Let's start out by stipulating that the article is not going to draw a correlation between Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler's coaching style and the amount of injuries that the offensive line has had during his tenure. I don't think that there is any correlation, and I've discussed my feeling about the rash of injuries in a previous article.
With that being said, I think that there are two areas in which Kugler left an indelible mark on this team. The first, is nastiness. Without a doubt, the Steelers finish blocks better than team that I have seen in the NFL. They get after people. I think that this was epitomized best in the AFC championship game against the Jets. They bludgeoned the Jets defense that day. It was a physical beat down. Even with Russ Grimm, the Steelers did not have quite the physicality that they have now.
Secondly, Kugler brought with him to Pittsburgh a method of communication that was lacking under his predecessor, Larry Zierlein. As soon as the OTA's began in the spring, Kugler would begin teaching the offensive lineman front recognition. Secondly, he taught all the lineman a way to communicate to one another how to identify fronts and blitzes that the defense is utilizing. This is vitally important during a game. An offensive lineman has to be able to communicate to the coach how a defender is playing him: from both an alignment and technique perspective. Kugler has to be able to ask Colon if the defensive tackle is playing in a wide or a hard three technique so they can discuss if they are going to jump set him on pass protection. Or, if the will linebacker is playing in a 10 technique which would then change how Ben would identify the mike linebacker on run plays. All of that terminology and verbiage has to be as familiar to the offensive lineman as their native language. Kugler developed ways to teach these things to the lineman, and he did it successfully.
If one were to offer a criticism of Kugler, I think that it would be fair to point out that the offensive line never quite capitalized on the momentum that it would seem to generate with a few solid outings. To go back to the example of the AFC championship against the Jets, as dominant as they were in that games was a mediocre as they were against the Grren Bay Packers. During this season, the momentum that was achieved during the New York Giant's game was non-existent against the Kansas City Chiefs.
I think that the offensive line is probably in the best position it has been since Dermontiti Dawson was in his prime. I thought those lines, pre-Jerome Bettis were dominant. I had a friend that was on the practice squad for the Kansas City Chiefs during the 1993 season and he was on the sidelines during the 1994 playoff game. He told me that the Chiefs were in absolute awe of the Steelers offensive line. They were dejected, both mentally and physically after every offensive possession. That was a dominant group.
This group has a chance to be better. I think we know what we are getting with David Decastro, but Mike Adams is the wildcard. He did not have his best showing against Paul Kruger, but then came back to dominate Jabaal Sheard until he got "Gilberted" later in the game. Some of the credit of the improvement of players like Adams and Ramon Foster has to go to Kugler.
Finally, would his departure cause any detriment to this year's team? No. At this point in the year, it's not about technique. It's about installing the game plan. Bringing in Todd Haley meant a lot of new ideas and ways of doing things. But, as Haley has been pointing out for a while, this is Ben's offense. The offense revolves around him and what he is comfortable with. Everything in Kugler's bag of tricks has been seen by the offensive assistants. They will carry on what he did well.
Offensive line coach's in the NFL refer to themselves as the Mushroom Society. They are kept in the dark, fed crap, and they still flourish. Congrats to Kugler for flourishing well enough that he gets a chance to return to his alma matter as the head coach.