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Steelers News: Stability is the name of the game for the Steelers’ OLine

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The Pittsburgh Steelers have become a rarity in today’s NFL, by keeping their 5 offensive linemen together for the long haul.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

In today’s NFL, and the free agency era, teams staying together have become a thing of the past. However, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been able to keep their five offensive linemen, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert together for years, and years to come.

Time to get all caught up on all the Steelers news as the team prepares for their third preseason game against the Colts Saturday night!

Barring something unforeseen, the familiar gang will be back together in the trenches Saturday night in the even more familiar setting of Heinz Field.

Just as it largely has been in recent years — and figures to be for years to come.

The Steelers' starting five offensive linemen all are expected to start and play multiple series against the Indianapolis Colts during the Steelers' third preseason game.

Injuries of varying degrees affected the practice and game availability of center Maurkice Pouncey, left guard Ramon Foster and right tackle Marcus Gilbert at times during training camp. And left tackle Alejandro Villanueva didn't sign a contract until the day he and his teammates reported to Latrobe for the start of camp July 27.

But for the first time all preseason, each of the five — including its highest-paid member, right guard David DeCastro — was present and accounted for during a full week of practice in recent days, and all are on track to start and play a not-insignificant number of snaps in the game.

“It's always nice to get back out there with all the guys,” Gilbert said. “We're a close-knit group, and that's because we go to battle with each other and we play as one. People will say, ‘It's only preseason,' but we need this. These reps are critical for the season.”

Seven months ago, Cobi Hamilton started the AFC championship against the New England Patriots. Now, he’s a long shot to make the Steelers 53-man roster.

Things change quickly in the NFL, and Hamilton isn’t the only Steelers receiver with playoff experience who is on the roster bubble entering the third preseason game Saturday night against the Indianapolis Colts at Heinz Field. Demarcus Ayers started an AFC divisional-round game against Kansas City, and Darrius Heyward-Bey, a veteran of seven playoff games, got a start in the wild-card game against the Miami Dolphins.

The reasons all three are in danger of being cut in less than two weeks is their collective performance in those games. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger didn’t mention any receivers by name, but he was critical of some young players after the 36-17 loss against the Patriots. In addition to Hamilton dropping a pass in the end zone in the second quarter, Sammie Coates dropped a pass deep down the field in the first quarter. “At times, it felt like maybe it was too big for some of the young guys.”

A few months later, and by no coincidence, the Steelers selected receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster of Southern California in the second round of the draft. Smith-Schuster’s presence, along with the return of Martavis Bryant, leaves Hamilton, Heyward-Bey, Coates and Ayers in a battle with Justin Hunter for what likely will be the final two spots for receivers on the 53-man roster.

One of the things I love about Le’Veon Bell’s running style is the old-school attitude. He doesn’t just take on tacklers. He seeks them out. He punishes people.

There was no better example of it than late in the Buffalo game last season, when Bell could have run out of bounds but turned upfield just so he could detonate defensive back James Ihedigbo. And detonate he did. They might still be trying to pry Ihedigbo off the turf.

I love that.

But I wonder, given the fact that Bell clearly is unhappy with the Steelers and likely remains two full seasons from the historic pay day he craves, whether he will still be that guy.

The stakes are raised. Every injury Bell incurs from now until the end of the 2018 season — the time he would hit the market if the Steelers retain him on another franchise tag and don’t sign him long-term — could hurt his value. Every touch adds a tick to the odometer.

Ridiculous to be thinking that far ahead?

Maybe, but Bell obviously is. His holy grail is a record-breaking, market-setting mega deal.

I’m not suggesting he’ll tank. He’s not wired that way. He’ll be great, as long as he is healthy. I just wonder about situations like the one described above, and whether Bell will eschew some big hits in favor of some sound business decisions.

When you hear anyone complain about the Steelers’ secondary, as you have for the past several years, there are a multitude of takes on why the secondary has been victimized by various opponents.

As the Falcons were led on their opening drive by NFL MVP Matt Ryan to a touchdown, you could feel those same takes coming to the forefront as the defense faced its first starting quarterback of the preseason.

But the Steelers never gave up another touchdown in that game to any of the Falcons’ other quarterbacks. Part of that has to do with the development in the understanding of the defensive concepts that are involved in Keith Butler‘s scheme.

Many of the Steelers’ objectives with their defensive looks involve trickery in the zone blitz concepts they offer on third down situations. The effectiveness of zone blitzes depends on how the defense can disguise blitz schemes to look similar enough to coverage plays, and the blitz being quick enough to capitalize.

Take, for example, Mike Hilton‘s sack against the Giants in the first preseason game; the Steelers lined up in a generic cover-2 look with two high safeties and a pretty standard nickel formation.

But what happens is a one-two punch of concepts to confuse the quarterback on both the defensive front and in the secondary. Notice how Farrington Huguenin (41) comes off the edge and opens a wide lane for both Hilton and Steven Johnson (51) to attack the gap and get a two-on-one situation.