Newbie here. I've been reading (and loving) BTSC for years. I figure it's about time I contribute something, so here goes:
After 2 preseason games this year, one positive stands out to me regarding the Steelers’ OL: we still have the same 5 starters. It’s been well-documented that continuity on the line is a huge success factor, and I believe the lack thereof was the single biggest downfall of our 2012 season. Particularly with the youth of our linemen, they need playing time to adjust to the NFL and to gel together. I remain optimistic about this year’s OL; I believe they will improve throughout the season and perhaps be the strength of this year’s team by December—if they stay healthy.
OL injuries were a problem for this team long before 2012. During Sean Kugler’s tenure as OL coach, we lost multiple starters every year. More than once, I wondered if there was something about Kugler’s system and/or his teaching methods that was deficient in the area of player safety. I live in western New York, where Kugler served as OL coach of the Bills prior to his stint in Pittsburgh. The Bills, much like the Steelers, suffered a ridiculous number of injuries on the line under Kugler’s regime. It’s hard for me to believe that it was just a coincidence and Kugler was a victim of terrible luck. With Jack Bicknell, Jr. replacing Kugler this year and bringing a greater emphasis on zone blocking, I expect us to see greater continuity on the OL as a result.
While watching some of the stretch plays these past 2 weeks, it occurred to me that one consequence of the system is that it creates more space between the linemen—which ought to make it less likely that they will fall into/onto one another. If I lined up next to Marcus Gilbert, I’d be thankful for that. :) Perhaps one reason for the success enjoyed by many teams who use zone blocking is that they have fewer OL injuries. If anyone has data correlating OL injury rates to various blocking systems and/or OL coaches, I’d love to see it.
The Steelers finally made the OL a priority in their recent drafts, which is something that many of us have been longing for. So far I’m disappointed at the lack of results on the field. But it’s not because we drafted the wrong guys; it’s because they have missed too much time with injuries. We have a talented group of young linemen looking to prove themselves. Bicknell’s new system will help them stay healthy, and we’ll finally enjoy some of that elusive and all-important OL continuity.