When you're on a coaching staff with Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau, it's hard to win too many first place votes in a popularity contest. But Sean Kugler, the offensive line coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, sure earned a legion of supporters and believers for the work he did with the line during his first season in Pittsburgh. The Steelers allowed 43 sacks last season, the eighth most in the NFL, but I don't think anybody would dispute the fact that the collective play of the line was significantly more consistent and improved. When you factor in the rash of injuries the line dealt with, particularly at the all-important tackle positions, and Kugler's work looks even more impressive in retrospect.
So what next for Kugler and the offensive line? Well, we won't exactly know what Kugler will be working with until the NFL Lockout is resolved. The primary factor still up in the air while the lockout drags on is the future of right tackle Willie Colon, who at the moment is a free agent. Whether Colon is retained or signs elsewhere, his future will impact a number of other players' futures. Still, for as much as Colon has improved since he joined the league and for as much as Steeler Nation might like to have him back, last season convinced me (and likely many others) that we can be just fine moving forward regardless of what unfolds with Colon. Kugler's sound coaching and motivating leave me convinced that the future is quite bright for the unit in 2011 and 2012 even if Colon is not part of the fold.
On Friday, Kugler joined 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh to talk about last season, the upcoming season and what his plan is to continue helping the men in the trenches improve their individual and collective play. I've transcribed most of the interview below.
On dealing with all the injuries along the line last year:
"Well it just happened frequently, so just keeping guys together and patching different guys in at different positions. So I don't think it was hard, it was just a challenge to get the guys to jel together week to week. But they're a great group of guys and accepted the challenge and competed every week."
On just how good Maurkice Pouncey was as a rookie and it being clear that Mike Tomlin wanted him to start:
"Yeah Maurkice is a special player. He's got the type of qualities that you look for in offensive linemen, and it was pretty evident in camp that he had the mental makeup to handle all the calls. Once we realized that, it was a pretty easy decision to put him at center."
On Flozell Adams:
"I just have a lot of respect for Flozell because that's a very difficult transition after doing something for so long. Flozell's just a complete pro. He worked his tail off, he competed game in and game out, and he did everything we asked of him and more. He's just a true pro."
Whether there's a specific position along the line that he most enjoys coaching:
"The reason I like coaching offensive line is I like coaching all five guys collectively. It's a challenge to get all five guys to play together as a unit, and I enjoy coaching the entire group. There's not a better position on the field to coach. The offensive linemen, those are usually the guys that are your most fun to be around, your must humble, and your hardest working guys. And I love my group here in Pittsburgh and we're going to add to that here this year and try to be a better, more efficient unit in 2011."
On the Steelers' second round pick in this year's draft, Marcus Gilbert:
"Well the unique thing about Marcus is he has great size. He has good athleticism for his size but he's played four different positions in three years as a starter in the SEC. He's played left tackle a full year as a starter, he's played right tackle, and he's also played both guard spots. So that's an interesting thing when you're looking for a guy who's versatile, and he's a versatile lineman that has the athleticism and size that we're looking for.
On what he has been keeping himself busy with during the ongoing lockout:
"Well I already drove my wife nuts, she's ready to have me out of the house and probably hopes training camp starts tomorrow. I've just been trying to get better as a coach and hopefully do a better job this year than last year...So you take whatever time you have, if it's not with the players, then try to improve upon yourself."