With all the talk of the youth movement among the Steelers, particularly on its offensive line, what gets lost is the role of the mentor.
Steelers left guard Ramon Foster is one of the elder spokesmen in the Steelers' offensive line room, and considering the relative infrequency of Guy Whimper's on-field contributions, Foster is the oldest of the players who's jersey is soiled after games.
Steelers.com writer Teresa Varley points out, in a recent interview, he's doing more than just helping the young offensive linemen out.
"When you look at the locker room, Ramon is like the father figure," outside linebacker Jarvis Jones told Varley. "I am a rookie, so I don’t know how the older guys look at it. But for me he is. He is well respected. One of the best personalities you can have. He is willing to do anything for you, from helping you with any situation, to talking."
The Steelers have long since operated in a Pay it Forward paradigm; veterans actively pass on the knowledge they've gained to the younger players, and in turn, those younger players will eventually be expected to help mentor the future younger players. Foster was an undrafted rookie in 2009, and ended up, on a banged-up Steelers offensive line that year, starting four games and appearing in 14 total. "When I first got here he was one of the first people to take me in and show me the city, places to eat. He told me how I need to go about my day as far as preparation, how to take care of my body, all of those things."
The Steelers understand mentoring. They value experience. It's a part part of the reason the team has three former players (Dick LeBeau, Carnell Lake and Joey Porter) who played high-level NFL football (two of them for the Steelers). Foster is an extension of that legacy. Steelers second-year defensive end Brian Arnfelt will be a strong candidate to make the 53-man roster this summer, and he'll owe some of that success to Foster going out of his way to help Arnfelt improve, even if they are adversaries on the practice field.
"He talks with me, tells me that wasn’t a good rep or that was a good one," Arnfelt told Varley. "That’s huge to know what he sees from an offensive line perspective, what I can improve on, what he thinks I can do well. He has been a source of support for me."
The Steelers' offensive line will have both youth and experience on its side for the first time in ages. Assuming the positions aren't changed from last year, they're looking at a line of, left to right, Kelvin Beachum (25 years old, 17 career starts), Foster (28, 57 starts), Maurkice Pouncey (25, 46 starts), David DeCastro (24, 18 starts) and Marcus Gilbert (26, 34 starts). And players like Arnfelt, 2013 seventh-round pick Nick Williams, recently acquired defensive end Cam Thomas, and 2014 second round pick Stephon Tuitt will receive help from players like Foster as well.
The presence of Foster's leadership will be critical for the success of this team this season; not just on offense, though. He's helping the defense as well.