role of swing lineman that was held by Beachum before he was inserted at left tackle.
Whimper was signed back in March to a one-year veteran minimum of $920,000 ($635K against the Salary Cap), of which only $65,000 is guaranteed. Which means he'd only be a $65K dead money hit if released.
The possibility of that happening increases if Fernando Velasco's achilles injury heals to the point where's ready to go by Training Camp. He had said he'd be back for OTAs, but achilles injuries take longer than that. Time will tell, therefore, on Velasco who brilliantly took Pouncey's place at center when he went down.
It was then that the 2008 fourth-round draft pick, Wallace, took Velasco's place at center upon his injury against the Baltimore Ravens. Both men can play center or guard. Wallace, also, though has a nasty streak and physicality about him that showed when he responded by proving himself emphatically over the final month of the season.
The Steelers signed Wallace to a three-year deal back on March 12th.
These men are the core of an offensive line that allowed just seven sacks over the final seven games and helped boost the running game to more than a 100 yard per game average and to 4.0 yards per carry.
Munchak has said that he isn't changing much terminology from when Bicknell, jr. was the OLine coach, and believes they can be molded into a "special" unit that may still be a zone-blocking one. - http://tinyurl.com/n2x4rga
Though sparingly used last season, such a system is well suited for running back Le'Veon Bell and can help the run game get going even more so.
In the interview linked above, Munchak said about the scheme that "it stretches the defense. They’re not sure exactly where he’s going to cut. Watching [Bell] run the inside zone and some of the runs they’ve run, I can [see] he has very good vision, he has a good feel for the game, and it’s just a matter of him getting more reps at it." (Brackets ours)
Then throw in LaGarrette Blount taking part of the load and you have the makings of a powerful ground game. And sharing the load to make for a more lethal corps is something Bell is "definitely" on board with.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” Bell said. “We’re going to give defenses different looks, a change of pace. [Blount will] bring that power to the game and bring a lot more tough yardage. I won’t have to get all that tough yardage runs. I’m definitely looking forward to it. I’m excited about it.”
And Steeler Nation should be excited that Mike Munchak is making it all possible.
TIDBITS: Flashback on FA additions this offseason:
Mike Mitchell, S, March 11th
Greg Warren*, LS, March 12th
Cody Wallace*, C/G, March 12th,
Cam Thomas, DE/NT, March 14th,
Guy Whimper*, G/T, March 17th,
Michael Palmer*, TE, March 21st
Lance Moore, WR, March 21st,
Arthur Moats, LB, March 24th,
LaGarrette Blount, RB, March 28th,
Brice McCain, CB, April 1st,
Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, April 2nd,
Eric Olsen, C, April 3rd,
Adam Podleah, P , April 15th
* indicates own free agent signed