First a bit of capital-T truth: the holy books of the Steelers Way clearly state that chemistry and cohesion matter more to the line than individual talent. That may be closer to an axiom than a mere belief, but it's a good place to start.
Next a capital-T historical truth: the Steelers build offensive lines from the inside out. Mike Webster and Dermontti Dawson gave the Steelers two of the greatest centers who ever played the game - and saying "two of" instead of "the two" is a debatable choice of words. Now the team has invested in Maurkice Pouncey to continue the tradition. The facts speak for themselves. Pittsburgh wants an elite center to captain the unit, and will pay a premium to get him.
The Steelers have also had a few great guards. Alan Faneca comes to mind. And the team will pay for great guards, until the price gets out of hand. Again, Alan Faneca comes to mind.
But as for tackles... The Steeler Way has never produced a Hall of Famer, and the team has never bought one in free agency either. The reason is fairly simple. Pittsburgh prizes offensive tackles more for the ‘negative' virtues than anything they actually achieve. It's a case where the do-nots matter more than the do's. For example:
- Do not be a weak link. You don't have to be the pillar of the line - that's why we pay our centers so much - but you mustn't be the spot where things fall apart.
- Do not be a prima donna. Remember, the unit matters more than you on your island.
- And do not break the bank.
THE WAYS OF STEELER FAN - SOMETIMES FICKLE BUT ALWAYS WISE
Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Steeler Fan has a very broad mind.
For example, Steelers Fan loves to see late round picks and UDFA's outplay the guys who were supposed to be so elite. It proves our love of blue collar virtues like hard work, perseverance, and the hidden greatness of small-market underdogs. But Steelers Fan hates to see an early round draft pick get beat by a ‘lesser' talent, because we dread even more evidence about how our front office can blunder.
Steelers Fan believes wholeheartedly in the Steeler Way. It's earned us six rings, so don't mess with success. But Steelers Fan pines for a great dancing bear of our very own. It's just not fair that we only gather more jewelry while other teams get all the great tackles! The Bengals had Anthony Munoz. It never won them a Super Bowl, but... sigh. The Ravens had Jonathan Ogden, a/k/a he-who-could-not-be hated. Did you ever have a problem summoning game day dislike for the likes of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, or Suggs? I didn't. But Ogden? Sigh. What could you say but, "I want one too!"
Steelers Fan understands the limits imposed by a salary cap. If you spend on some things, you have to skimp on others. But Steelers Fan also knows that the salary cap is just an excuse; the team has infinite money with which it could satisfy all our desires; and the Rooneys would see that done if only those dimwits in the FO would listen to our pleas and advice. Maybe we're just not being clear enough...
ALL OF WHICH LEADS ME TO CONCLUDE...
That our current crop of offensive linemen might benefit more than Mr. Colbert from a few bits of observation and advice.
Mr. Pouncey: We in Steelers Nation have been to heaven. On arriving we were invited for a tour by Saints Webster and Dawson. That's our standard and no one else counts. So don't screw this up, and don't come back with some measly ‘C' in the middle of the Webster/Dawson grading curve. Is it too much to expect an above-average result?
Mr. Gilbert: All we wanted when you got drafted was some HOF-level performance in your rookie contract. We came to the party well prepared for disappointment in the years thereafter. We were ready for the task of missing your good old days while simultaneously griping about the lack of loyalty you displayed by accepting a god-awful amount of money to play for some lesser team. But did you play like a future Hall of Famer? Nooooo. All you gave us was solid work on a squad that kept getting injured. Well, there was that one time you deliberately sabotaged the team by leaping on the knee of our guaranteed 1st-round rookie of the year... But we don't hold that against you. Much. Large minded folk would never carry a grudge.
So why, despite all our patience and generosity, would you now display the bad grace to put us on the horns of a dilemma? If you go out there and have a great year, come contract time we'll get the griping without even the solace of some good old days. And if you have a year that sucks enough to lower your price on the market, we'll have to live through the suckiness. Have you no consideration sir? I mean, really!
Mr. Whimper: We aren't going to have this discussion until you formally and legally change your name to Abdullah the Butcher. Git!
Mr. Beachum: Okay, yes. You are exactly the player that the Steelers always hope to draft. A - pardon me for saying it - 2nd-tier physical talent with an all-world work ethic and the intangibles we want for our children. You fit the city to a tee. And you might even be available long term for a price the Steelers can afford to pay. But how can you expect us to get excited when you aren't going to satisfy our pining desire for a great dancing bear of our very own? They say you're quite the scholar, so do some research. Isn't there some way you could grow four inches or so without earning an untimely suspension?
Mr. Foster: You too embody the player we want and deserve. Just don't ask us to like it until about three years before you're ready to retire.
Mr. Adams: You, Sir, have a special gift! You are the only lineman on the entire team who has a chance to make Steelers Fan truly happy. Here's how you can do it. Lean close. I need to whisper.
First, you need to learn everything you need from Coach Munchak. But you need to do it in secret, where no one else can see, and you need to keep your talents juuuuust far enough below the line to allow Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Beachum to beat you out all year. We will make a lot of noise about despising you as a bust who wasted our 2nd-round pick, but don't worry. It will all be a ruse for the good of the team.
Next, you must sign a long term extension for the minimal money you'll clearly deserve in light of your bust-hood. [The term ‘bustiness' came to mind but somehow seemed inapt.] Some ill-informed members of the Nation may give you a little more flack at that point, but most of us will know better. Our natural sense of justice and fair play will direct the majority of the abuse toward the front office instead.
Then in 2015 you need to suddenly and mysteriously live up to your natural talents and reveal your true nature as the next coming of Munoz or Ogden. This will give us our first-ever GOAT dancing bear without the inconvenient need to pay market rate for your talents. I promise - if you do all that we will love and adore you more than enough to make up for all the nasty words you mistakenly thought you heard in earlier years. The South Side will no longer be the place where rookies line up to drink; it will be the place where fans line up to carry you home in style. A perfect solution for everybody, n'est-ce pas?
Mr. Johnson: Young man, my store of wisdom is drawing to a close. All I can offer is this. First, learn from your elders. Second, accept and follow the One True Steelers Way. And finally, remember that Steelers Fan is nothing if not fair. And broadminded.
Mr. Decastro: [With thanks to poster 'unfurious' and the rest] I'd like to offer these concluding thoughts:
Tending the tree of life begins down at the roots, so go out there and till some ground. Get that nose way down low and lever up some boulders. There's one named Atkins and another called Ngata who could use some particular care. And maybe a Taylor or two. Nothing you can't handle if you simply keep to your present course with inhuman dominance and unflinching determination. Then you can find some nice Pittsburgh girl with roots of her own ... build her a house (I'll find you an architect!) ... adorn her with a Super Bowl ring ... get another for each of your kids (who'll need a properly livable city to grow up in ... and life will turn out grand! Guaranteed. No need to sweat the details.
Some have suggested that a vow of poverty might be nice, but there's no need to go that far. Just remember those who showed you The Way, set those roots nice and deep, and we'll see that you get paid more money than a proper Pittsburgh girl could ever hope to spend. You can do this. And if you do, you'll not only get the girl and the lifestyle that will keep you content, you'll have a lifelong home among gentle people who will never forget you - and a shiny, bronze bust in Canton - or we’ll burn the friggin' place down.