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Weekend Checkdown: the top stories of the week

Steelers hire new offensive line coach. For the Nation its love at first sight.


It is not an exaggeration to say that there was jubilation in Steelers Nation with the news that the team had hired MIke Munchak as the team's new offensive line coach. This is also one of those times when other folk might have some trouble relating to our mindset. I was trying to share the good news with some non-Steelers oriented acquaintances;

"Hey, we just hired Mike Munchak as our new offensive line coach!"


I understand. Really. Its not like we exhumed and reanimated the body of Vince Lombardi or bamboozled Mike Zimmer to part ways with Adrian Petersen. No high profile free agent player or a head coach. Not even a coordinator. The team gets an offensive line coach and in some quarters its "WE GOT ANOTHER PONY!" "SUPER BOWL BABY!"

If you happened to wander over here from some football backwater like Ohio or Texas, then you would be excused if you were wondering what all the fuss is about. There is an explanation.

Mike Munchak

Ever since Russ Grimm (and Alan Faneca, Jeff Hartings and Marvel Smith) left the offensive line has been considered to be the Achilles Heel of the Steelers. They have had to make due with the likes of Jeff Hartwig, Darnell Stapleton, Chris Kemoeatu and Guy Whimper, just to name a few. Viewed in retrospect the coaches of this group seemed like a list of substitute teachers. Amazingly, they won a Super Bowl and got into another with some of the names mentioned.

This fact was nowhere near good enough for many who were certain that with better talent, fewer injuries and better coaching the Steelers would be on the Stairway to their Twenty Fifth Lombardi now. Of course, such a thing is impossible, but as many of you know, there are those among the fan base who are not governed by logic or rationality. Its not in their DNA.

The most persistent solution advanced for this problem goes something like this: pick up some high profile free agent offensive linemen. Augment this by using every available draft choice to select offensive linemen. And, just to be sure, sign some UDFA offensive linemen. Keep doing this until the offense can, on command, drive the length of the field without ever putting the ball into the air and with Missy Matthews as its featured running back. Then the offensive line will have arrived. Its an indication of how desperate the situation had become that people could constantly propose such foolishness and not be run off the site with a whip.

Into this context you bring in a Hall Of Fame offensive lineman with a ton of successful coaching experience, including a recent head coaching gig. He's a high character guy with strong Pennsylvania ties. He joins the most stable coaching staff in the division and arguably pushes it up a few notches with his presence. Landing such a talent didn't hurt Mike Tomlin's reputation any either. And finally there were all the indications that the arrow was going clearly up for this position group regardless of whom they brought in as coach.

So, what to casual observers may just seem like one of many staffing changes that characterize this time of the year, to Steelers sensibilities this has all the potential of being a game changer. Its one thing for a bunch of superheated fans to get hyped up about this, but experienced media types and others seem to be on the same page. Whatever problems this team may have in the 2014 season, there is a consensus that offensive line play will not be at or near the top of those concerns. And when was the last time that was true.

Kirby Wilson

You would think that the Munchak hire would be more than enough on the coaching front. You would be wrong. Wilson, whom was a finalist for the offensive coordinator position with Ravens did not get that job, but is leaving nonetheless. Now we know that Wilson has been 'encouraged' to seek out other opportunities. This in its own way is just as surprising as the separation earlier of Jack Bicknell Jr., and it actually validates a narrative that was circulating earlier in the season that there would be casualties among the offensive coaching staff this off season.

Wilson, who's recovery from burns received in a home fire was inspiring to many, will be joining Mike Zimmer's staff in Minnesota. An interesting take on this comes from Charlie Batch. If you have been following what Batch, a man who obviously has a lot of inside knowledge and is not nearly as beholden to a company line in his current circumstances, has been saying over the course of the season you come away with the impression that he may not be Todd Haley's biggest fan. All of this also could place the hiring of Munchak in something of a different light as well. Stay tuned.

Khan (cont.)

It appears that Omar Khan is out of the running for the job in Miami. I acknowledge having mixed feelings. I certainly think that Khan deserves to rise as high as he can within the league, but I am also selfish enough to be happy that we still have access to his services here with the Steelers. Repeating what I wrote last week, I believe him to be an incredible asset to the organization. Perhaps they would do just fine without him, but I don't want to have to find that out just now.

Roster Projections (cont.)

Dale Grdnic continues his series on analyzing the state of the Steelers. This week the focus was upon nose tacklesdefensive endsinside linebackersoutside linebackerssafetiescornerbacks and the kicking game.

Senior Bowl

We are waist deep into the season of player evaluations in advance of this May's draft. One of the major platforms of that process, the Senior Bowl, was played yesterday. Steel34D provided a guide to who was turning heads in the days leading up to the game.

Jerricho Cotchery

Now that we've gained some distance from the triumphs and disappointments of the past season, we can take a look at some of the players and what they accomplished with clearer eyes. Being a recipient of the USA Today's All-Joe Team Award was certainly appropriate for Cotchery who had an extraordinary season but his accomplishments were essentially buried under all of the drama of the season as well as the incandescent performance of Antonio Brown and the return of Heath Miller. Viewed mostly as a nice to have veteran presence whose chief value would be his grounding effect on the remnants of the Young Money crew, Cotchery has, instead, established himself as a key contributor in his own right. He is likely to be a major consideration in how the receiver corps is constructed going into the 2014 season.

Antonio Brown

Based upon both his body of work so far as well as his consistently high work ethic, Brown seems destined to achieve a level of stardom that other talented, but personally flawed wide receivers such as Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Mike Wallace allowed to slip through their fingers. Brown appears to have a Hines Ward type of mindset attached to a stronger platform of talent. You get the feeling that if the team regains the heights that they have occupied over much of the last decade, that Brown will be one of the cornerstones of that revival.

Le'Veon Bell

Bell gives us some insight as to his thought process when he is running the ball. Obviously, besides the the O linemen themselves, Bell should be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the addition of Munchak to the mix.

Vince Williams

The first year inside linebacker gives his take on the trials and opportunities of being thrown into the fire in his rookie season.

Richard Sherman

I guess no review of this week would be complete without a nod to what I consider to be a non event. As is so often the case this whole firestorm probably revealed more concerning the problems and pathology of his critics than of Sherman. In this sense it had the potential of being a productive exercise to delve into what it says about us. Rebecca Rollett, Peter King of and Eric Liu of the Atlantic all weigh in on this one.

Rule Changes

The league is contemplating a rule change that would eliminate the extra point kick from the game. A first thought would be what the impact of this decision might have with the game at the lower levels where the point after kick is not always just an automatic thing.

A passing league?

Passing sells beer and drives ratings, but it would appear that in order to win championships you better be able to run the ball and do so with confidence. That is the conclusion that is being drawn based upon the playoff performances thus far.

UPMC grant

More about head injuries. The NFL has given a grant to UPMC to address the ongoing concerns about concussions and head injuries.

Neal Coolong

Well, I guess we're scrapping the bottom of the barrel now (Just kidding Neal). Our managing editor is the subject of an interview with Pittsburgh Sports Daily.